For most teams, this weekend brought a close to the second round of games in the league of Ireland premier division as the games continue to come thick and fast. Cork travelled to Bray Wanderers on Sunday in search of 3 points and to extend their lead to 15 points and they duly delivered. John Caulfield’s men lost for the 1st time this season when beating in the Europa league but bounced back here with ease.
It was Sean Maguire’s last league game where he bagged his 20th goal of the season but with the Rebels massive lead at the top, he might not be that big a miss for the remainder of the season. With that defeat and the turmoil off the pitch, Bray are struggling to hold onto that elusive 3rd spot and have played a game more than Shamrock Rovers and Derry City with just 2 points the difference.
Derry however were beaten as St Pats came from behind to win for only the 4th time this season. The Saints ended an 8-match winless run to move just a point behind Sligo in 10th. The Bit O ’Red had their own problems as they could only manage a point at home to Drogheda United. Sligo have only 1 win in their last 10 games as the pressure starts to heat up.
Finn Harps impressively beat Bohemians 2-1 at home which has now put them 4 points clear of the dreaded drop zone. For Keith Long’s Bohs, it was their 2nd consecutive defeat and are just 6 points from the bottom 3 are not safe by any means.
There was a massive win in the first division on Saturday night as Cobh Ramblers hosted UCD in the fight for 2nd. Stephen Henderson’s Cobh came out on top to move 3 points clear of the Students and put some pressure on Waterford. The Blues recorded a 1-0 win away to Longford thanks to a debut goal from Paul Keegan.
In signing a player of Keegan’s quality, sums up the resources at Alan Reynolds disposal in their bid for promotion. Shelbourne lost their 5-match unbeaten run as they were surprisingly beaten at home by Wexford. While Athlone Town continue their wait for a 1st win under Roddy Collins after they drew 1-1 at home to Cabinteely.
So, what have we learned this week?
Finn Harps stay clear.
Before a ball was kicked this season, Finn Harps were everybody’s favourites to not only be relegated but to finish bottom. So, after 21 games, Ollie Horgan has his side sitting in 8th and 4 points clear of the drop to the league’s surprise. The side from Ballybofey are just 1 win away from equalling last year’s win tally of 8 with 12 games still to play.
Pat McCourt has showed his exceptional quality throughout the season which has helped Finn Harps stay out of the drop zone. The former Celtic midfielder was on form against Bohemians on Friday when he threaded a lovely pass into Sean Houston for the winner and to give Harps back to back wins for the 2nd time this season. Next up for Ollie Horgan’s men is Derry City in Ballybofey in the north-west derby as they look for a repeat of their earlier meeting when they won 2-0.
Drogheda must build on a huge point.
Drogheda United haven’t tasted victory since the 21st of April which is a run of 12 games and in that run, they have only manged to score on 4 occasions. To say they are in freefall is an understatement but Pete Mahon must rally his troops after picking up a point away to Sligo. The Drogs 1st goal in 3 games was a stunning volley from new signing Sean Russell that put the 2007 champions in the lead but they eventually caved and Sligo grabbed a point.
In what is an exciting battle at the bottom involving 5 teams, any point will prove crucial and this weekend Drogheda will face a massive 6 pointer against relegation candidates Galway. Pete Mahon has led his side to 4 points against Galway so far this season and will hope to make it 7 with a win at Terryland Park. A win for either side will take them straight out of the bottom 3 in a game that will not be easy on the eye.
Waterford show their financial muscle.
Pat Fenlon and Alan Reynolds have done an excellent job since taking over at Waterford and although they have the financial backing compared to other first division clubs, their doing the business on the pitch. After 20 games, they sit 6 points clear and have the best attack and defence so promotion back to the premier division is in their own hands.
Most recently, they signed former Drogheda and Bohemians midfielder Paul Keegan after he was released from Doncaster Rovers. It’s a real coup and it shows he resources available for the title chasing side as Keegan has won 8 trophies during his time here and helped Doncaster to the league one title in 2012-13. This past weekend Keegan showed his quality when he scored on his debut as Waterford won 1-0. This Friday sees 1st vs 2nd at the RSC as Cobh look to spoil the party and cut the gap to 3 points with a win but if Waterford do get the 3 points, then it’s all but over.
European dream still alive, but only just.
All too often Irish sides struggle on the European stage and although Dundalk had a great success last year, it’s just not consistent enough. There is plenty of talent within the league but when it comes to the Champions league and Europa league, they just lack the quality in stepping up. Derry City have already come and gone in this year’s Europa league as they conceded 10 times against Midtjylland while Cork City and Shamrock Rovers hang on.
Cork suffered their 1st defeat all season on Thursday when slack defending let in Cypriot side Larnaca to pounce and score a precious away goal. Despite their domestic dominance this season, the Rebels have it all to do on Thursday if they are to advance into the 3rd round. Shamrock Rovers conceded 3 times at home to Czech side Mlada Boleslov and although Graham Burke helped himself to 2 goals, it’s a massive challenge facing the Hoops this week.
Stephen Bradley’s side need to win by 2 clear goals to have any hope of advancing but just might come unstuck. Champions Dundalk are in a sticky situation as they gifted Rosenburg an away goal last week at Oriel Park which means they must score on Wednesday. Stephen Kenny side have been in outstanding form in the league lately but need all that killer instinct if they are to advance into the 3rd round and face a mammoth tie against Celtic.