In a return to SSE Airtricity League premier division action, Galway United face an away trip to the Showgrounds on Saturday evening for a crucial encounter against Sligo Rovers following the mid season break.
It is a match packed with significance for both sides burdened by relegation worries. United currently sit in last place in the standings, while the Bit O’Red are in 10th, only two points better off.
Three losses in a row against Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and Derry City ensures United manager Shane Keegan will be demanding a better return from his players, who had enjoyed a productive stint in May.
Before that sequence of defeats United had stitched a seven-match unbeaten league run together, during which they defeated Dundalk and Finn Harps, while also drawing with St Patrick’s Athletic, Limerick FC, Drogheda United, Derry City, and Cork City. In that United burst Keegan’s charges struck very late goals in five of those fixtures, confirming both fitness and ambition.
Yet having failed to register any points against Rovers, Bohs, and Derry in their three most recent outings is a concern, and as a result Keegan will be looking for a gritty reaction in the northwest against a Sligo side that has outfoxed Bray Wanderers, Bohs, and Limerick at home.
The May 6 success over Limerick proved what Sligo can achieve with Raffaelle Cretaro, Jonah Alunga, and the excellent Kieran Sadlier all scoring.
Gerard Lyttle was appointed as Sligo’s new manager in April and the Bit O’Red squad is sprinkled with experienced League of Ireland campaigners. Michael Leahy, Cretaro, and Galway native John Russell are able performers, while Regan Donelon and Gary Boylan are promising youngsters.
However United will be confident having carved out a rare Showgrounds win after a penalty shout in last month’s quarter-final. Four extra-time goals were netted during a dramatic finish with United eventually advancing.
Reaching the penultimate stage of that competition gives United some optimism, but delivering in the top flight consistently is the challenge that must be embraced.
Contests with Sligo, Bray, Dundalk, and St Patrick’s Athletic are scheduled between now and the end of June so a crucial spell looms for Keegan’s developing team.
Lee Grace has been immense at centre half, while Ronan Murray’s excellence in an attacking role means United are hopeful of avoiding the drop. However they need to be more clinical in attack, having netted only 15 goals in 17 matches.
Eoin McCormack, who bagged a hat-trick in the Connacht Junior Cup final for Ballinasloe Town in a dramatic triumph over West United at Eamonn Deacy Park, is expected to be confirmed as a United signing and will be pushing for inclusion. He has been a prolific goalscorer for Ballinasloe and it will be interesting to see whether he can maintain that form at a higher level.
Saturday’s trip to Sligo is critical for United. Positive results need to be delivered soon. In the league United have only scored first twice in their opening 17 tussles. There is real scope for improvement, but United must generate belief and momentum quickly.
•Galway Soccer Co-Op is running a bus to Saturday’s Connacht derby at The Showgrounds, leaving The Dail Bar, Middle Street, at 4pm and picking up along the N17. Contact Ronan Coleman (087 ) 6972823 or Stephen Dowling (086 ) 2361040.