Home Irish Football League of Ireland Premier Division: Mid-Season Report

League of Ireland Premier Division: Mid-Season Report

With the second half of the season getting underway on Friday night it’s the perfect time to take stock of each team in the league and see if, at the halfway stage, the clubs have lived up to their pre-season expectations. The marks given at the end of each team’s section is relative to those expectations.

Athlone Town

Position: 12th

Athlone were the first club to change manager, Mick Cooke left the midlands club after their shambolic start to the season. Perversely, the mid-season break came at the undoubted highlight of their campaign, a 6-0 drubbing over Drogheda. It was only their second triumph meaning they reach the half-way point with a measly seven points. They also exited the F.A.I. Cup, bowing out to local rivals Longford.

Reason to be Cheerful

Eh….Well they only had one point after ten games so reaching seven after sixteen seems alright. All joking aside, there clearly has been some improvements over the course of the season and as Drogheda have collapsed in on themselves ,making the Louth club a possible option for overhauling. Which brings us on to…

Reasons to be Fearful

Drogheda sacked Robbie Horgan after the hammering in Athlone and will surely improve under caretaker manager Darius Kierans. The squad is still threadbare and any support within the town seems to have deserted them. If last year’s table is an indication, they might need as much as 21 more points to at least force a relegation playoff (Bray finished on 27) that’s three times as many as they’ve secured so far this season.

Big Unanswered Question

Is the improvement a flash in the pan or can they make a real go at safety?

2/10 One for each win.

_____

Bohemians

Position: 9th

The Gypsies went into the season with higher hopes after boss Owen Heary made a number of signings of more experienced players but they have struggled in the league so far. They have only won one more game than Athlone but a number of dogged away draws as well as disappointing home ones have kept their heads above water. They do, however, have an EA Sports Cup Semi Final to look forward to and remain in the F.A.I. Cup.

Reasons to be Cheerful
They went into the break with their most impressive performance of the season, a 5-0 thumping away to Bray with Dinny Corcoran scoring a hat trick. The striker has been in good form  and a team with someone who can regularly put the ball in the net usually avoid the drop. Also they have won more games in the cups this season than in the league, if that form can transfer itself then they will be fine.

Reasons to be fearful

They have not won a home league game since September of last year and if they don’t correct that at home to Athlone on Friday night it’s hard to see where one will come from. Crowds are also taking a battering with the disastrous recent results at Dalymount Park.

Big Unanswered Question

Can their away and cup form be replicated at home?

4/10 Expectations were higher at the start of the season, perhaps unwisely. Either way, they have been disappointing.

_____

Bray Wanderers

Position: 8th

Alan Matthews was put into a tough situation replacing the long serving Pat Devlin late in the off-season but so far so good for the former Longford Town boss. The perennial escape artists seem quite secure in mid-table and their results sheet include two excellent home wins over Sligo Rovers and Dundalk respectively.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Many had them pinned down to be certain candidates for a relegation play-off at the very least before the season started so expectations have certainly been exceeded. They can provide any team in the league with a stiff challenge on their day as proven by their victory over the table toppers in April.

Reasons To Be Fearful.

Their form before the break was dreadful, failing to score in five games and only gaining one draw including exciting the FAI Cup in that time away to Wexford Youths. Matthews will hope that the break came at just the right time for his side but while they’ve been mid-table all year they still are only three points clear of U.C.D. who sit in the play-off position.

Big Unanswered Question

Was their form in the last month a blip or the sign of things to come?

6/10 Bray have been in many a worse spot than this midway through a campaign and survived.

_____

Cork City

Position: 2nd

John Caulfield has brought optimism back to football in the second city after Cork’s brilliant first half to the season. Their record at Turner’s cross is superb and they’ve started to put in similar performances away from home as proven by their 2-0 triumph at Tallaght Stadium just before the break. They also remain in both cups.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Lots. They have the biggest attendances in the league by miles and there is a massive feel good factor surrounding the club. They look almost unbeatable at home which can be crucial in what will be a tight finish to the league. They are only three points behind the leaders with a game in hand and will be hopeful of adding to their squad during the summer. Even if the league goes awry they have two cup competitions to compete for.

Reasons To Be Fearful

They were absolutely hammered 4-0 against title rivals Dundalk at Oriel Park which doesn’t bode well for overhauling them and securing the league title. Concerns about their young players lasting the pace throughout the season haven’t gone away.

Big Unanswered Question

Simply, can they last the whole season at this level?

