The last quarter of the First Division campaign has just begun and the promotion race is steadily heating up. Longford Town and Shelbourne look to be the only two teams poised to battle it out for top spot in the division.
Longford have looked like the team to beat all season but with a bit of a dip in form, drawing with Finn Harps and losing to Galway FC, find themselves only three points ahead of an impressive young Shelbourne side.
Longford Town suffered a massive collapse during the 2013 season which saw arch rivals Athlone Town lift the First Division trophy and gain automatic promotion. Lets not forget Longford’s eventual defeat to Bray Wanderers in the promotion/relegation playoff, after which many questioned Tony Cousins’ ability to get the job done regarding promotion. It certainly seems vital to Cousins’ career and tenure as Longford manager that there are no dramatic slip ups again this season. With only six games to go each and every one will be incredibly important for the Town.
For John McDonnell’s youthful Shelbourne side this title race can be seen as a case of having nothing to lose. The pressure is all on the financially backed and extensively experienced Longford Town. Most people would not have pictured Shelbourne being so close to the top of the table at this stage of the season, however, with their brand of stylish football and the ability to get wins (something some teams have struggled with this season) they find themselves just three points behind Longford. Whatever happens during the remainder of the season, at the very least, Shelbourne will have the playoffs to look forward to.
Further down the table the main competition for the second playoff place and third position is between Galway FC and Wexford Youths. Galway currently occupy third in the table, one point ahead of Wexford. Wexford have run hot and cold all season long. At times Youths make a good account of themselves during games but then there is another side to them that shows them to be sluggish and, at times, unable to take hold of games.
However, they are on a decent run of four games unbeaten at the moment with their next game away to one of the weakest teams in the division, Cobh Ramblers. Should Wexford harbour genuine ambitions for a top three finish getting three points from teams like Cobh is a must.
Galway FC, on the other hand, have performed fairly consistently all season. The main weakness lies in their ability to win games. There have been multiple times this season that Galway have been the superior team in games only to find themselves drawing or, worse still, losing matches that opposing teams have had no business getting a result from.
Goalscoring has been a problem throughout the season for Galway. One would have to worry about their ability to score goals and win games when it comes to the playoffs. That being said, Galway are coming off an impressive victory away against Longford in the league and an impressive display against Dundalk in the FAI Cup.
Exciting times ahead for both teams not least because they face each other in their final game of the season which, depending how results go during the rest of the season, could be an incredibly important fixture for both teams.