So, 7 games in, how’s it been for you? After a solid run of form/results we suddenly find ourselves with a great chance of putting ourselves in the box seat for nice mid-table security.
Without wanting to slip into the realm of truisms early on here, it’s widely accepted that 12 points from 7 games represents an impressive enough haul and something that the vast majority of Reds would have snapped your arm off for at the beginning of the campaign. However, as always the bare statistics do not tell the whole story. For a start, despite the points on the board, we have yet to perform really well in any of our games, and we have also been denied the opportunity to put out our strongest XI during this period. I don’t think these matters are unrelated. I think it’s also pretty evident that Alan Mathews is undecided on his best side, and is finding it difficult to adapt his favoured 4-4-1-1 to life in the Premier Division.
We started the season off with a bang, coming within a few seconds of taking the scalp of much-fancied Sligo Rovers on the opening night. The ghosts of seasons past came back to haunt that night as failure to close out a win by sitting back and dropping deeper concluded with the customary concession of an injury time goal. As sickening as that was, it really looked like lessons hadn’t been learned. A point against a quality outfit like Sligo shouldn’t be sniffed at and while most Reds would have been very happy with that result before kick-off, the predictable nature of the equaliser left a sour taste in the mouth and brought back some horrific memories.
Let’s be honest- we never showed up in Dalymount. On the pitch, I mean. Off the pitch and down the shed, we were terrific, as noisy and boisterous as any away support should be at a derby. Great to see such healthy numbers following the shirts away. Anyway, we were dire for the most part against the Gypos and an opportunist finish from Paddy Kavanagh gave us a scarcely deserved half time lead. In the second half, we were much better and our football more fluid- He Eats What He Wants securing the win and bragging rights with a close range finish.
Following such an unconvincing victory up the road, some Reds were rightly concerned about the prospect of a perfect Derry team continuing their run in Tolka. Thankfully Shels save their best performance of the year for this one and collected the three points again courtesy of that man Big Phil. Abysmal away support from the Victims too, it must be said, you really would have expected more from them on a European sojourn to a foreign capital. Poor form. The Reds holding out under late Jesters pressure was a massive psychological victory.
Hopes were high amongst the Reds hardcore as we set out on our journey to South Dublin’s biggest council house a week later. Not even a truncated Luas route could prevent a massive Shels support travelling South, with a thousand Reds estimated there. Indeed, we sold out our allocation well before kick-off and the away end was swelled by lads buying tickets for the home sections and jumping into where we were. On the park, the early (justified) red card and penalty changed the entire complexion of the game, but what grated most was that we gifted the win to the Hoop scum through some utter slapstick defending and goalkeeping. We didn’t even make the bandwagoners work hard for their win. It was a bad night at the office on the pitch, but off it there was only one winner- Briogaid Dearg once again wiping the floor with their rivals with an incredible display that left no one in any doubt who is Ringsend’s No.1. Even Rovers fans acknowledged the superiority of the display from BD in comparison with their own lame, wall-paper effort. The noise and passion from the away support was terrific on the night- loud and boisterous throughout despite the events unfolding on the pitch. Maybe now some of the tramps who follow other clubs in the league might start to put that farcical ‘Shels have no support’ myth to bed at last. Don’t hold your breath.
The following week Shels extended our unbeaten run against the junkies to 17 games with a hard-fought 1-1 draw, a game which saw the shirts play out the final twenty minutes with ten men following Glen Cronin’s daft red card. It was pleasing to again see a Reds team hold out for a result despite coming under late pressure, especially against those slum-dwelling bin dippers that haven’t managed a competitive win against Shelbourne since the heady days of Mick McCarthy being national team manager. One point gained rather than two dropped, all things considered. Good Friday? Ugh. Awful game, substandard performance in a shite town. Conan Byrne really should have won it in the second half but decided to take a touch rather than bury it first time when he had the chance. Fuck all else happened really, apart from the half-yards holding us back inside the ground for what seemed like an eternity. Imagine that? The away fans being held back? It will never catch on in Drumcondra. For the first time this term, there was a real sense of disappointment amongst the support leaving the ground. Dundalk are atrocious, and we should be picking up three points against such relegation fodder.
