As we get geared up for the end of the season, there is still plenty to play for across several of Europe’s domestic leagues.
Friday night’s are what it’s all about when it comes to the Dutch Eerste Divisie, and this Friday night will see the final gamweek of the regular season before the promotion play-offs begin. Both Zwolle and Heracles will both be gunning for the title after securing promotion several weeks ago, whilst in Ireland things are also starting to get interesting as the domestic season really begins to hit full flight.
The likes of Shamrock Rovers are starting to hit red-hot form in the Premier Division, whilst in the First Division, there has been a managerial sacking that hasn’t even be announced to the club’s respected fanbase!
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Helmond Sport v PEC Zwolle
It is the final round of the regular season in the Eerste Divisie and most things are decided. PEC Zwolle and Heracles Almelo got promoted to the Eredivisie and the six qualifiers for the play-offs are also clear. Willem II, Almere City, NAC Breda, MVV Maastricht, FC Eindhoven, and VVV Venlo will go to the season finale to fight for the last promotion spot with the number 16 in the top flight.
The league title, however, is still up for grabs. Ahead of the final round, Heracles are in the lead, but only on the back of a +4 goal difference. It means that PEC Zwolle will probably try to win this game with as many goals difference as possible, or simply win their game and hope that Heracles make a mistake at home against Jong Ajax.
PEC Zwolle already claimed a 13-0 victory this season, so it is definitely possible, but it is unlikely to go that far. Having said that, Helmond Sport are also done with the season and don’t really have anything to play for. They have upped their game recently and claimed a decent away victory last week, but I doubt they’ll be massively motivated to frustrate PEC’s title chances. PEC will be at full strength in this game and striker Lennart Thy is in pole position to become league’s top goalscorer, so they’ll take this match pretty much as seriously as they come, so I suspect the away side to claim a fairly easy victory, to try to keep their title chances alive.
Heracles Almelo v Jong Ajax
Heracles are still in full fight for the title after five wins in a row. Their promotion quest finished a few weeks ago, but they didn’t see that as a reason to take things a bit easier, so now they are top of the league. Their final game against Jong Ajax seems to become quite an open match.
Jong Ajax don’t really have anything to lose and are playing quite attacking this season. Manager Dave Vos seemed to have improved them a lot, after a difficult start to his term at the Ajax academy side. Especially going forward they seem steady and 5-4, 6-2, 4-2, 3-2 and 4-1 are some of the results (all victories) from the last nine games. That doesn’t make Jong Ajax the most scoring team in this league, because that is today’s opponent, Heracles Almelo.
Heracles are far too good for this league and are on an average of almost three goals a game this season. Emil Hansson is one of the key players in this promotion with 16 goals and 18 assists this season and he’ll be looking to add to his tally. They’ll still be without Nikolai Laursen, but since the Danish winger got injured, they haven’t stopped scoring.
A match that involves Jong Ajax is always likely to see goals, especially against Heracles. Midfielder Youri Regeer won’t play for Jong Ajax, as he is suspended, but for the rest, we might see a fairly strong Ajax side that has plenty of goals in the XI, that’s why this game has got goals written all over.
Jong PSV v FC Eindhoven
The final round also has a derby scheduled. It is not the most heavy-set derby, but Jong PSV and Eindhoven are both from Eindhoven and developed a bit of a derby recently. FC Eindhoven secured a play-off spot a couple of weeks ago. They lost their last game, but that was partly down to missing three key players. Charles-Andreas Brym, who is in the running to become the best player of the last quarter of the season, was not match fit. Ozan Kokcu and Brian de Keersmaecker were suspended.
The three are set to return for the derby against Jong PSV. They don’t have much to play for against the academy team, but heading into the play-offs on the back of two defeats is something they’ll want to avoid at any cost. Jong PSV are unlikely to have many fringe players from the first team, as they’ll play an important game on Sunday and Ismael Saibari, one of the best players to be active in the Jong side, won’t be there.
Jong PSV aren’t really playing for anything anymore this season, and it is unlikely they’ll be massively motivated for this last game apart from playing the derby. I suspect Eindhoven’s motivation is higher with the play-offs around the corner and with Brym almost certainly back in the starting line-up, I’d back them to win this match, but to build in a bit more margin a double chance should do the trick.
Derry City v UCD AFC
The title race is beginning to heat up nicely with both Shamrock Rovers and Derry City following up wins on Friday with important victories on Monday night. Derry City go into this home game against the league’s bottom side just two points off the league leaders and should face little to no opposition against a Students side who have lost their last three matches to nil.
