PREVIEW: TOP-HALF FINISH IN TAYLOR’S SIGHTS AS LIMERICK HEAD NORTH
Stuart Taylor will look to complete the set as Limerick search for their first points of the season against Derry City at The Brandywell on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm), with a top-half finish in the Scot’s sights for just the third time in the Superblues’ Premier Division history.
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In this their ninth Premier Division campaign since the two-tier system was introduced in 1985, Limerick have taken points off every team except Derry, who have recorded one-goal wins in the two meetings to date.
And a point could suffice for Taylor’s side to leapfrog Munster rivals Cork City into the top half, if the Leesiders lose to already-crowned champions Saint Patrick’s Athletic at Turner’s Cross.
Limerick go into the game in confident mood having lost just one of their last six games, with four of their last five outings ending in wins. That sequence includes inflicting Dundalk’s only defeat at Oriel Park since May.
While in recent seasons, a sixth-placed finish may have been enough to earn Setanta Sports Cup football, it remains unclear whether that competition will continue in 2014.
Derry, meanwhile, are chasing European qualification, which could be secured by holding onto fourth place.
But Limerick are still sore from their last trip to the Northern venue, where they led through Stephen Folan’s first-half goal only for Mark Griffin and Rory Patterson to strike in the final four minutes and turn the game on its head.
“Right now, we’re in a better place defensively than what we were back then,” Taylor – who can be more than pleased with his first season in charge – told LimerickFC.ie.
“We’re looking to come away with three points this time. But again, it’s about finishing the season on a high and there’s nothing better than winning the last game of the season.
“We’re on a good run just now and we want to finish it on a high. It’s going to be a difficult game going up there, with the journey and obviously The Brandywell is not an easy place to play.
“But we’re going up there with a strong squad and we’re looking to come away with the right result.”
Victory may not even be enough to finish in the top six, but Taylor is hopeful that St. Pat’s will be out to conclude a memorable campaign with a positive result in Cork.
“Sixth is definitely achievable. Cork have got St. Pat’s and I’m sure St. Pat’s will want to finish the season on a high and win their last game even though the title is in the bag,” he said.
“They’ll want to finish well and we’re no different. We’re looking to go and get a victory, but if we draw and Cork lose then we’ll still finish sixth. That’s our target and hopefully we’ll achieve it.”
Taylor also confirmed that he will stick with many of his younger players, after Under-19 quartet Tony Whitehead, Colm Murphy, Kieran Hanlon and James McGrath all featured in their win over Shelbourne last Wednesday.
“A couple of experienced players come back in,” he explained. “But, generally, there’ll still be a reasonable amount of young players playing, to give them experience for next season.”
And, regardless of Friday’s result, the boss has been delighted with his team’s end to the season, having picked up 13 of the last 18 points available.
“I’m over the moon with it,” he said. “I said last week that the players have finished the season on a real high and they’ve done themselves proud, and they’ve certainly done the football club and the supporters proud as well.
“It has been a good end to the season, definitely.”
Come kick-off, Limerick will have had a nine-day break since Rory Gaffney’s first-half strike – his ninth goal of the season making him the club’s top marksman – downed Shels at Thomond Park. That saw the Superblues end their home fixtures with three straight wins and clean-sheets.
It also saw them bounce back from defeat at Bray Wanderers three days earlier where Danny O’Connor’s late first-half header proved the difference. Limerick travel north looking for their first clean-sheet on the road since winning 1-0 at Bohemians in early July.
Since Derry won at Thomond Park at the end of that month, they have played 11 league games, with their three victories in that period coming against the current bottom three.
Six defeats were added to with successive draws in their last two outings, at home to Shamrock Rovers and last week away to St. Pat’s. They are unbeaten in three outings since losing 3-0 at Dundalk on 30 September.
At home, Derry have not lost since the beginning of last month when St. Pat’s recorded a 1-0 win thanks to Killian Brennan’s third-minute free-kick.
Since then, they have beaten Bray and Shels, and drawn with Shamrock Rovers a fortnight ago, with recent results meaning they enter the final weekend in fourth place a point ahead of the Hoops, who welcome Sligo Rovers to Tallaght Stadium on Friday.
This will be the third meeting of the sides this season. In the aforementioned clash at The Brandywell back on 3 May, Limerick were stunned by two late goals as they fell to a 2-1 defeat.
On 28 July, the Candystripes claimed a 1-0 victory at Thomond Park thanks to David McDaid’s 69th-minute strike.
Team News: Limerick remain without long-term absentees, left-sided player Shane Tracy (knee) and midfielder Stephen McGann (foot), while defender Patrick Nzuzi is suspended after accumulating eight yellow cards.
On the plus side, central defensive pair Stephen Folan and Samuel Oji are available again following bans.
Manager Stuart Taylor, beginning a two-match touchline suspension, and assistant boss Malky Thomson, serving the third of his four-game ban, are unable to be involved at the ground.
Referee for the game is Paul McLaughlin. His assistants are Robert Clarke and Darren Carey, and the fourth official is Simon Rogers. It will be McLaughlin’s fifth time in charge of a Limerick game this season, after: (H) Cork City 0-0, (A) Cork City 3-2, (A) Saint Patrick’s Athletic 0-3, (H) Derry City 0-1.
Derry City Last 6 League: WLLWDD
Limerick Last 6 League: DWWWLW