JOIN US AS we look at the biggest talking points from last weekend’s Airtricity League action.
If you’re stuck for something to say when chatting about domestic football , here’s a cut out and keep list of semi-intelligent points.
Sligo playing it straight
League leaders Sligo Rovers slipped up with their first defeat of the season against UCD last night, but the Bit O’Red looked comfortable in beating Shelbourne 3-0 at the Showgrounds on Friday.
The goal-machine that is Danny North scored twice — his 12th and 13th of the season — and once again showed how his pace and finishing allows Sligo some important variation in their play.
Ian Baraclough is no hoof and hope advocate but North’s skill at playing on the shoulder of the last man makes a direct ball from the back a dangerous weapon. It almost paid dividends the week before against Shamrock Rovers and, with the game locked at 0-0 just before half-time on Friday, it set Sligo on the road against Shelbourne.
St Pat’s fans must be a little bit worried at how their team’s fortunes have changed as the league enters its second round of fixtures. In the 11 games of the first round, the Saints had the league’s stingiest defence, conceding just four goals. Since then, they have conceded five in their last two matches and only come away with one point from six as a result.
Liam Buckley’s first-choice back five of Clarke-O’Brien-Kenna-Browne-Bermingham has remained unchanged in recent weeks but mistakes are beginning to creep in. Kenny Browne will feel that he should have got something on the ball to divert it away before Jason Byrne’s first goal on Friday; Byrne was then left completely unmarked for his last-minute equaliser, despite Pat’s having eight players within 20 yards of their goal.
To add to the problem, Brendan Clarke was at fault for Dundalk’s winner last night. Pat’s were already drawing too many games when they were tight at the back, so it’s a problem they will need to address post haste.
Jason Byrne has shown time and again this season that there’s life in the old dog yet; his double against Pat’s were his ninth and 10th goals this season.
Byrne’s goals have stolen the limelight from his partnership with Kieran “Marty” Waters, and in particular the youngster’s contribution to his team-mate’s prolific form.
Waters scored his fourth of the season in Bray’s 3-2 defeat against Derry last night but he has also been directly responsible for four of Byrne’s goals, winning a penalty as well as supplying three assists.
Last night was Bray’s first defeat in six, a run which has moved them up to eighth. If they can keep their double act fit and firing, they’ll be well clear of relegation before long.
Alan Kelly is one of the league’s best and most consistent referees, even if fans don’t always agree with his strict enforcement of the rules.
So how the Corkman missed Gary McCabe’s leg-breaker on Ryan Brennan during Friday night’s meeting of Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United is a mystery.
Kelly was only standing yards away from the incident, which should have resulted in a red card for the Rovers’ scorer, but instead didn’t even blow for a free.
Earlier in the season, a number of dubious red cards were explained away by the fact that the league’s referees were supposedly clamping down. It’s the inconsistency that kills you in the end.
Flight of the starlets
As the summer transfer window slowly edges open, it’s inevitable that managers and scouts from across the water will be seen around the Airtricity League’s grounds in the hope of spotting the next James McClean or Enda Stevens.
St Pat’s Chris Forrester could be the first to go, with Reading manager Brian McDermott putting in an appearance to see him play at the Carlisle Grounds last Friday and then against Dundalk in Inchicore last night.
Forrester scored Pat’s only goal last night and might just find himself trading red and white for blue and white before long. Derry duo Stephen McLaughlin and Pat McEleney are also turning heads as is Monaghan’s Jordan Keegan, whose brace against Dundalk on Friday night won’t have done his chances of a move any harm.