There were no draws in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division this weekend. I had been hoping for at least one, namely Bray away in Limerick. Thinking about Bray’s survival prospects for the season during the week, I’d come up with a plan. We needed to see ourselves as members of a smaller league within the main league, namely the teams expected to struggle. I reckoned Limerick would be in there with us. If we could pick up draws against these teams away and try to beat them at home, we’d top our small league and stay up.
It didn’t go to plan. Limerick beat us, recovering from the mauling Dundalk gave them to inflict another defeat on us after the mauling Rovers gave us. Rovers dished out another mauling on the night, this time to Derry City, showing their scoring prowess hadn’t frozen over during the Beast-from-the-East enforced layoff. No team will be looking forward to visiting Tallaght this season, if that’s the kind of firepower they’re going to have to face [St Pat’s, you’re up next!]. Looking down through the results from Friday, it read like a computer binary code programme for the first three lines, all 1’s and 0’s, but then the Rovers result lit up the page like a fruit machine on jackpot.
If Friday’s results showed anything it was that this is going to be a league that will prove hard to call. Perhaps the days of not having to look beyond Dundalk or Cork for the champions are over, in the same way that the days when the Wimbledon winner being either Federer or Nadal eventually passed with the admission of Djokovic and Murray to the winners’ club. If Rovers can score like that, perhaps it is time to aim for the title again instead of settling for the mantle of ‘Dublin’s top-placed side’.
Having won the Dublin derby against Shamrock Rovers at Dalymount Park convincingly a few weeks back, Bohemians lost narrowly in the Dublin derby against St Patrick’s Athletic at Dalymount on Friday. St Pat’s are a much-improved side this season. I’ve seen them beat Bray twice in the Carlisle Grounds already this term [once in the Leinster Senior Cup]. Perhaps the best way to move on from last season’s flirtation with relegation is to mount a title challenge of their own this year? And what of Waterford – if they can grind out away wins in tough spots like Sligo, as well as winning at home, perhaps they are contenders too?
Perhaps I’ll have to come up with another plan for Bray’s potential survival. In the wake of last week’s plan falling at the first hurdle in Limerick, perhaps a plan B needs to be sought. How about aiming for the distinction of being this season’s ‘draw specialists’? It’s not something that wins you a conventional prize, like the title or a place in Europe, but it usually guarantees a mid-table finish.
I’ve looked at the end-of-season league tables for the 15 seasons since we introduced summer football [2003 through 2017] and the team with the most draws has never been relegated. Drogheda came closest in 2009, drawing 11 of 36 games but surviving via a promotion / relegation play-off. Of the current Premier Division inhabitants, Bray have never been ‘the draw specialists’ in the summer soccer era; neither have Dundalk, Limerick or Waterford.
Sligo Rovers were the side with the most draws last year, with 15 ties out of 33 games. This was actually the highest draw percent for a season [45%] by any team in any of those 15 seasons. Sligo had been the draw specialists the previous season also, drawing 10 of 33 in 2016, and when they won the league in 2012 they got into double-figures for draws also [they drew 10 that season; Cork with 12 had the most draws though].
The most draws in a season since 2003 was 16 in 2003 for St Patrick’s Athletic [16 draws out of 36 games comes in at 44%, just below the 45% Sligo achieved last year for 15 draws out of 33]. 2003 stands out from all the tables I looked at as being the best season for draws. It was the only season out of the 15 that all clubs in the league got into double figures for draws, including champions Shelbourne and relegated UCD.
All Bray have so far this season is a solitary point from the opening-day away draw in Dundalk. Dundalk, with 2 draws so far this term, are actually leading the draw charts at this early stage. Nobody in the 15 years I looked at won the title while also leading the draw charts, so I expect that to change for Dundalk as they will inevitable mount another title challenge this season. Friday’s win over Cork was certainly a step in the right direction. As for Bray, we have Sligo next. What chance of a draw to stop the rot against the reigning draw specialists?!