LOI First Division Previews (14&15th July)

LOI TV commentator & host of Between the Stripes LOI podcast Kieran Burke previews the latest LOI action.

With the LOI Premier Division schedule reduced to just three matches this weekend due to Shamrock Rovers, St.Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk and Derry City all competing in Europe this week, Kieran Burke, LOI TV commentator and host of Between the Stripes LOI podcast, has decided to focus on this weekends First Division matches for us.

Bray Wanderers v Wexford FC – Fri, 7.45, LOI TV.

Two teams who went through sweeping changes in the off-season meet at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night as Ian Ryan’s Bray Wanderers hosts his former club Wexford FC. At this stage of the season, I think it’s fair to say the rebuild at Bray is progressing a lot smoother than that of Wexford’s.

Bray Wanderers sit inside the play-off places and are currently on a three game unbeaten run (W1, D2) while earlier this week the Wicklow men announced a couple of exciting new signings, including that of former UCD star Yoyo Mahdy.

The Seagulls have struggled for a bit of spark in the final third this season with Ian Ryan’s side scoring just over a goal per game with 28 goals in 22 league matches, but the addition of Mahdy may help with that given he scored 15 goals in 17 matches for UCD in 2020.

As for Wexford, their manager James Keddy is beginning to come under pressure from the clubs supporters after they followed up a dreadful showing in defeat away to Longford with a 4-1 hammering at home to Athlone last Friday.

Defensively, Wexford have been a shambles this season with Keddy’s team shipping 35 goals in 22 matches. They also aren’t scoring enough goals (25 in 22) which is usually a recipe for disaster and while they aren’t in total crisis just yet, a seventh place league position is definitely a big underperformance at this point.

As referenced at the start of this preview, Wexford underwent huge changes in the Winter with Keddy being heavily backed in the transfer market. As a result, anything other than a top five finish this season would have to be viewed as total failure which makes this game (5th v 7th) so important.

Given how poorly Wexford have defended in their last two games this looks a good opening for Bray to go an assert their place in the play-off positions.

Prediction: Bray Wanderers (6/10)

Best bet: Bray win & BTTS (15/4) – Two teams who have struggled defensively this season while there have been some thrilling H2H’s in recent years, including a 3-2 win for Bray here earlier in the season.

Treaty United v Waterford FC – Fri, 7.45, LOI TV

An run of two wins and a draw in their last three and just one defeat in their last five has seen Treaty United climb to sixth in the table and to within just three points of the play-off places after a choppy start to the season.

Treaty boss Tommy Barrett has massively over achieved in his two years at the club with the ex-Limerick boss delivering play-off football in both seasons since the Limerick club joined the LOI while last season he also led Treaty to the semi-finals of the FAI Cup.

With such achievement comes expectation, unfair as it is at times given Treaty’s limited resources, and Barrett has spoken a few times this season about trying to deal with such.

A lack of resources certainly isn’t an issue at Waterford where expectations are naturally massive. To be so far behind league leaders Galway will sting but Waterford have been blowing away most other teams in the division and are everyone’s favourites to win the First Division play-off.

The last time these two sides met, Waterford won 7-0 and at 1/4 they aren’t expected to meet much resistance here despite the hosts mini revival of late.

Prediction: Waterford (1/4)

Best bet: Waterford -1 (13/20)

Athlone Town v Galway United, Fri, 7.45, LOI TV

The game of the weekend in the First Division. A local derby between free scoring Athlone Town and champions elect Galway. Athlone Town have taken a huge step forward this season with the arrival of some talented American based players and will arrive into this game high on confidence after tearing Wexford apart last week.

Campion-Hinds has been a big hit since arriving at Athlone from the USA and scored this banger against Wexford last week.

A place in the play-offs for the first time in well over a decade is very much a realistic target for the Midlanders this season as they currently sit fourth after three wins in their last five.

Galway United are in a league of their own this season with 19 wins and 2 draws from 22 matches, a run that sees John Caulfield’s men 13 points clear at the top. However, the Tribesmen have looked ever so slightly flat in their last two games with an unconvincing 1-0 home win against Kerry (who they had beat 9-1 earlier in the season) being followed up by a 1-1 draw away to Cobh Ramblers.

As a result, Athlone will be eyeing this as a rare opportunity to down their near neighbors. Galway United are the leagues top scorers while Athlone have scored an impressive 39 times in 22 matches. Both teams can call upon some in-form goalscorers and with both teams scoring in the last 4 H2H’s, I can see this being a goalfest.

Best bet: BTTS (15/20)

Finn Harps v Cobh Ramblers – Fri, 8.00, LOI TV

The longest journey of the LOI season occurs on Friday as Cobh Ramblers make the almost 1,000km trek to Finn Park to tackle Finn Harps. Despite the dreaded journey, Shane Keegan’s players should set off in strong spirits after a run of four wins and a draw from their last five.

Cobh Ramblers are currently sitting pretty as the “best of the rest” behind the divisions two big guns Galway and Waterford and having taken points off both of those teams in recent weeks they won’t fear Finn Harps on Friday.

Nor should they, Harps have struggled massively this season with Dave Rogers building a young team and bringing in players who are alien to this league. As a result, Harps sit second from bottom with many fans already looking to next season.

Also, Cobh hammered Harps 4-1 when the sides last met but that was in Cork with the Rams playing out a 2-2 draw in Donegal earlier in the season. There’s no doubt a journey of this magnitude takes something out of the legs of part time players but even at that I’d fancy Cobh to take something back down the road with them.

Prediction: Draw (12/5)

Best bet: Cobh draw no bet (11/20)

Longford Town v Kerry FC – Sat, 7.30, LOI TV.

Two of Longford’s five wins this season have come in this fixture and with De Town starting to show signs of awakening after a sleepy start to the season it could spell trouble for the men from the Kingdom.

Having taken the top job at Bishopsgate at the start of the year, Longford chief Stephen Henderson very quickly found himself overseeing a total rebuild, as Town were raided for their top players, and with time running out to assemble a new side, Henderson was forced to turn to youth and unproven players at this level.

Many of the few senior players Henderson could call upon ended up spending long periods of the first half of the campaign on the treatment table so the ex-Cobh gaffer had to make do with what little he had and just make Longford hard to beat but not much else. A return of just 22 goals scored in 22 matches tells you that but with the injury crisis now starting to ease up and with the arrival of some much needed reinforcements things are starting to look up in Longford.

Whitmarsh has been a revelation since signing mid-season as a free agent for LTFC.

Signs of what may be to come in the second half of the season were on display last Friday as Longford headed to the RSC and came away with a 2-2 draw against Waterford while the week previous De Town dominated Wexford FC in the second half to win 2-1.

With Kerry FC losing 18 of 22 games this season, anything other than a win is unacceptable for the home side who really need to go on a run now if they want to have any chance of a top five finish.

Prediction: Longford Town (7/20)

Best bet: Longford Town -1 (21/20)

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*Odds were correct at time of publishing the article