The latest in our 2018 League of Ireland Premier Division club-by-club previews focuses on 2012 champions Sligo Rovers.
After a 2017 season that saw the dismissal of Dave Robertson and arrival of Gerard Lyttle at the helm, the Bit o’ Red will be hoping for a much more stable campaign this time around. What’s more, they’ll be desperate to avoid a repeat of last season in which they only escaped relegation to the FIrst Division on the final day of the season.
Having enjoyed a full pre-season with the side for the first time, Lyttle will be confident of progressing with Sligo Rovers in 2018 – and he has all the tools at his disposal to ensure that is the case.
It’s hard to look past Rhys McCabe as the most vital cog of this Sligo Rovers side. The Scottish playmaker made an almost immediate impact when he joined the club from Dunfermline in the summer of 2017, scoring four goals in 13 games (including the winner against Cork City at Turner’s Cross). Indeed, tying him down for another season at the Showgrounds was among the best bits of business that Sligo did in the winter.
Some of Lyttle’s signings suggest that the manager is moving in a more attacking, creative direction and McCabe will be at the very epicentre of all of that. The 25-year-old could be set for a massive season for the 25-year-old former Rangers man.
Key New Arrival
Writing off the career of any player at the age of 23 is a dangerous practice, and the words of Adam Morgan upon signing for the club last month suggest that he is ready to hit to hit the ground running in the League of Ireland.
The former Liverpool striker appeared destined at point to make the grade under Brendan Rodgers at Anfield, it did not happen for him in the end – as is the case with so many young players. Having moved around to various clubs in England’s non-league circuit in the last couple of years, the English striker is ready to carry the goalscoring can for Sligo. If he can start hitting the back of the net regularly, it could be just the boost his career needed.
Impressing in a team bound for relegation is never easy, but Adam Wixted managed just that for Drogheda United last season. The 22-year-old winger fell away a bit as it became more apparent that Pete Mahon’s side were heading for the drop, but still impressed enough to be named the club’s Players’ Player of the Year for 2017 due to a number of eye-catching displays over the course of the campaign.
Wixted will be one to watch for his new side in what could be a new lease of life for the former Bray Wanderers and Derby County man.
One to Watch
Signings from afar almost always carry the air of the unknown, and that is precisely the case with new arrival Eduardo Pincelli. The Brazilian arrived from Cypriot side Ethinkos Achinas under recommendation from former Rovers forward Vinny Faherty, and while at 34 he is very much coming towards the end of his career, after a journey that has taken him to places such as Italy, Sweden and Malaysia, Lyttle will be hoping that Pincelli can have the sort of impact for his new side that compatriot Rodrigo Tosi had for Limerick in 2017.
Lyttle improved Sligo’s fortunes upon taking over midway through last season, of that there is little doubt. The former Cliftonville boss made them more solid at the back, and the fact that they finished with the fewest goals conceded (44) of any side in the bottom half, as well as ending with fewer defeats than top-half sides Bohemians, Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers is proof of this. On the other hand, they had more draws than any other team in the league last year.
Losing Tobi Adebayo-Rowling and Mick Leahy will impact that defence, but Lyttle has signalled his intent of turning some of those draws into wins with the arrival of Morgan, Pincelli, David Cawley and Adam Wixted. Finding that balance is key, and if Lyttle can do that then they might just be in the conversation for a top half finish.
Pundit Arena Prediction: 7th.
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