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Football League: Which Irish players are fighting for promotion or battling relegation?

It’s nearly squeaky bum time for the Irish players across the water.

Will Keiren Westwood be part of Martin O'Neill's 23 man squad?
Will Keiren Westwood be part of Martin O'Neill's 23 man squad?
Image: Richard Sellers

WITH JUST OVER a month until the Football League season is completed, we look at which Irish players are pushing for promotion and which are facing the drop.

The Championship

Automatic Promotion

The battle for automatic promotion is a three-horse race between Middlesbrough, Burnley and Chris Hughton’s Brighton with four points separating Boro in first place to Brighton in third.

Stephen Ward has been an ever-present for Burnley since winning his place back in the side at the end of 2015, that’s a run of 20 consecutive games for the left-back who clearly struggled with his fitness when he faced Germany back in October.

Richie Towell hasn’t featured for Brighton since starting in their defeat to Hull in the FA Cup third-round back in January. The former Dundalk man has been on the bench for their last two matches but promotion to the Premier League is unlikely to increase his playing time next season.

Play-offs

The situation at the top of the table leaves only three spots remaining for the play-offs with realistically only four teams batting out for a place in the top six.

Hull City lie in fourth place and are probably already planning for the play-offs which start on Friday 13 May. David Meyler hasn’t featured for the Tigers since his error lead to Arsenal taking the lead in the FA Cup fifth-round replay over a month ago while former Cork City defender Brian Lenihan hasn’t played for Hull since 2014.

Derby County have the strongest Irish contingent of the Championship teams in contention to be in the Premier League next season. Richard Keogh has been an ever-present for the Rams in the league this season, in fact the Derby captain missed only one game last season.

Derby County v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship - iPro Stadium Richard Keogh has missed only one league match in the last two seasons. Source: Nigel French

Cyrus Christie has also been a regular starter for Derby although the right-back did find himself dropped to the bench in the games just before and after the international break but his return to the side has seen Derby complete thumping wins over Hull and Bolton.

Jeff Hendrick wasn’t always a regular starter under Paul Clement but is a favourite of current head coach Darren Wassall, starting seven of his first eight matches in charge prior to his injury. The 24-year-old is hoping to be back to full fitness at the start of May.

There always seems to be a debate about the exclusion of certain players before a major tournament and this year it could be Sheffield Wednesday’s Keiren Westwood. 

The Irish goalkeeper was named in the Championship Team of the Year last season and could well win the accolade again this season, having kept 10 clean sheets.

The Owls currently sit in the last of the play-off spots, five points clear of their nearest rivals Cardiff City, but the Owls were hammered 4-1 by Bristol City without Westwood, who was injured in the warm-up.

Aiden McGeady joined Wednesday in January having not played in the Premier League for Everton this season.

Since his move to the Championship, McGeady has made 11 appearances, although he has yet to complete 90 minutes, but did score his first goal since scoring the crucial winner against Georgia in 2014 when he scored against Nottingham Forest in March.

Anthony Pilkington, who has won his place back in the Ireland squad during the recent friendlies has moved to more a central role with Cardiff City. The former Norwich City man has scored eight times in 36 appearances for the Bluebirds so far this season.

Another Irish striker, Eoin Doyle is currently out on-loan to Preston North End but his four goals in 25 appearances for the Lilywhites is not the type of form to push him into their starting line-up.

The former Sligo Rovers striker had scored 25 goals in 33 appearances for Chesterfield in the first half of the 2014-15 season before joining Cardiff.

Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town are in eight place, eight points behind Sheffield Wednesday in sixth and would need the Owls’ promotion push to collapse to get one of the last remaining spots.

Ipswich Town v Charlton Athletic - Sky Bet Championship - Portman Road Mick McCarthy's Ipswich Town face another year in the Championship. Source: EMPICS Sport

Relegation

Bolton Wanderers’ relegation to League One is already confirmed after having just as much trouble off the pitch as on it. Neil Lennon left the Trotters in March with Bolton bottom of the Championship with just four wins from 37 games.

MK Dons and Charlton Athletic are both on the verge of joining Bolton in the third tier next season, with the sides 9 and 10 points away from safety respectively with just 15 points left to play for.

Stephen Herderson had been the first-choice goalkeeper for Charlton until he picked up an injury in February. He has been an unused sub in the last three games, having started 22 matches in the league this season.

Former Liverpool player Darren Potter has started 31 times for the MK Dons in the Championship this season, he is joined at the club alongside former Irish U21 international Samir Carruthers and Kevin Long, who is on-loan from Burnley.

Long has had several loan spells away from Turf Moor, having not featured for the Clarets since making his debut against Newcastle United in 2015, in a game which he suffered a cruciate knee injury.

Rotherham United looked certain for relegation but 20 points out of a possible 24 under Neil Warnock means they are all but safe from the drop. Warnock has several Irish players to thank for Rotherham’s revival.

Stephen Kelly has featured seven times for the Millers, starting the last five games since coming back from injury while striker Leon Best has also hit form after recovering from his injury woes. The former Newcastle forward has scored four in his last five games.

Lee Frecklington, a former ‘B’ international has been one of Rotherham’s standout players in recent weeks, and his fine form saw him nominated for the Championship Player of the Month for March. The midfielder picked up a calf injury in last weekend’s win over MK Dons and is expected to be out for two weeks.

Giovanni Trapattoni favourite Paul Green is also on the books of Rotherham, as is back-up goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who Neil Warnock signed for a fifth time earlier this season.

