Soccer – “It’s the biggest challenge any side could have” – Russell

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Screen shot 2015-06-25 at 16.47.44LIMERICK MANAGER Martin Russell knows his players face “the biggest challenge any side in the country could have” when they take on reigning Champions and current leaders Dundalk at Oriel Park on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm).

The SSE Airtricity League Premier Division resumes after the midseason break and the boss reported a “refreshed” squad in training this week, boosted by the return of Ghanaian duo, midfielder Prince Agyemang and goalkeeper Ali Abass.

The Shannonsiders now continue their search for a first win of the season, on the back of five draws and 11 defeats in their opening 16 matches, and they will take confidence from the fact that one of those points came against Dundalk.

That was in early April when Paul O’Conor’s last-minute header secured a deserved 1-1 draw at Jackman Park, with Limerick having lost all three meetings last season by a single goal.

Dundalk’s 25-match unbeaten home league record – which dated back to a defeat by Limerick in September 2013 – came to an end in their last outing at the border venue three weeks ago, going down 2-1 to Bohemians.

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But with the Lilywhites since bouncing back from that with victory in Sligo and sitting three points clear at the top – with a game in hand – Russell is fully aware of the task awaiting his team.

“The only thing I will say is that we have already drawn against them,” Martin told LimerickFC.ie. “We know if we can get settled and be focussed with a proper game-plan we can give ourselves our best chance, and we are capable.

“Having said that, there are not too many teams that have taken points off Dundalk this season and we’ve got to recognise that as well. They’re the Champions, playing in the Champions League and they’re there on merit.

“Training has been decent. We have had a couple of players join back in – Ali and Prince coming back on board – and having fresh faces in training has helped. But we’re still evolving; there is no doubt about that.

“To go to Dundalk after the break is probably the biggest challenge any side in the country at the moment could have.

“I would like to think the break has helped. There is a little freshness about it when everybody has come back after a week off. We’ve got some massive games coming up, starting with this one.

“There is everything still to play for. As I said before, we have still got quite a considerable amount of playing time this season against teams just above us. With the Markets Field being open now, there are a lot of big games to look forward to.”

Limerick are on a six-game losing streak in national competition, including their exit from the FAI Cup in Bray, and before the break they went down 3-1 to Cup holders Saint Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park.

That was after a highly-encouraging first-half display which saw them deservedly lead at the interval through Dean Clarke’s strike. However, three goals in the opening 13 minutes of the second period saw the Saints run out comfortable winners.

Limerick’s last win on the road was at Derry City last October, but they have a fine record in recent years at Oriel Park and were only beaten by two late winners by Stephen Kenny’s men there last term.

Team News: Limerick are without winger Ian Turner (knee) while young left-back Colm Murphy (hamstring) will also miss the trip as he continues his recovery. The club are awaiting clearance on midfielder Prince Agyemang (2014 apps: 25) and goalkeeper Ali Abass (2014 apps: 4) who returned this week.

Officials: Referee is Rob Rogers, his assistants are Mark Gavin and Ciarán Delaney, with the fourth official Paul McLaughlin.