Curtain call coming quickly for LoI season ’11Posted: October 5, 2011
The final handful of games are always the most exciting in a season. Who’ll be crowned champions? Who’s going down? Who’ll clinch a European spot? Who’s been in midtable all season, neither troubling the teams above them fighting for Europe nor flirting with relegation below, but idly just in the background of the season the whole year? Err, maybe that last one isn’t as exciting. But the rest are great!
Whatever else about the League of Ireland, it sure is an exciting one. At the moment, we’ve got Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City all very much so in the running for the glory, with St Patrick’s Athletic lingering a bit behind them. Up until a couple of weeks ago, nobody could say for sure that Bohemians didn’t have half a chance of winning it. When Bohs were included – that was a five horse race, in a ten team league. You can’t say that’s not exciting.
Judging by numbers alone, Shamrock Rovers are probably in the driving seat at this stage. They currently sit three points behind Sligo, but have two games in hand on the Bit O’ Red. Even one win and one draw in those two spare matches would see them reach the table’s summit. Later tonight, they will host arch-rivals Bohemians in one of those two games in hand. Their record against the Phibsboro outfit in Tallaght has been perfect, but Pat Fenlon will be very eager to dent both that record and the Hoops’ title push.
Much has been said about Rovers’ European run, and how it would most likely affect their league chances – the game against Bohemians will be their third in seven days. However it could be possible to disregard that point for this derby game, seeing as it will be the third game the Gypsies will play in ten days, with both a smaller squad and a bigger injury list. Nevertheless, once this huge game is out of the way, the point still stands. Rovers have had a lot of midweek games to play, and they could start to feel the toll of that in the business end of the campaign.
Thursday, October 13th sees Rovers take on Derry City, in what is probably the game of the season, remaining. Derry are right in the middle of things, alongside the two Rovers’ eying up the Premier Division trophy. The result of this fixture could have a big say in where the honour is going at the end of the season. A Rovers win would put nearly too much ground between themselves and the Candystripes, while a Derry victory would almost make up for other recent errors.
Stephen Kenny’s men have hit a bump in form of late. Draws with Drogheda and Bray Wanderers have been surprise results that everybody would have expected Derry to win. Those extra four points would have left them level on points with Rovers, with the same amount of games played/same amount of games in hand. They were major slip ups that Derry could massively rue come November.
Whereas Shams have had a massive build up of extra fixtures, Derry weren’t involved in Europe this season and were also knocked out of the FAI Cup in only the fourth round by Wexford Youths. Rovers have had plenty of European games, as well as a stern trip to Sligo in the quarter finals of the FAI Cup to keep them busy. If, come October 13th, Rovers have been run ragged by the amount of games they’ve had to play, Derry could on the other hand, be fit and ready. Fitness and freshness could yet play a key role in the run-in. Despite being four points behind, Derry are by no means out of this title race.
Sligo Rovers would be crowned champions if the season ends right now. But we’ve a long way to go yet. The Bit O’ Red arguably have the easiest remaining fixtures list, and I’m only saying this because they don’t have to play either Shams or Derry. Two trips to Dublin to compete with Pat’s and Bohs await Sligo, both tough tests against teams that Sligo have found difficulty in playing this season. A total of one win against both teams is a daunting stat for Rovers fans.
However, Sligo have shown us in recent years that they have a tendency to finish the year very strongly. If they manage to win all their remaining games, they can’t be assured of winning the league, but are put in a strong position to do so. The Connaught club also have a visit to Dalymount Park for the semi final of the FAI Cup to think about too.
St. Patrick’s Athletic are all but dead and buried. 8 points behind Sligo, they’ll need to win every game they have left, while hoping that Sligo, Derry and Shamrock Rovers don’t reach the 69 point mark – which is only two points above what Sligo currently have.
It’s happened before and it could happen again, that the league is decided on goal difference. Sligo have the clear advantage in this department, with their recent mauling of Galway bringing them up to a +50 goal difference. The other Rovers and Derry have +38 and +35, respectively. Last season the title was given to Shamrock Rovers by a difference of two goals, in goal difference. That’s how tight it can get.
Paddy Power prices for outright victory of the league as follows:
Shamrock Rovers – 1/2
Sligo Rovers – 15/8
Derry City – 9/1
St. Patrick’s Athletic – 80/1
There’s only two prices here that I really agree with – the Sligo and Pat’s ones. I don’t think Shamrock Rovers are as assured as 1/2 to win the league. If I was in the bookies business myself, I’d have them as odds on favourites, but not by that much – definitely closer to evens. I couldn’t discount Derry as far back as 9/1 either. I agree that they should be a bigger price than Sligo, but I wouldn’t say they’re that far behind, especially with their encounter with Shamrock Rovers coming up.
Remaining fixtures; Shamrock Rovers – Bohemians (H), Bray (A), Derry (H), UCD (A), Galway (H).
Sligo Rovers – St Pat’s (A), Bohemians (A), UCD (H).
Derry City – Dundalk (A), Shamrock Rovers (A), Galway (H), St Pat’s (A), Bohemians (H).
Down at the wrong end of the table, unfortunately there isn’t really as much excitement, not a fraction as much to preview. Galway lie rock bottom of the division, and can’t get any higher. With four games remaining, Drogheda sit thirteen points above them. Galway will be involved in a relegation/promotion playoff with whoever finished third in the First Division this year. Galway have been abysmal all season, with only one win and six points to their name, and have only weakened since having to part with some of their senior players.
I tip Galway to lose the relegation/promotion playoff, to whoever it is they will play. We won’t know their opposition until the equally tightly contested First Division is finished, although it will be one of Shelbourne, Cork, Monaghan or Limerick – who are all more than capable of beating Galway it seems.
So, if I gave you a fiver (I’m not going to give you a fiver by the way) to bet on one team to win the league – who’s your pick?