MARTIN RUSSELL knows Limerick are at a “critical” stage in their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division survival mission, and while victory this weekend would be a start he acknowledges they “have to go on a run” in the coming weeks.
The winless Shannonsiders are seven points adrift of Sligo Rovers at the bottom of the table, with Bray Wanderers – who visit the Markets Field this Saturday, kick-off 6.30pm – a further two points clear.
Russell took in Bray’s crucial victory over the Bit O’ Red at the Carlisle Grounds last weekend – a day after Limerick’s 6-2 defeat at leaders and reigning Champions Dundalk – which plunged them deeper into the mire.
Limerick’s next three home games see Bray, Galway United and Sligo come to town, with everyone within the club aware of their importance as they look to put a forgettable opening half to the season behind them, with no wins and five draws in their opening 17 league matches.
The Blues were boosted by last month’s return to their spiritual home, despite the loss to Drogheda United, and they will hope to use their impressive new stadium as the platform from which to form a great escape and “get on a roll”.
“This period now back in the Markets Field, they are all massive games,” Russell told LimerickFC.ie. “They are critical ones for where we are at this moment. These are the ones that we have to get maximum points out of.
“But, again, you can only get points if your level of play is good enough, with and without the ball. We will be concentrating on our performance and trying to maximise both those areas that gives us the best chance of getting the points.
“But it is no good winning one and then losing. We have to go on a run. We have got to get a situation where we get a haul of ten points out of the next 15. It is an opportunity to do that probably in the next month or so.
“I don’t see teams above us going on too many runs either. I think we can be in there fighting in the immediate, but in the longer term I think we have to try to get a bit more quality in around us to give ourselves a better chance of achieving things.
“We have a young bunch and they’re a good bunch in terms of they want to do well for the club. We came back in this week and we managed to train one of the days in the Markets Field, which was a positive.
“Everybody is buoyed up by the crowd that turned out in the opening match there and they can see the potential that if we can get it going that we could do well down the road.
“The players are looking to do as best they can this weekend. The mood has been upbeat this week and training has been quite bright which is good.
“We can only focus on our own performance; look to cause Bray enough problems and answer enough questions that they throw at us. Hopefully, we can do that, get a result and begin to get on a roll.”
Limerick are on a seven-game losing streak and 20-match winless run in national competition, between the league, FAI Cup and League Cup, with their last point secured with a last-gasp equaliser in Sligo at the beginning of May.
Last Friday, they suffered a heavy loss at the hands of high-flying Dundalk on at times a bizarre night at Oriel Park, where Seán Harding and captain Shane Duggan scored for the visitors.
At home, Limerick have lost their last two games, by one-goal margins against Cork City and Drogheda, having drawn their previous clash with Shamrock Rovers in late April. Their last win was over Sligo at Thomond Park on 17 October last.
Bray, meanwhile, bounced back from successive 1-0 defeats – by Longford Town and Cork – to beat Sligo 1-0 in Wicklow last Saturday, their goal coming from defender Alan McNally.
The teams have already met twice this season with Bray coming out on top in both at the Carlisle Grounds, winning the league fixture 4-0 in April and the FAI Cup tie 3-1 at the end of May.
Team News: Winger Ian Turner (knee) will be assessed in the lead-up to the game having missed last week’s trip to Dundalk. Young left-back Colm Murphy (hamstring) has resumed light training.
Officials: Referee for the game is Rob Harvey, his assistants are Rob Clarke and Ralph Pieper, with the fourth official Padraigh Sutton.
Tickets remain on sale at Gleeson Sports Scene, Upper William Street and Paddy McMahon & Son Butchers, Athlunkard Street until Saturday evening at 6pm. Ticket boxes and gates open at the Markets Stadium at 5.30pm.