9/10 Superb performance from Caulfield’s side so far.

_____

Derry City

Position: 7th

The Candystripes are another club who have changed their manager already after the departure of Roddy Collins after a turbulent few months in charge. The football that the Dubliner brought to the Brandywell garnered much criticism and Peter Hutton upon taking the job promised to bring back the ‘Derry way’ which we can assume means attacking football.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

They have scored a few goals since Collins’ departure while also shipping five in a defeat to St.Pat’s. They surely have too much quality to be sucked into a relegation battle and they are still in the F.A.I. Cup so the season mightn’t be a total disaster just yet. Peter Hutton is a legend in the city and will receive the necessary backing from the both the supporters and those in the dressing room.

Reasons To Be Fearful

While Roddy’s reign was clearly going nowhere, sacking managers is always problematic. Especially as Collins had left his own mark on the squad bringing in a multitude of his own players, including his son who has now left the club. Even if they improve enough to have a sleepy season in mid-table that will hardly be enough to being the crowds roaring back to the Brandywell.

Big Unanswered Question

Can Hutton improve them enough to at least give supporters hope going into next season?

4/10 Roddy talked about winning the league in February, that looks pretty preposterous now.

_____

Drogheda United

Position: 10th

It all started so well for Drogheda who trounced local rivals Dundalk 4-1 on the opening day of the season. They picked up more points through the first six games but have since gone on a truly horrendous run gaining only three points in their next eleven encounters. They have conceded an alarming number of goals in this time losing 7-0 at Dundalk and 6-0 at Athlone respectively. Rather unsurprisingly, Robbie Horgan was relieved of his duites during the break with Darius Kierans taking over.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Things can’t get any worse. Something obviously had gone drastically wrong under Horgan and Kierans now has the chance to change things. Most teams enjoy a new manger bounce and it wouldn’t be hard to improve initially if you’re Drogheda. They also have Gary O’Neill and Declan O’Brien still two of the better strikers in the league. Which brings us on to…

Reasons To Be Fearful

Decent strikers only matter if you’re keeping it relatively tight at the other end. The Boynesiders have conceded a whopping forty-six goals through seventeen games. Tightening up at the back will be Kierans first task.

Big Unanswered Question

Can they stop the free fall and survive in the division?

3/10 All marks received in the first six games.

_____

Dundalk

Position: 1st

Dundalk have built on their impressive campaign last year to once again challenge for the title. They are the league’s highest scorers and the second meanest defence so, to put it mildly. things look positive for them. They also play a wonderful brand of football. The only blot on the copybook being the Setanta Cup final defeat to Sligo Rovers.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

In the biggest games so far this season Dundalk have been superb, they hammered title rivals St.Pats and Cork 4-1 and 4-0 respectively. Any concerns about their pitch effecting their play seems misplaced although they may be slightly better away from Oriel than at it. Quite simply they look like the best team in the league and it will take a huge effort for anyone else to finish ahead of them.

Reasons To Be Fearful

Not a whole lot to write about here…Undoubtedly the rumours about Richie Towell securing a move to England will worry Dundalk fans. Having already lost Stephen O’Donnell through injury could their midfield cope with the loss of another crucial cog?

Big Unanswered Question

Can they go one better than last year and secure the title?

9/10 Lose one point for not winning the Setanta Cup final.

_____

Limerick

Position: 6th

They aren’t always the easiest on the eye but Limerick continue to pick up the points they need to stay out of the relegation scrap. They have a more than competent defence led by Sam Oji  and this backline  can account for their position smack bang in the middle of the table. Most impressively they have managed to collect four points from two encounters with the champions so far this season.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Stuart Taylor seems to have the knack for picking up enough points to keep his side well away from the unsavoury positions near the bottom of the table and that doesn’t look changing at any point this season. They also have Barry Ryan who, almost unnoticed, is still the best keeper in the league.

Reasons To Be Fearful

Their attendances. No side with the exception of a few clubs nearer the top of the table have a right to be happy with their crowds but Limerick’s in a one club city are quite shocking. It’s not helped by playing games at Thomond Park where the vast stands with the meagre amount of supporters give the games there a feeling of unreality. The situation is hardly sustainable.

Big Unanswered Question

Can their attack improve to push them further away from the bottom grouping?

6/10 Limerick will certainly continue their stay in the Premier Division next season. When expectations are raised beyond this there may come trouble.

