CORK CITY manager John Caulfield is expecting a reaction from his side as they face Shamrock Rovers this evening, looking to bounce back from a last-minute defeat to title rivals Dundalk last weekend.
A loss which saw Caulfield’s charges surrender top spot to the Lilywhites with 12 games remaining; but only two points behind, and with the two still to meet in their final meeting at Turner’s Cross, there’s plenty to play for.
City return to their home venue for the first time since the mid-season break, looking to avenge a 3-0 “tanking” at the Tallaght Stadium the last time these two sides met, but the City manager is now looking for his Rebel Army to show that fighting spirit in the next few weeks which could define City’s season.
“In this league there will be occasions when you drop points, on previous occasions in which this has happened we’ve bounced back and we’ve shown how good we are by going on runs of five, six, or seven wins in a row.
"If we do that this league will go right down to the wire, and if we start dropping points, it won’t.
“That’s why I keep saying Friday night’s game is huge, Rovers [are] coming to us on a good run, they’ve got their confidence back and they always have good players - they’re a very confident type of team.
"What we have to do is make sure we don’t lose our focus, we’ve won 11 games at home on the bounce, and we have to put in a performance good enough to get us the three points.
“We need to be at our best, and we need that crowd out early to the ground, a full house if we can, create that intensity from the get-go, and put together a winning run to try and bring this thing down to the wire.
"If you’re not right you leave points behind you, and we can’t afford to do that.”
Damien Delaney made his first start since returning Leeside in a 4-1 defeat to Portsmouth as part of a Cork Airport friendly last Monday night, but the City manager says he won’t be rushing the former Crystal Palace captain back into the team, having barely played last season for the Eagles.
“We said we’d give him 60 (minutes) and see how he is in the morning,” Caulfield said, following the friendly defeat at the beginning of the week.
“He’s been training very hard, but at the same time the players that are there are doing very well. Obviously, we want to get him involved as soon as possible, but we’ll just have to see how it weighs up.
“Any player that comes from the Premier Division to our club is going to be massive for us.
"He’s already had a huge effect in training, (with) the younger players because they can see the professional approach (Damien has).
"We’re always striving with our club to make things the best they can be, to be as professional as we can.
“And when you have a player like him coming in, to have a word with players, pick them up if they’re slacking off and not training as hard as they should be, and we expect Damien to have a big impact on this club over the next 18 months.”
The reigning league champions not only have virtually a full squad to choose from, but also have the return of a number of players from their loan spells, who will be pushing hard during the week to stake their claim for a place on the bench.
However, Caulfield re-affirmed that he has no budget left to spend in this transfer market, meaning that what City have will have to do them for the season.
Rebel Army supporters would desperately love to have another striker to bolster City’s frontline, but with Josh O’Hanlon scoring last Friday, and on Monday, the Leeside boss admitted he is edging towards a start.
Kickoff at Turner’s Cross is 7.45pm, with the club continuing to sell tickets for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League first qualifying round game against Legia Warsaw inside the gate.