Peter Hutton urges Derry to ignore cup distraction
The thoughts of the fans may already be on the FAI Cup semi-final with Shamrock Rovers in nine days, but first the Derry City players must take care of business against Athlone Town tonight at the Brandywell.
Peter Hutton's men are still hoping to catch Sligo Rovers in fifth place, but to do so they will have to start picking up league wins, which is something the Candystripes have been struggling to do in recent months.
Since winning four consecutive league games during a great run in July, City have struggled.
They have lost five times in the last seven league games, but tonight's meeting with bottom of the league Athlone, which is followed by a trip to Bray Wanderers on Tuesday, gives Hutton's FAI Cup hopefuls the chance to build some winning momentum before heading into Sunday week's semi-final at Tallaght.
However, it is a task that is easier said than done and Hutton admits that Athlone will be no pushovers, despite their own struggles this season.
"It will be tough because they are on a five-game unbeaten run and they have been playing quite well," he said.
"They are battling for their lives to stay in this division and they have pegged back a good bit of ground on the teams above them recently.
"Keith Long has come in a few months ago and brought in a few new faces and he has re-energised them, so they will be a difficult opponent.
"They have given a lot of the bigger clubs a real run for their money over the last couple of weeks, so we will have to be ready for them."
A long road trip to Bray on Tuesday night is not the ideal scenario for Hutton and his players as they approach the Cup semi-final, but it is an unavoidable one for the Brandywell men as the season draws to a close.
Rather than moan about it, the City boss is just taking it one game at a time.
"We're not even thinking about Bray because we can't afford to get ahead of ourselves," Hutton explained.
"You can't think who you might play against Athlone and who you might play against Bray because players can get suspended or injured.
"We can't think too far ahead. We already have two players suspended for Friday night in Shaun Kelly and Shane McEleney, so we're down bodies."
Ahead of tonight's game, Hutton has also warned his players to remain focused and not to get too caught up in the hype of the impending semi-final at Tallaght.
"We still want to finish as high up the table as we possibly can and we still want to catch Sligo," he added.
"Human nature being what it is, it is impossible to ignore a cup semi-final on the horizon.
"We want to still win the two games prior to the semi-final so we can take a bit of momentum into that game, but I wouldn't like to think that the players are already looking towards that game because if they do that they will get a rude awakening."
Rory Patterson is an injury doubt for tonight's game due to a persistent back injury while Danny Ventre remains sidelined.