Cork City’s winning run in 2018 came to an end much sooner than last year, as Dundalk defeated the reigning champions 1-0 at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Elsewhere, Shamrock Rovers scored six for the second game in a row as Derry City capitulated in Tallaght. Meanwhile, Waterford coninued their fine start to the season with a late win in Sligo, Limerick put last week’s 8-0 hiding behind them as they defeated Bray Wanderers, and Bohemians fell to defeat against St. Patrick’s Athletic after missing another penalty.
In the First Division, four teams share the lead at the top of the table, as no side has been able to maintain a 100% record after just two rounds of matches.
So what did we learn from the latest League of Ireland action?
Dundalk have fully settled into the title race
In the first two games of the season, Dundalk looked threatening but a bit disjointed. That was to be expected, of course, after losing so many important players in the off-season, but after last season they could ill-afford another period of transition at the beginning of the season.
The 8-0 trouncing of Limerick suggested that they were on the right path, and Friday’s win against Cork City confirmed it. In defeating John Caulfield’s men for the first time since 2016, Dundalk have removed a monkey off their backs, and are now able to concentrate fully on their football and the title race without the spectre of that record hanging over them
Stephen Kenny will also be buoyed by the performances of his players in the win, with the home side surely feeling a bit disappointed that they weren’t able to hammer home their dominance with a more emphatic win.
Dundalk are raring to go now, and the League will only benefit as a result.
Shamrock Rovers have finally found that clinical edge
As was the case with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers took a bit of time to settle last season – and by time they had, it was enough to cement third place but nowhere near a title tilt. One point from their first two games led to fears of déjà vu in Tallaght, but the last two matches have seen the Hoops come into their own.
The 6-0 win against Bray Wanderers was very impressive, but last Friday’s 6-1 demolition of Derry City, their top four rivals in 2017, was even more noteworthy. Graham Burke, in particular, has hit the ground running and in becoming the first Rovers player to score four goal in one game in more than two decades has suggested that he could become the prominent goal threat that Stephen Bradley’s side have been lacking.
Monday night sees them travel to Turner’s Cross to face the champions. Should they come away from that with a positive result, then they will feel like they are part of the title race conversation.
Derry City and Sligo Rovers have a serious job on their hands
Losing three fixtures out of the first four isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but it’s hardly the ideal way to begin a new season. Derry City and Sligo Rovers will have had much higher hopes for their campaign than this, but both now face a battle to pick their players up and move towards the right half of the table.
Derry’s 6-1 hammering from Shamrock Rovers, as with Sligo’s 4-1 loss at home to Cork City, is the sort of result that can derail a season if it is allowed to. Kenny Shiels can point to the fact that all four of his side’s games have been away from home so far, but that also increases the pressure to get a positive result against Limerick at the Brandywell on Monday evening.
For Gerard Lyttle, meanwhile, having just barely avoided relegation last season he will be desperate to avoid another survival battle – victory over Bray Wanderers on Monday is essential.
This Waterford side fear absolutely nobody
Having just gained promotion, Waterford could be forgiven had they approached the top tier with some degree of trepidation. Instead, they have taken it by storm and that is well reflected in their record of nine points from a possible twelve.
They have defeated Derry City and St. Patrick’s Athletic, both of whom have been tipped to fight for Europe, while their only defeat has come away to Cork City. A late goal from new signing Courtney Duffus on Friday night ensured that the Blues took all three points from Sligo Rovers – and with an inconsistent Bohemians side coming to the RSC on Monday, Waterford will be super confident of taking another three points ahead of their trip to Oriel Park next weekend.
The First Division promotion race is going to be a dogfight
It’s nothing that we didn’t know already, in truth, but the last round of matches only hammered the point home. After two rounds of matches, not one side in the First Division is left standing with a 100% record (Drogheda United can reverse this, but at the time of writing they have yet to play any matches yet).
Favourites Galway United and Finn Harps were both held to draws, while Cobh Ramblers and Longford Town picked up impressive wins, against Cabinteely and Wexford respectively, having cancelled each other out in their season-opener last month.
At this stage, it’s monstrously hard to pick a winner from that division right now, which bodes very well for its competitiveness going forward.
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