_____

Shamrock Rovers

Position: 4th

Despite losing to Cork at home just before the break, Rovers are still in the title race. They lie eight points behind the leaders but do have a game in hand. Strangely they are in it without ever really playing well. One could argue that fact makes them a dangerous proposition as if they ever hit form they will be unstoppable. They also remain in both cups.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

They still have a brilliant squad packed with quality. This has been true of the Rovers of the last two seasons and they have come up well short in the league but the chance is always there that will click consistently. As has been pointed out to be there or thereabouts without tearing up trees could be a good sign.

Reasons To Be Fearful

The failing from last year in terms of dropping silly points at home against inferior opposition is still there. Their record against their title rivals is also not good. They’ve lost twice to Cork and once to Pat’s while getting a draw at Oriel Park. In the two games after next they play the champions and the current league leaders, both at home. One feels that will decide their season.

Big Unanswered Question

What exactly constitutes a successful season for the club?

5/10 Major improvement needed to capture the league title which we can assume was Croly’s brief at the start of the season.

_____

Sligo Rovers

Position: 5th

Sligo have captured the first piece of silverware of the season, winning the Setanta Cup but other than that it has been majorly disappointing for the 2012 champions. Ian Baraclough despite all his success has been sent packing and former Accrington Manager John Coleman has taken charge. They lie fifth with no chance of relegation and no chance of a title charge. They do have a European adventure to come and face FK Banga in the Europa League.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

The last two appointments Sligo Rovers have made were Englishmen and each was a resounding success both bringing in silverware. If Coleman is to improve on his predecessors than great days for the Connacht club lie ahead. They still have a good squad of players many of whom have won trophies.

Reasons To Be Fearful

They are out of the cup meaning, domestically at least, this season is already looking like it is over. For the first time in what feels like forever, Sligo will have nothing to play for come the Autumn.

Big Unanswered Question

Can Coleman improve results and performances to give fans optimism for next season?

4/10 They were expected to challenge once again and that’s why Barraclough, despite his earlier achievements, has been shown the door.

_____

St. Patrick’s Athletic

Position: 3rd

The holders endured a difficult start to their defence of their title and while still playing some wonderful football they lie six points behind the leaders at the break. Five points dropped against Limerick account for nearly all of that total which will frustrate Liam Buckley and at times they have looked at their imperious best while Chris Forrester scored what may be the greatest goal in the history of the league against Drogheda.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Christy Fagan is scoring for fun and Conan Byrne and Forrester provide the best wide threat in the league. Before the break, they nabbed a 0-0 at Oriel which didn’t revenge upon their home 4-1 defeat but it at least meant they didn’t go into the break nine points behind. It’s hard to see them advancing past Legia Warsaw in Europe so that won’t distract from their title defence too much.

Reason To Be Fearful

While saying that, they would of course have preferred a draw which gave them more of a chance of progress in Europe to fill up the club’s coffers. The signing of Keith Fahey was heralded as a masterstroke and while the former international is a wonderful player he may have upset the balance of Pat’s title winning midfield. At times this season they have shown defensive frailties unbefitting of champions.

Big Unanswered Question

They look the best equipped to challenge the Dundalk charge, but can they?

7/10 Need to improve to overhaul Dundalk

_____

U.C.D.

Position: 11th

U.C.D are in another relegation battle and just like always they will properly play the best football of any of the sides facing the drop. Martin Russell left to go to Inchicore at the start of the season and his post was taken up by Martin Callaghan. The former Bohs manager presided over a decent start to the season but like Bray they have also flagged seriously in the weeks before the break, picking up only two points in their last five league games and going out of the F.A.I. Cup to First Division opposition.

Reasons To Be Fearful

Martin Russell always worked wonders with the Students and while they flirted with relegation it was never a serious reality. Now he’s left, one wonders if they can keep their safety intact. Their recent form is obviously a worry and they do lack a predatory striker that their rivals near the bottom possess. In fact it could be argued Bohemians and Drogheda have two each in Corcoran and Byrne at Dalymount along with O’Brien and O’Neill in Louth. Their defence is the second worst in the league.

Reason To Be Cheerful

They are by no means cut adrift in second last position and still have a comfortable gap between themselves and the automatic relegation spot and Callaghan does have experience of this end of the table from his time in Phibsboro. One of those two points recently secured came against the champions so they can mix it with the best on their day.

Big Unanswered Question

As usual, can they stay in the division?

4/10 Do look slightly worse off from where they were under Russell.

Conor Hayes, Pundit Arena.

About The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.