Winless in their last five, trips to the likes of Derry City are not the kind of fixture that will decide UCD’s future at this level. The Candystripes easily dispatched UCD 4-0 when the sides met at the UCD Bowl earlier in the campaign and a similar result could be on the cards here.
Derry showed their steel on Friday when winning away at potential title rivals Bohemians while on Monday, Ruaidhri Higgins’s side asserted their authority with the most comfortable of 3-0 wins against Dundalk.
Dundalk were restricted to just one shot on target and never even came close to laying a glove on Derry despite the fact the home side made a number of changes from the win against Bohs a few days earlier.
City have now won their last three games to nil and will be aiming to extend that sequence to four on Friday.
Cobh Ramblers v Athlone Town
Even when things appear to be improving at Athlone Town the Westmeath club always seem to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot like some sort of sick circus act. Having enjoyed one of their strongest starts to a league season for many a year, Athlone Town have once again lost a decent manager with Gordon Brett stepping aside earlier this week.
Not that the club have confirmed or announced the news though, instead it has once again been up to independent news outlets to inform the club’s fans of what is going on behind the scenes. Why Brett has stepped aside, just weeks after being installed, remains to be seen but it’s clear for all to see that Athlone Town is far from a harmonious place at the moment with different factions within the club singing off different hymn sheets.
Cobh Ramblers meanwhile are being rewarded for putting their faith in a highly respected League of Ireland manager in Shane Keegan who has been given the freedom to build a team however he sees fit at St. Colman’s Park and the club’s hierarchy are seeing the rewards as a result.
While last week’s hammering away to Waterford will have disappointed Keegan that was a total mismatch in terms of resources with Ramblers performing very well against teams on or around their level this season. Cobh currently sit best of the rest in third behind the division’s two behemoths of Galway United and Waterford and will be looking to do damage to a play-off rival in the shape of Athlone who currently occupy the final play-off place on goal difference.
With all the turmoil surrounding Athlone at the moment and with Cobh Ramblers holding a strong home record (P7, W4, D1, L2) it may pay to side with the Rams here.
Shamrock Rovers v Drogheda United
Drogheda boss Kevin Doherty must be having sleepless nights after a string of really positive performances by his Drogheda side yielded little to no returns. The Louth men are now winless in seven matches, losing five, with Drogheda’s inability to take their chances in front of goal really hampering their bid to climb away from the lower reaches of the Premier Division table.
For the performances they’ve put in, Drogheda should be so much better off than just six points above the relegation play-off place but until they find someone to turn the ball home on a consistent basis that predicament is unlikely to change.
Assignments don’t come much tougher than a trip to the champions with Shamrock Rovers purring like a finely tuned sports car. The Hoops have won their last six matches and look a cut above anyone else in the league at the moment.
Rovers have found trips to Drogheda difficult in recent seasons, as have many of the division’s top teams, but at home, it’s been a much simpler story for Stephen Bradley’s troops. The Champions have won six of their last eight home matches against Drogheda United, drawing the other two, with Drogheda’s last Tallaght Stadium success coming all the way back in 2014.
Shamrock Rovers, who are looking good for a fourth consecutive league title, are scoring for fun presently with the Tallaght outfit bagging two or more goals in their last 11 straight matches and they should have far too much for their part-time visitors on Friday.
Finn Harps v Waterford FC
There’s no point in sugar coating it, Finn Harps are simply a very poor side. The club are clearly going through a transitional period, one that is likely to take more than just a season or two, with the club’s decision-makers deciding to take a different route following relegation last season.
Harps have invested heavily in a new and relatively unproven manager in Dave Rogers who was handed an eyebrow-raising four-year deal with the Liverpool native assembling an almost entirely new squad made up of young players with potential and unknown gambles brought in from abroad.
14 games in and Harps sit second from bottom in the First Division standings with only the league’s newest entity and bottom team Kerry FC having conceded more goals. A goal difference of -13 at this stage of the season is very concerning and when you see Friday’s visitors Waterford coming into the match with a goal difference of +20 you do start to wonder how ugly things might get at Finn Park this weekend.
For those unfamiliar with the League of Ireland First Division, there are currently two full-time teams in Galway and Waterford with the rest of the league being made up of part-time or amateur sides. As a result, there have been some extremely one-sided games this season with Waterford already having racked up score lines such as 5-0 and 7-1.
That 7-1 win came against none other than Finn Harps and I do genuinely fear something similar could occur in this latest meeting.
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Written by an Andy verified content writer
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