Football Round-Up (LOI Week Seven, EPL Week 34)

It seems strange, after the struggles of last year, working hard to keep in second of a very poor First Division, to be in the top half of the top tier within 12 months. But here Limerick are, after a dominant display against a mostly hapless Bray team.

Limerick were impressive in the first half. Axel, Curran, O’Leary, Tracy were all playing really well and totally bossing the show.  Quick passing, good runs, good communication. First two goals were great stuff, really well worked strikes, second in particular. The through ball for Axel to chip over the Bray keeper was sublime, but bettered by Tracy’s dangerous in swinging cross for the second.  Tracy’s two free-kicks, almost mirror images of each other, and the Bray keeper really should have learned his lesson for the second one.

I was at the game and I wasn’t that impressed with Bray. Their defence was poor and exploited easily enough, and their forward line was toothless, with star man Jason Byrne maybe not at full fitness. It really should have been a closer contest, because Bray had a whole heap of chances in the second half, and really good ones at that, but Barry Ryan did enough to keep them at bay. Some truly great saves, man of the match without a doubt in my mind.

Limerick’s backline wasn’t great, maybe missed someone like Pat Purcell to really keep them together. A few hairy backpasses, lots of miscontrol, that sort of thing. Costelloe was particularly guilty. Better teams would have punished Limerick big time. But Bray just could not get it in the net and flapped around at the back for Limerick’s first two goals.

It really was a lot like the League Cup game last year, when the visitors scored three goals in quick succession then basically let Brat play away for the rest of the game. Bray simply weren’t good enough to get back into it, and have now shipped 11 goals in two games with nothing to balance the scales. They need to right that ship fast, lest they find themselves stuck in a battle with UCD and Shels.

When Limerick started this three game series against bottom half opposition following the Shams draw, I would have been happy enough to get seven points from nine. Limerick are on course to match that expectation, which is great, and could well exceed it at home to Shelbourne.

The Sligo Rovers march to the title hit a brick wall against St Pats on Saturday, though you must say that the officiating might have had as much to do with it as the Saints. That’s not to take too much from the Inchicore lads who, with that game in hand, could soon be within touching distance of the champions, and they did well enough to secure that victory, marking Elding out of the game and Forrester causing a lot of problems down the right wing. Sligo have hit something of a rough patch, falling to Drogs in the Setanta Cup midweek, but this was not an easy game for them by any means. The run might be over, but it would be foolish to assume that Sligo are still anything but favourites.

They took that title from Shamrock Rovers in preseason, and the electric Derry City helped ensure that it was a fair assessment, beating Shams at the Brandywell in a thrilling second half show. It was one of those games, having gone two goals up and then conceding a late equaliser, that you could see ending in a 94th minute draw, but Derry held out. It was from crosses that they found both goals, and the Shams defence was unprepared to deal with that avenue of attack. As it stands, with Shams falling back to seventh and Derry closing the gap at the top to two points, it might well be a three horse race of Sligo, Saints and Derry. May 6th see’s Sligo/Derry.

More misery for Bohemians, outplayed at home again, this time by Dundalk. I wonder if the poor state of the Dalymount pitch might be a factor, but Bohs were also not especially great away to Limerick at Thomond, failing to hold on to a goal lead despite having a man advantage (a game I was not present at). I still think that both these teams are destined for mid-table stability, but for Bohs it is a case of improving just a bit so they can place themselves ahead of the bottom three, and for Dundalk I fear any inevitable slide as the season progresses.

Shels managed to scrape a hard fought draw out of Cork, who have been in a bit of freefall over the last few weeks, while UCD couldn’t do enough to earn a point away to Drogs. It was probably a more difficult battle for Drogheda than they would have liked, but they may have been feeling the effects of the mid-week win over Sligo. Either way, both UCD and Shels await their first win this season. They play each other May 3rd.

