Dundalk Shoot The Sheriff

2019 League of Ireland champions are one game away from playing in the Europa League group stages this season.

Tiraspol was the setting of a tense affair that saw Dundalk go a goal down early. Sean Murray headed an equalizer just before halftime to bring Dundalk back into the single-legged tie. The game finished 1 – 1 after 90 minutes and extratime, with Dundalk having some good chances.

Gary Rogers performed the heroics in the penalty shootout, saving a Sheriff spotkick. Chris Shields converted the final penalty for Dundalk to send the Lillywhites within touching distance of the Europa League proper.

League of Ireland sides have only qualified for the Europa League group stages on two previous occasions. In 2011 Shamrock Rovers became the first club to do so, beating Partizan Belgrade in the Play-Off round. Dundalk themselves qualified in 2016 after making it to the Champions League play-off round. Dundalk are the only League of Ireland side to pick up any points in the group stages of a European competition.

Dundalk will face Faroe Islands champions Klaksvik in the play-off round next Thursday. The game is apparently going to take place at the Aviva Stadium. Klaksvik beat Georgian Champions Dinamo Tiblisi 6 – 1 in their 3rd round game. The play-off tie will be a single-legged affair that has to be settled on the night.

The win maintains Filippo Giovagnoli’s 100% record since taking the Dundalk job. He now has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Michael O’Neil and current Ireland manager Stephen Kenny in taking a LOI side to the Europa League.

Premier Division Reaches Business End

The League of Ireland Premier Division is nearing it’s conclusion, let’s see how things are shaping up.

Title Race Run

At the risk of sounding like many pundits early last season when Shamrock Rovers had a 13-point lead and still finished 2nd, surely, SURELY, this Rovers team are too good to let this slip. They’ve played immaculate football, and recovered well from a blip of two consecutive 0 – 0 draws in Dublin derbies, their only dropped points of the season. The Hoops matched up well with Milan in Europe, and now have only the league to focus on with the cup not resuming until after the league finishes. Winning last season FAI Cup seemed to have removed the mental block Shamrock Rovers had, and the shortened season has meant their quick start (both pre and post LockDown) has allowed them to take momentum into the final part of the season. That’s that… probably.

We have to mention the nearest title challengers this season, Bohemians. They’ve conceded the join-lowest amount of league goals this season, and have kept up the pressure on their rivals. This title challenge is ahead of schedule for the young team, Keith Long has done a fantastic job building this team into what looks like an outfit that will consistently challenge for Europe.

European Push

Bohs look likely to be playing in Europe next season, sitting 7 points clear of 4th place. Dundalk sit 3rd, the only other guaranteed European place in the league. They are level on points with Waterford, but have two games in hand, against Derry and Cork respectively. Fixture overload could be a problem as they are still in the Europa League qualifiers. New manager Filippo Giovagnoli will be under serious pressure if his side fail to get into Europe next season.

If the FAI Cup winners finish in the top 3, 4th spot will be a European place. Waterford currently sit a point ahead of Sligo. Depending on who comes in Waterford could see themselves get a new manager bounce, but it will have to come quickly as they take on Sligo this Saturday.

Derry, Shelbourne, and St. Patrick’s Athletic all sit on 13 points. It will likely be a battle to finish best of the rest between them, however a good run of form would take them into the European places.

While Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and Dundalk all sit in the top 3 and are still in the cup, if any of Athlone, Finn Harps, Derry, Shelbourne, or Sligo win the Cup, they will get the final European spot regardless of where they finish.

Relegation Dog Fight

For some time now it’s looked likely that the bottom two spots will be contested between Finn Harps and Cork. Cork sit bottom, a point behind Harps with a game in hand. It will likely come down to the clash between those two teams on Sunday. A Harps win could be enough to stay up. Both sides have conceded league highs of 19 goals this season, Cork have scored 6, Harps have scored 8.

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