League One

Automatic Promotion

Wigan are on the cusp of an instant return to the Championship having been relegated last season. Midfielder Chris McCann has featured 34 times in the league for the Latics this season, starting 27 times but the last of these came at the end of March.

Burton Albion and Walsall are battling out for the remaining automatic place. Burton are four points behind Wigan but five ahead of Walsall who have a game in hand.

Callum Reilly and Anthony O’Connor are on the fringe of Burton’s squad with neither getting regular game time although Limerick man Damien McCrory has started 34 times from midfield for the Brewers.

Liam Kinsella, the son of former Irish midfielder Mark, is currently a squad player for Walsall, having started only five times in all competitions this season but at just 20 his career is only beginning.

Former Wolves midfielder Anthony Forde has been more involved for the Saddlers, featuring 35 times in League One contributing 2 goals and 5 assists. The winger is still only 22, so could be one to look out for in the future.

Play-offs

Similarly to the Championship there are four teams battling it out for the remaining three places.

Bradford City who have enjoyed memorable cup runs in recent season are one of those teams, and they have Billy Clarke and Josh Cullen, on-loan from West Ham in the squad.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - West Ham United v Werder Bremen - Upton Park Josh Cullen made his Premier League debut this season against Liverpool. Source: EMPICS Sport

Injuries have restricted Clarke to just 18 starts in the league this season but the Cork native did score the winner against Swindon at the weekend.

Cullen is one of the more impressive young Irish players at the moment and his made 10 starts since joining the Bantams earlier this year. The 20-year-old made his Premier League debut in West Ham’s victory over Liverpool in August. Defender Alan Sheehan is on-loan to Luton Town in League Two.

Millwall are in fifth place but David Forde is unlikely to be part of their run-in. Several individual errors plus the form of  Jordan Archer has meant the Galway man hasn’t played in the league since January with just 10 appearances in all competitions.

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Blackburn Rovers v Millwall - Ewood Park David Forde will be hoping a lack of first-team football will cost him a place at Euro 2016. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

With a derth of young Irish strikers at the moment Aiden O’Brien sticks out as a possible call-up in the coming years. The 22-year-old has contributed nine goals and four assists for the Lions this season. Dubliner Shaun Williams is also part of the set up at The Den.

Gillingham currently occupy the last spot play-off spot, three points ahead of Barnsley in seventh place. John Egan, namesake and son of the former Kerry All-Ireland winner, has been with Gillingham since 2014. The 23-year-old was highly regarded when he was with Sunderland but a broken leg in 2012 hampered his progress.

Emmanuel Osadebe from Dundalk is also showing signs of potential, the 19-year-old has featured 17 times in League One this season. Former U21 international Bradley Garmston has also been a squad regular for the Gills this season.

Barnsley, winners of the Football League Trophy are on the tails of Gillingham and have one of the best Irish players outside the top two divisions in their side, in Conor Hourihane.

The midfielder has a sweet left foot, you can expect the man from Bandon to be playing at a higher level even if Barnsley fail to get promoted this season. Former Leeds United defender Aidan White has been a regular in the Tykes side since joining at the end of 2015.

Chris Forrester has started 29 times for Peterborough in League One but the Posh will be playing League One football next season.

Relegation

Home Farm graduate Owen Garvan is the captain of Colchester United but his side are eight points adrift of safety in 23rd place, he could be joined in League Two by fellow Home Farm man Paul Keegan, his Doncaster Rovers side are also eight points behind Shrewsbury in 20th place.

It’s only five years since Blackpool were relegated from the Premier League but the Seasiders are facing the prospect of being a fourth-tier club next season. Goalkeeper Colin Doyle and midfielder Mark Yeates will be hoping this doesn’t happen.

League Two

Automatic Promotion

Northampton have already secured promotion back to League One after a seven year absence. Brenadan Moloney, John-Joe O’Toole and James Collins, on-loan from Shrewsbury have been a vital part of their success with O’Toole has contributed 11 league goals from midfield. Former UCD midfielder Paul Corry is also part of Northampton’s squad.

Oxford United will be hoping to join Northampton in League One and they have up-and-coming Irish winger Callum O’Dowda in their first-team. He has scored four in the last three, including one in the Football League Trophy final. Former Dundalk striker Pat Hoban is currently out on-loan to Grimsby Town.

Play-offs

Liam Lawrence and former Limerick striker Rory Gaffney will be hoping automatic promotion is still a possibility for Bristol Rovers, they sit two points behind Accrington Stanley in third.

Former Bohemians midfielder Graham Carey has scored nine goals from midfield for Plymouth Argyle who also count defender Carl McHugh as a regular for the Pilgrims this season.

Portsmouth who have tumbled down the leagues in recent seasons and are now captained by Dubliner Michael Doyle. Former Shamrock Rovers and Aston Villa left-back Enda Stevens is also a regular for Pompey, having started all 40 games in the league this campaign while Brian Murphy is the back-up goalkeeper.

Conor Smith is the sole Irish representative for AFC Wimbledon as is Michael Harriman at Wycombe Wanderers with both sides flirting with the play-off positions.

Relegation

Former Spurs trainee and Gareth Bale look-a-like, Kenny McEvoy joined York City at the end of 2015 in search of first-team football but having made only nine starts with his side on the verge of dropping into the Football League, the move hasn’t gone to plan. Former Ireland U21 midfielder James Berrett is also with McEvoy at York who are nine points from safety.

Soccer - Barclays Under 21 Premier League - Final - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Old Trafford Kenny McEvoy left Spurs in the hope of getting more first-team action. Source: Martin Rickett

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About the author:

Shane Costello

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