Four observations from the League of Ireland: Gameweek 18

Danny Mandroiu commits to the Bohemians’ cause, Dundalk have a knack for winning penalties, Cork City are on an upward trajectory, while irregular betting patterns are taking the shine off a captivating First Division campaign. 

The SSE Airtricity Premier Division table seems to be taking shape quite nicely. We know for sure who are the two best and the two worst teams in the league, with Cork City and Bohemian’s respective stock rising and falling in equal measure in the last month.

The mid-table is somewhat more volatile at the moment, as several sides seem capable of finishing fourth. The smart money is on St. Patrick’s Athletic or Derry City, who faced each other this week. The Dublin outfit won 1-0, leaving them just a point behind the Candystripes.

While there are no medals for finishing fourth, despite what Arsene Wenger might tell you, there is the possibility of qualifying for the Uefa Europa League should one of the top three win the FAI Cup. The prize money on offer for doing so is worth fighting to the death over.

Mercurial Mandroiu’s contract extension a huge boost to Bohs 

Bohemian’s form has taken a bit of a nosedive of late, winning just one of their last five league games, but there was some positive news to start the week at least. Danny Mandroiu has signed a contract extension until the end of next season.

The midfielder is undoubtedly one of the most talented prospects in the league, and at 20 years of age, he has the potential to become a big star.

Manager Keith Long admitted however, that the former Brighton player can be “frustrating”, in that he has bags of talent and quality, but perhaps is not as impactful as he could be. This was particularly the case in the team’s 2-0 loss to Dundalk at home in the second week of May.

The Dubliner’s new deal ensures that even if the club do not hold him beyond this season, they should in the very least receive something in return for the player. Bohs have seen an exodus of quality footballers leave in recent years with next to no financial gain due to the short-term nature of their contracts.

Match fixing continues to be a blight on Irish football

On Monday morning The Times Ireland reported that the FAI were investigating “bizarre betting patterns” from Limerick’s 3-2 win over Cobh Ramblers last weekend.

Sadly it’s not even the first time a game in Irish football has been investigated for match-fixing this season, and a number of games in the second tier have reportedly involved suspicious betting. This is off the back of a betting scandal involving Athlone Town just two years ago.

The lower levels of professional football leagues are particularly susceptible to such occurrences; poorly paid players with little to play for can be easily convinced to throw a game for a few extra quid.

We’ve praised the First Division over the past month for its competitive zeal, but it’s beginning to gain a reputation for something altogether insidious.

Dundalk kings of the penalty

Dundalk FC are leading the way in the Premier Division in a number of areas: they have lost fewer games than anyone, they have scored more goals than anyone, and have the best goal difference in the league.

The Lilywhites top another table though, and it is to do with penalties received. They have been given an astonishing 9 penalties in their 18 games so far. That’s one every other game this season. If that rate was to continue for the rest of the campaign, they would end up with 18 spot kicks in total.

The latest came on Monday night when Dundalk faced Bohemians in Oriel Park. The Dublin side were 1-0 up in the second-half, but lost 2-1 thanks to a goal from Danny Grant and an injury time penalty from Pat Hoban. The striker scored in similar circumstances when the two sides met in April, when his 94th minute spot kick was enough to win the game, while Chris Shields missed a penalty against the same opposition earlier this month. That means a third of all their penalties up to this point have come against Bohs.

There’s nothing untoward in Dundalk receiving such a high volume of penalties, as the vast majority were deserved while those that weren’t came as a result of poor officiating. Teams that dominate the ball and have more attacking opportunities are more likely to win fouls in the box, that’s the nature of the game.

Cork revival should see them looking towards European qualification

Just three weeks on from John Caulfield stepped down as Cork City manager, his former side have picked up three wins from their last four fixtures. That’s the same number of league victories they had secured in the previous two and a half months, moving them up two league places in the process. They also happen to currently have the best form of any team in the league bar the reigning champions.

Whatever interim manager John Cotter has done in that short space of time it has worked a charm. The Rebel Army’s performances haven’t improved markedly in the month of May but the results certainly have. Will that continue into June and beyond or is it just a dead cat bounce?

In any case, this is a talented squad that is, in theory, ‘too good to go down’ and they should start to look up the table rather than down. Only five points separate them and Derry City in fourth place, which has in recent years been enough to qualify for Europe. Would it be unreasonable to think they could do it?

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