Just when it appeared as though we would not be treated to much of a title race this season, Shamrock Rovers surprise 2-0 defeat in Oriel Park combined with St.Pat’s 7-0 thrashing of UCD sees the gap at the top sitting at just four points. Both Rovers and St.Pat’s are involved in European action next week so keeping an eye on domestic duties this weekend is crucial if they are to maintain their respective title hopes. LOI TV commentator and host of Between the Stripes LOI podcast Kieran Burke looks ahead to Friday’s Premier Division action.
Drogheda United v Shamrock Rovers – 7.45, LOI TV
There are very few teams that can boast an unbeaten run of five matches against Shamrock Rovers but Drogheda United can and they’ll fancy themselves against the Hoops again on Friday with Stephen Bradley’s side perhaps having one eye on their Champions League qualifier next Tuesday. Not only that but Rovers were well beaten by Drogheda’s local rivals Dundalk last week while the Drogs were extremely disappointed not to come away from Turners Cross with all three points after another excellent performance against Cork City (1-1).
Sadly, that has been a common theme for Drogheda this season, playing well but not taking their chances and that was again the case against relegation rivals Cork City. There has been lots of concern as to how Drogheda will fill the void left by the departure of striker Freddie Draper, who has returned to Lincoln following his loan spell, but a run of three goals in three games for Adam Foley is hugely encouraging. Drogheda will need Foley to step up until they can find some sort of replacement for Draper.
As for the Champions, they were without the likes of Jack Byrne and Neil Farrugia for last Friday’s defeat to Dundalk while Rory Gaffney and Graham Burke only started from the bench. The introduction of those two players gave Rovers far more threat at Oriel Park so I’d expect them to start against Drogheda. However, Drogheda have shown their ability to frustrate even the sharpest of attacks in the LOI this season and with Bradley unlikely to risk any player who isn’t fully fit with Europe on the horizon I fancy Drogheda to extend their unbeaten run against the Hoops.
BEST BET: Drogheda United win or draw (11/10).
UCD AFC v Shelbourne – 7.45, LOI TV
Any hopes of a UCD bounce off the back of their surprise win against Sligo Rovers recently were short lived as the Students were squashed 7-0 by a ruthless St.Patrick’s Athletic on Friday. UCD’s fate in the top-flight has long been sealed with a return to the First Division all but confirmed next season.
Shelbourne on the other hand have every right to be eyeing a top-four finish and possible European qualification even after a run of just one win from their last seven league games. What Damien Duff does well as Shels boss is ensuring his team rarely suffer back-to-back losses. In fact, that is an occurrence which is yet to take place this season with Shelbourne stringing together plenty of unbeaten runs. However, a league high tally of 10 draws means the Reds aren’t progressing up the league table as rapidly as they may like which makes winning a game like this of crucial importance.
This is a fixture Shelbourne have struggled in this season with a 0-0 draw and a scrappy 1-0 win giving them the slight upper hand over UCD. However, Shelbourne put in another excellent display in last Friday’s 1-1 draw at home to title chasing Derry City and if they can back that up here they should have more than enough to dispatch the leagues basement boys.
BEST BET: Shelbourne (1/2)
St.Patrick’s Athletic v Cork City – 7.45, LOI TV
Frday’s 7-0 win at home to UCD extended St.Pat’s recent run of form to six wins and a draw from their last eight matches to fire the Saints to within four points of the league leaders. Jon Daly’s first game as interim manager of St.Pat’s came in a 3-2 win away to Cork City with the former assistant manager, who has since been given the gig on a full-time basis, claiming 25 points from a possible 33 since first replacing Tim Clancy in the hotseat.
Coincidently, Cork City also began life under a temporary management team with that defeat against St.Pat’s with Liam Buckley garnering up 13 points from a possible 27 since replacing Colin Healy in the City dugout. While Buckley will only stay in the role for the remainder of the season there is no doubt he’s done a good job to date even if the league table doesn’t necessarily reflect that with Cork sitting second-bottom.
After a run of four consecutive victories, Cork City are now winless in their last three and come up against a Pat’s side who are firing on all cylinders. The one saving grace for Cork may be the possibility of Pat’s taking their eye off this game slightly for Europe. However, the Saints wouldn’t have used up much energy when sweeping UCD aside and have quality attacking options on the bench they can draft in for this game if required.
For me, St.Pat’s have too much quality for Cork City and are likely to display that in front of another bumper home crowd at Richmond Park.
BEST BET: St.Pat’s (1/2)
Bohemians v Dundalk FC – 7.45, LOI TV
Two teams meet at Dalymount Park after starkly contrasting results last time out. Bohemians posted one of their worst efforts of the entire season when being beaten 3-1 in Sligo on Friday while Dundalk stunned Shamrock Rovers with two goals in the space of two second-half minutes to come out on top 2-0 against the Champions at Oriel Park.
Stephen O’Donnell spoke after the game about the “bite” and aggression his team played with against Rovers and if they carry those attributes into this game they could get at a Bohs side who look to have a little bit of a soft underbelly.
The Gypsies are now winless in their last four matches and have dropped out of the top four in the table despite making a rapid start to the campaign. Dundalk meanwhile are now just seven points off top with a top four finish looking like a minimum target for the Lilywhites now.
Again, we must take Europe into account here with Dundalk set to play in the heat of Gibraltar next Thursday so team selection will be interesting for this fixture. Without the distraction of European qualifiers (a welcome one I may add) I’d strongly fancy Dundalk here and at 2/1 I still may be tempted to side with them but with Bohemians fans expecting a response from the Sligo horrowshow I am inclined to be cautious with my prediction here.
Prediction: Draw (12/5)
Derry City v Sligo Rovers – 7.45, LOI TV
This is by far and away the most difficult game of the weekend to preview. Firstly, the days leading up to the match have been dominated by reports linking Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins with the vacant Barsnley job, however, he now looks set to stay with his hometown club.
Secondly, it’s impssible to put any great faith in either of these sides with the hosts recording just one win in their last seven matches while Sligo Rovers stunning 3-1 win at home to Bohemians last time was their first victory in five outings.
If you want to understand why a well-backed studded Derry City suddenly find themselves slipping out of the title race then you should watch back their recent 1-0 defeat against the champions Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght. Ruaidhrí Higgins spoke a lot about “territory” and “possession” after the game but the simple fact is Derry didn’t look like scoring in a month of Sunday’s. On far too many occasions this season City have had huge chunks of possession and done next to nothing with it……That approach won’t win you a title.
As for Sligo Rovers, just staying in the Premier Division is their current objective but given they have recorded a win and two draws from their last three meetings with Derry City they won’t travel to the Brandywell fearing the Candystripes.
Should Sligo Rovers sit in and play with a good solid low-block we’ve seen Derry City struggle with that all season long. However, we’ve also seen Sligo’s defence falling to pieces all too often this season so I as said earlier, I can have little to no faith in either of these teams.
Prediction: Draw (14/5)