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Dublin: 7°C Tuesday 26 January 2021

5 things to look out for in this weekend’s Airtricity League

Kicking off the long weekend with some domestic football? Here’s what we’ll be looking out for in the Aitricity League.

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

1. Can Sligo kill off the Hoops?

Tonight’s round of fixtures marks the end of the opening series in the Premier Division and as such, it’s far too early to be drawing sweeping conclusions about teams’ fortunes from this point on.

Still it’s hard to see how Shamrock Rovers can view themselves as legitimate title contenders if they are beaten by Sligo in Tallaght. Defeat would leave Trevor Croly’s Hoops a massive 16 points adrift of the Bit O’Red and quite possibly past the point of no return.

If there’s any consolation for the Dubliners, who handed struggling UCD their first win of the season last week, it’s that Sligo have been no great shakes themselves of late. The champions have only won one of their last four in all competitions and with Derry and Pat’s getting ever closer, the title battle now looks more like a race than a procession.

2. An overdue road test for Pat’s

The quirks of the fixture calender and some rescheduling mean that St Pat’s last four league games have all been in Richmond Park. Liam Buckley’s men have made the most of their home advantage, picking up eight points from a possible 12 including a draw against Derry last Friday night.

Though they will be disappointed to have dropped points against Bohemians on Monday, the Saints know that they need to take advantage of Cork’s iffy home form. The Rebels have only won twice in Turner’s Cross in the league but against Bray they showed the kind of spirit and resolve that has been lacking from performances this season, rallying with two late goals to snatch a win.

3. Basement blues as Shels host UCD

It’s hard to think of a less appealing fixture than bottom-placed Shelbourne hosting a UCD side that are only one point better off, but tonight’s clash in Tolka Park is a massive opportunity for both these sides. Shels would desperately love a first win of the season and if you’d offered UCD boss Martin Russell six points this time last week, he would have taken them and then laughed you out of the room.

Shels have scored the least goals in the top flight this season (three) while UCD have conceded the most (24). Will it be a feast or a famine in Drumcondra tonight? The safe money is on 0-0.

4. Ref watch

Once again, the league’s referees are in the spotlight following a handful of controversial calls. Last weekend, Neil Doyle — an official clearly regarded by league bosses as one of their top men — saw something that everybody else in Thomond Park missed when he sent off Shelbourne’s Robert Bayly following a rather innocuous looking clash. The previous week, Sligo boss Ian Barclough bit his lip as Doyle’s decision to send off Iarflaith Davoren and award a late penalty snuffed out any chance of a late comeback against St Pat’s.

The First Division isn’t immune either — just ask Mervue fans for their thoughts on this penalty awarded to Athlone by Ray Matthews last week:

There’s no denying that that officials have a tough job, and one which they do excellently most of the time, but they could do with getting the court of neutral opinion back on their side when it comes to borderline calls.

5. Richie Towell’s hair


[©INPHO/Morgan Treacy]

Aitricity League fixtures (all kick-offs 7.45pm, Friday unless stated)

Premier Division

  • Bray Wanderers v Dundalk
  • Cork City v St Patrick’s Athletic
  • Derry City v Limerick
  • Drogheda United v Bohemians
  • Shelbourne v UCD
  • Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers (Friday, 8pm)

First Division

  • Athlone Town v Wexford Youths
  • Salthill Devon v Mervue United
  • Waterford United v Longford Town
  • Cobh Ramblers v Finn Harps (Saturday, 7.45pm)

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Niall Kelly

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