St.Patrick’s Athletic v Finn Harps (Premier Division)
St.Pat’s can now smell a place in Europe again next season with Dundalk begin to falter having looked safe as houses for a top three finish all season long. The loss of defender Mark Connolly to Derry City has blown open a gaping hole in the Dundalk defence and with St.Pat’s now just four points behind with a game in hand, European qualification is very much on the cards for Tim Clancy’s men.
The Saints have responded brilliantly to their cruel Conference League exit against CSKA Sofia with the Inchicore club winning three games on the spin. As for Finn Harps, they looked dead and buried when they lost a crucial relegation six-pointer to UCD a few weeks back but a 3-2 win at home to Sligo Rovers means Harps are still swinging in their bout to avoid the drop.
However, I wouldn’t be getting too excited about a win at home to Sligo, they’ve proven to be nothing more than an average side this season, despite some great nights in Europe, and they always appeal to me as something of a soft touch.
St.Patrick’s Athletic are motoring at the moment with attacking players such as Serge Atakyi, Chris Forrester and Eoin Doyle really coming into form at the business end of the season and they could do some damage against a ropey Finn Harps defence.
Pats blew a 2-0 lead away to Finn Harps when the sides last met but prior to that they won the two other H2H affairs without much fuss (2-0 x2). With their sights firmly fixed on catching Dundalk, this Saints team look to have a new found focus about them and they can display that with a fourth win on the spin here.
Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers (Premier Division)
The big news story in Irish football this week was the sacking of Bohs manager Keith Long after 8 years in charge at Dalymount Park. In truth, cup and European runs in recent seasons had been papering over a lot of cracks with the Gypsies off the boil in the league for quite some time now.
The ongoing success of their arch rivals Shamrock Rovers won’t have helped the mood around Dalymount Park with Shamrock Rovers in pole position to claim a third consecutive league title while they are still chasing the double. Not only that, but the Hoops have also qualified for the Europa Conference Group Stages, an achievement that will further strengthen the clubs already rock-solid finances.
Never has an Irish side been better set up to succeed than Shamrock Rovers are now with the club able to poach the best talent domestically while they also have a constant conveyor belt of academy products coming through.
It’s difficult to know what the mood will be like within the Bohemians dressing room following Long’s departure but for me, that’s almost irrelevant. The simple fact is the Shamrock Rovers squad is superior in each and every way and for once, they’ve had a full week to prepare with no distractions.
Shamrock Rovers have won the last three Dublin derbies and with a win here putting them a step closer to three-in-a-row, I don’t expect them to slip up.
Bray Wanderers v Athlone (First Division)
Two sides who sprung major surprises in the last round of league fixtures meet on Friday night in what could be billed as something of a “crisis club” derby. Both sides have made headlines throughout the year for the chaotic nature of their boardrooms while on the pitch the two sides have won just eight games combined this year. That’s why Bray’s win against title chasing Galway United and Athlone’s victory against play-off chasing Treaty United came as such shocks a fortnight ago. With both teams out of the FAI Cup, they had last week to reflect on their respective rare glories and will now face each other in what is a good chance to follow up.
Two of Bray’s five wins this season have come against Athlone Town so they’ll be confident of following up here but having won just once at home all season, you couldn’t be overly sure as a punter. Instead, the best value in this fixture may come from the goal markets.
Despite sitting bottom of the table, Athlone Town have outscored the two sides above them in the table and in fact, they have only scored a handful less than some of the teams currently in the play-off places. Thomas Oluwa has played a big part in Athlone’s goal scoring with the pacey forward netting eight times this season and given the sluggish nature of this Bray defence, a defence that has shipped 46 goals in 26 games (only the bottom two fair worse), Oluwa could have some joy in this fixture.
Athlone Town’s 2-0 win last time out represented a first clean sheet of the season and they certainly don’t appeal as the sort of side to back that up. Both H2H meetings this season have saw both teams score while there were also over 2.5 goals in each meeting this term. That looks the way to go here in what could be a chaotic affair.
Wexford FC v Waterford FC (Division 1)
Wexford supporters are still scratching their heads as to how they are not in the next round of the FAI Cup almost a week on from their Cup exit at home to Dundalk. That statement in itself is a sign of how far Wexford have come in such a short space of time under Ian Ryan with their manager again being linked with bigger jobs this week.
A combination of poor finishing and goalkeeping heroics saw Wexford miss the chance to pull off a monumentul giant killing in front of a rare bumper home crowd but the manner of the performance and the feeling of pride it has brought Wexford could be used to positive effect in this local derby against Waterford.
It shouldn’t be forgotten Wexford picked up a rare win in Waterford when the sides last met and with home advantage here, Wexford need to carry the momentum of their cup exploits into this crucial league game. Waterford are as good as safe in terms of securing a play-off place while they’ve now got a great chance of reaching the FAI Cup semi-finals having been drawn at home to Dundalk. Wexford, meanwhile, are pushing Treaty United hard for the final play-off place meaning all the pressure is on Wexford here but that may be a good thing.
Both Wexford and Waterford have been scoring goals for fun of late with the Blues putting six past non-league Malahide in the cup on Sunday to further enhance their confidence levels while Wexford have scored two or more in four of their last five games in all comps (including extra-time). Such a feat is even more impressive when you consider Wexford have been without their most creative player Jack Doherty while top scorer Aaron Dobbs has only been fit enough for short substitute appearances in recent weeks.
With Wexford four points outside of the play-offs they’ll have to push in every game between now and the end of the season and with plenty of pace in the forward areas, Waterford could have some joy on the counter attack. Both teams have scored in two of the three H2H’s this season with at least two goals being scored in every encounter.
Treaty United v Cobh Ramblers (Division 1)
Speaking in a recent interview, Tommy Barrett highlighted the fact he has never been able to call upon a fully fit squad at any stage this season and that has to be a factor in United’s up and down form in 2022. Aside from a spell of three consecutive wins in July, Treaty have followed to put spells of winning form together and that was evident a fortnight ago when they were beaten by bottom side Athlone Town having stunned league leaders Cork City just a few days earlier! That sums up Treaty’s campaign in a nutshell.
However, the Limerick men bounced back from that slip up against Athlone by booking their place in the last 8 of the cup thanks to a 3-0 win against non-league opposition at the weekend. Enda Curran was back on the scoresheet having missed large chunks of the season, his goal record this term reads 12 in 19, if he had been available throughout the year you can be sure Treaty would have picked up more points.
Consistency hasn’t been an issue for Cobh, they’ve been consistently losing games all year, 19 defeats from 26 league games to be precise. New manager Shane Keegan has brought about minor improvements but this is a much longer project for the former Wexford boss.
A win for Treaty could put them seven points clear of Wexford in the chase for the division’s final play-off place and with the games fast running out it would see the Limerick side long odds-on favs to qualify for the play-offsa for the second season in a row.
A home game against the league’s second-bottom side is a dream opportunity to take a huge step towards achieving that and assuming Curran is available for this one, you’d have to fancy Treaty to get the job done.
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