TONIGHT: SSE Airtricity First Division: Shelbourne v Cork City Tolka Park, 7.45pm.
NO matter what division it is in, Shels-Cork City is always a huge game.
A fixture steeped in history and one containing two of Ireland’s biggest clubs.
Both teams suffered relegation from the Premier Division last season and while Shels have adapted to life in the First Division relatively comfortably — Ian Morris’ side sit eight points clear at the top of the table — City have struggled to get to grips to life in the division and will be looking to make it back-to-back wins for the first time this season when they travel to Tolka Park.
Colin Healy’s side will be looking to build on last week’s 2-0 victory away to Athlone Town in what was arguably City’s most impressive performance of the season.
As good as City were last weekend, they will have to be better again against Shels if they are to get anything from the gameMorris’ side look certain to win the division and will be looking to make it seven successive wins.
The Dubliners are the top scorers in the division with 27 goals and have the league’s joint-top scorer in Ryan Brennan, who has found the net on nine occasions this season. They also have the best defensive record; they’ve conceded just 10 league goals.
Even though Shelbourne didn’t have the most convincing result in their 1-0 victory against bottom club Wexford Youths last weekend, it was a game that the leaders never really needed to get out of second gear.
Wexford were happy to let Shels’ defence control possession and were reluctant to put any sort of pressure on Shels.
Their tactics were understandable when you consider the position Wexford are in, but City have a far better squad and although I do think they will show Shels respect and be mindful that the Dubliners have players capable of hurting them if gaps open up, I would expect City to press Shels with a lot more intensity and purpose than Wexford did.
Where Wexford did manage to find some joy against Shels was when they won possession in their own half and quickly played the ball into the channels, exploiting the space left by the full-backs who were high up the pitch after being involved in the Shelbourne attack.
Shels are a physical side and City need to be wary of conceding set-pieces. Ally Gilchrist looks a threat every time the defender ventures into the opposition penalty area — something City will be aware of after he scored the equaliser from a corner when the teams met earlier in the season — and in former City player Kevin O’Connor and Georgie Poynton they have two of the best deliverers of the ball from set-pieces in the league.
Shels can be a very direct side. They use Michael O’Connor’s physical presence upfront and have Brennan play around him to pick up second ball. Against Wexford, they tried to keep possession but often got tired of passing across the back and went direct.
It will be important that whoever is in midfield for City, protecting the back four, that they are aware of positioning themselves to pick up second ball and nullify Shels’ threat.
City look to be without Alec Byrne for the game after the midfielder was forced off with a hamstring injury against Athlone. Byrne was instrumental in City’s result, not only scoring but his work-rate off the ball.
He took his goal really well and was excellent in the build-up to City’s first goal. Byrne won the ball back on the edge of the Athlone area and after passing it, showed great determination to get into the box and he was rewarded.
He adjusted from being a number 10 when City were in possession to a second striker when they were without the ball seamlessly and it will be interesting to see who will replace Byrne in the team.
It’s going to be a tough ask for City to get something from the game against Shels, but they have to start showing more consistency.
They won’t have success if they only manage to win a game every so often. City have towin three or four games on the bounce.