Finn Harps can take a major step towards avoiding automatic relegation from the Airtricity League Premier Division if they can overcome bottom club UCD at Belfield tomorrow evening. (Kick-off, 7.45).
The Donegal club currently occupies the relegation play-off spot and have a four point advantage over the students - but the latter have three games in hand.
So, this is the proverbial six-pointer, and the result here will have a major bearing on what happens at the end of the season.
Certainly it would appear to be advantage Harps, despite having played more matches.
The Ballybofey-based outfit head to Dublin on the back of a win against Sligo last Friday and a draw against Cork City on Monday.
By contrast, UCD were whipped 5-1 by Sligo on Monday and have lost 11 games on the spin, scoring just twice, and conceding.
There’s been an exodus of players from UCD in the last few weeks. Captain Gary O’Neill and Republic of Ireland under-21 midfielder Neil Farrugia have been snapped up by Shamrock Rovers. Liam Scales, who scored against Sligo, is joining Bristol City, and striker Conor Davis has signed for Derry City.
At least three other players have also left.
However, Harps boss Ollie Horgan is, as he tends to do, is playing down any expectations.
“UCD have a lot of quality players and they have lost some, but they beat us 3-0 there early in the season,” he said.
“It’s a big, big game and there are a lot of open spaces there and we did not deal with them last time around. They overran us and it could have been for them.”
And he pointed out that UCD run a very good scholarship programme which provides them with some rising stars each year.
“I have no doubt that by this game they will have new players in under that scheme,” he said.
Horgan says that Harps take a draw “with open arms” and it certainly wouldn’t be a bad outcome.
But given UCD’s current plight and turnover of players there is surely no better time for Harps to be facing them.
Veteran Raffaele Cretaro, who was rested on Monday, will surely feature again while Mark Timlin, who is being eased back into action following a long-term injury, may well be an option coming off the bench.
“We have a poor record in Belfield. I do not know if it is a good time to go up there. We need to put in a hell of a performance, and one a lot better than we did last time there,” the Harps boss added.
Meanwhile, Harps have signed Shaun Doherty from Inishowen Junior Football League team Greencastle.
“He’s a talented lad and wants to try himself out in the League of Ireland. It’s a huge step up from junior soccer and it will take time for him to adapt to the pace of football at Premier Division level,” Horgan said.
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