How awful were we last week? Abysmal showing from the team, and Bray were good enough to take all three points but crucially bottled it when the game was there to be won. We started well, Philly scored a cracking goal following nice link up play from Casso and Kavanagh, and we should have wrapped the game up shortly after when we launched a swift counter attack but failed to capitalise. That for me was the turning point in the game in terms of momentum. Then, inexplicably, we let Bray back into it. A feature of our early performances this season has been our tendency to sit back after we’ve taken the lead and allow our opponents to get a real foothold in the game by surrendering possession and territory. We’ve seen it happen against Sligo, pats and now Bray. Rather than push on and dictate the flow of the game, far too often we seem satisfied to sit back and invite the pressure onto us. This can’t go on, it just can’t. Last week, we had Paul Skinner’s penalty save to thank for getting anything from the game, and Rambo’s late winner for securing an unlikely three points. Holding on grimly against Bray Wanderers at home in the dying stages as though you are defending a late second leg lead in a Champions League semi-final at Camp Nou against Barcelona, is not encouraging.
Points on the board is the most important thing at this stage of the season, and here we are sitting comfortably in 5th place in the table, nearer to the top of the tree than the relegation places pointswise, without coming anywhere close to hitting any sort of form. That has to be a good thing, right? Well, the season hasn’t been without hiccups and cruxes of concern. Our play has been characterised by scrappy, disjointed displays and we’re struggling to create chances for our front men. The team hasn’t gelled as we would have liked, and the manager has yet to have the luxury to play our best players together due to a combination of injury and suspension. A part of the problem is that Mathews has yet to identify his strongest starting XI and too many players have yet to perform adequately or consistently. Is this a consequence of having a reduced pre-season campaign? There’s also more than a suggestion that AM’s much-fancied 4-4-1-1 formation is just not working as meritoriously as last year, and the system is being persevered with in order to accommodate individuals rather than the team. Can you see both Cassidy and Kavanagh commanding starting places in a 4-4-2? Whatever the solution, the on-going isolation of Philly Hughes cannot continue; finding a suitable partner for the big man is another potential headache as although Rambo is a grafter, he’s arguably too similar a player as Hughes to partner him with for the full 90. Paul Byrne is your quintessential target man but we haven’t seen much of him, and it remains to be seen whether Mathews is willing to chance taking a man out of the centre to go with two up front in the process sacrificing the formation and system that has served him so well.
At the back, we’ve done alright aside from the Benny Hill-esque dross in Tallaght, but the continuing omission of both Delany and Boyle is mystifying. Few would argue that Skinner and Ryan are better in those positions respectively, but still Mathews persists with those two despite some costly errors over the last month. Hopefully whatever is going on behind the scenes can be put to one side for the good of the team. On their day, the Paisley-Boyle partnership is an extremely solid one, and with a better more experienced keeper behind them, we would surely be more frugal at the back. Lorcs injury in the League Cup was a nasty one- we wish him all the best with that- and his absence may be keenly felt if Seany Byrne does not raise his game. Shorthall is a superb defender with versatility to boot. Hopefully he makes that right back spot his.
You could be forgiven for thinking that all is bleak on Planet Shelbourne from the previous few paragraphs, but that is not the case. The fact we’ve played the top 6 teams from the Premier Division last term and only lost once bodes well for the season ahead, and it’s apparent Mathews is prioritising and designing a side that is difficult to break down and beat. What’s that old cliché about picking up points when you’re not playing well? Paddy Kavanagh has looked like a real player at times- and not just for his injury time cameo in Dayler! Kav will be a player that will delight and frustrate in equal measure with the Reds but it’s clear he’s talented and is more than capable producing that bit of magic that will win us games. He has pace, trickery, ability to put in dangerous crosses and can pick a pass- what we’ve missed out wide since Sparky Rutherford hung up his boots for the final time. Hughes has hit the ground running too, with four goals to his name already. It’s ace that the big man has made a seamless transition to top flight ball, but there is a fear that the team is over-dependent on him for sticking it in the net and we’re going to need the likes of Casso and Co Byrne to again chip in with the goals if we’re to maintain-or improve on- our position in the league. Kevin Dawson made a welcome return to first-team football a few week backs, and we’ll all be hoping for a big season from the man being dubbed the new Dave McAllister. It’s evident that keeping him and Glen Cronin in the middle will provide the team with a solid spine, and we’re beginning to see a blossoming partnership there. Just as well really, as the reserves in that spot- Sullo and Hurley- are probably not up to the required standard in this division yet.
So onto tomorrow night; Drogheda have been this year’s surprise package, picking up credible results against Cork, Derry and Pats, and currently sitting pretty in third place in the table. This will be a tough test for the shirts, following fast on the shoddy performances of recent weeks. A win for the Reds will see us jump at least one place in the table. We’ll be there, will you?
C’mon the Reds.