Can St Patrick’s Athletic now be caught? Is the League of Ireland title race still split three ways? And will Shelbourne be strong enough to fight against the current that seems destined to drag them towards the First Division.
St Pat’s prove themselves cool under pressure
The stakes for last Friday’s top-of-the-table clash between St Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk FC at Richmond Park could not have been any higher as both sides went into the tie keen to not drop any points.
To add to the occasion, the atmosphere in Dublin that night was spectacular as flares were lit, drums were cajoled into life and both sets of fans in the stands found their voices to cheer their side on to victory.
But would the result be decisive in terms of the title?
The opening period saw August’s player of the month Richie Towell start quite brightly as he tested Liam Buckley’s defence with a couple of nicely created chances, however he couldn’t quite put the finishing touch to any of the moves in either half, and they were made to pay for a lack of clinical finishing only minutes after the restart.
In stark contrast to Towell, Chris Forrester and Daryl Kavanagh personified the coolness under pressure of the Inchicore-based outfit by both expertly rattling the back of the net for the Dublin outfit on the night. In truth, their well-taken strikes were far too good for the best effort’s of Dundalk’s custodian Peter Cherrie.
Moreover, the league leaders possessed that slight edge over their opponents, and it was that which completely eradicated the momentum that Dundalk brought into the encounter; they looked sharper, and most importantly of all, ensured they stayed in control of their own destiny when it mattered most.
Dundalk simply couldn’t keep their composure, and eventually lost sight of their objective.
To be fair, while the result does not resolve the question of who will win this season’s title, it certainly gives The Saints a bit of breathing space at the summit and definitely makes them the favourites with five matches to go to claim the title.
Only they can debilitate themselves now – needless to say, it’s squeaky bum time.
Sligo look ready for the fight
Ian Baraclough would have loved to see the top two play out a draw on Friday night, but unfortunately for them, it didn’t work out that way, and so they had to take to the field against an energetic UCD side knowing that only a win would suffice to keep them in contention.
Ninety minutes and three goals later, the Bit O’ Red knew they had done all they could to keep the pressure on.
Focus was always going to be a key element to retaining their title, and if ever proof was needed of the old adage that it’s more difficult to defend a title than it is to win it, Sligo have embodied it this year.
They showed buckets of belief and determination at the Belfield Bowl and their fans can rest assured that although they may not be in control of their own destiny, they are certainly up for the fight, and on the evidence of their trouncing of UCD, they aren’t willing to let their crown slip away from them just yet.
If anything, it’s encouraging, and is sure to galvanize them for the final flurry of matches.
They’re still in with a shout, but their tantalising match against St Pat’s in a few weeks is sure to be looked at as the long-term goal; win every game until then and see how the land lies when they travel to Richmond Park on October 13 – There’s still a glimmer of hope, particularly with Joseph Ndo and Kieran Djilali currently in flying form.
Shelbourne need character now more than ever
Leading the charge of the red brigade is surely no easy feat.
Johnny McDonnell has had his brow furrowed more than once since taking over at the helm of one of the most historic clubs in Irish football, and it looks as though that trend is set to continue for the next few weeks. A crushing blow was dealt to them when fellow relegation contenders Bohemians travelled to Tolka Park recently, reversing the 3-0 loss they suffered at Dalymount Park back in mid-June. .
In truth, even though they have a game in hand over Bohs and Bray Wanderers, it would appear as though the Reds have ground to a tired and disheartened halt with Friday’s defeat coming on the back of recent losses against St Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers, and it must be said they look unprepared for the battle that awaits them.
Not unlike the teams at the top, both mentality and mind-set are going to be incredibly vital at this time of the season. With months and months’ worth of fatigue and physicality having taken its toll on each and every squad up and down the country, the emphasis must now be switched to character.
The character of the managers, the frame of mind of the players and the belief of the fans will be called upon now more than ever to see them to the end of the campaign home and dry.
And with several unenviable tasks on the horizon against Sligo Rovers and Derry City, it is sure to take a herculean effort from everyone involved.