Down below, it’s a case of “as you were” except for Finn Harps, whose slightly difficult one goal win over Salthill see’s them put some breathing room between themselves and Cobh, who managed to wring a point away to Waterford despite playing most of the game with only ten men. I thought at the start of the season that Cobh were going to struggle big time, playing on a tiny budget and unused to the higher level of competition, but they’re in the top half, above Waterford, as the first series of games draws to a close. It’s not that hard to imagine them, now, being in a play-off position at leagues end.

Mervue, really pulling out all the stops this year, strolled to a 4-1 win at home to Wexford, though they only pulled away in the last stretch of the game. Wexford seem very up and down this year, and really don’t look like they have the capability to mount any sort of challenge to the more high-flying clubs. And while Mervue are doing very well and look more and more like a surer bet to be involved at the finish, their pitiful attendance levels – below three figures according to some this weekend – are a major blow against them. What happens if Mervue achieved promotion this season? Would they be allowed to compete in the top tier, with only 80 or so people attending their games?

The Midlands derby saw Longford win out 2-1, with all goals coming in the last five minutes. Not the most vintage performance from either team, but Longford won’t care. The shooting boots were certainly absent from both sides anyway, but following one series of games, Longford are top of the table, and with a little bit of breathing room. It was the same last year of course, and we all know how that turned out, but I think Longford are better placed to press on, lacking the opposition of Limerick.

Across the pond then, where it appears to be match point for Manchester United. The run-in drive stuttered midweek against West Ham, when United were more than a little lucky to get away from Upton Park with a point. The Hammers played well upfront and caused problems, especially at the left back position, and countered well for their first goal. Andy Carroll’s thuggish display aside, I was impressed by them. Players like Kagawa and Valencia kept United in the fight, and Rooney well earned his substitution. Van Persie was offside for his goal, but considering Carroll’s carry-on, my sympathy for West Ham is limited. Man City’s late winner against the Latics seemed to set-up an extended title chase, at least for a few weeks.

At least until six minutes and 20 seconds of football in White Hart Lane. City were well worth their lead this Sunday, and could have extended it with a bit more effort, but Spurs are just so, so dangerous when they get going. Adebayor’s eventual substitution, long in the coming, was the turning point. Once Kompany criminally let that cross go into the path of Dempsey (and he was onside), it was a different game, and it was the home side who were well worth the win in the end. This was not the same City side that outplayed United at Old Trafford, not by a long shot. Mancini, with the FA Cup Final to look forward to, might well save his job, but I can’t envision him having a long-term future at the club, not with such wildly variable displays like this.

So, it’s United’s to win tomorrow. Three points against Villa will seal #20. Villa are no pushovers, and I vividly remember the misery when they won at OT a few seasons ago. Fighting relegation, I think it will be a tough one. But the atmosphere in Old Trafford, considering the occasion and the possibilities, should be a good one, and Ferguson will be keen to end the contest before the two tough games – Arsenal away and Chelsea at home – coming up. Talk of eclipsing Chelsea’s 95 point record bores me. Titles are all that matters.

Suarez is making all the headlines of course. His appalling behaviour is distracting from an otherwise entertaining contest between Liverpool and Chelsea. Considering where Liverpool were earlier in the season,  seventh might not actually be too bad a return in the second half, but the failure to achieve a European place, and likely finishing behind Everton, will, ahem, bite. It’s all so tight for the Champions League places, with Arsenal’s win against ten man Fulham putting them back in the drivers seat in that contest.

With Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich all picking up wins, the relegation battle is also becoming clearer. Reading and QPR are just about done, so its really just, in my eyes anyway, a straight run-off between Villa and Wigan, with Newcastle, Stoke and Sunderland just skirting the edges of danger, possibly to be drawn back in depending on results. Villa and Wigan face each other on the last day, so how important could that prove to be. Wigan have a choice to make regards their priorities, with that FA Cup Final coming up, but I think it is clear that survival comes first.

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