The Airtricity League Premier Division further split into 3 tiers this weekend while the race for promotion to it heated up. Here's our take-aways
1) There's a 4 team race to the title
Leader St Pats had a crazy win over Shamrock Rovers while Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and Derry City comfortably beat 3 of the bottom 4 sides. There's 5 points separating them while they're 9 points ahead of 5th. They all have to play each other with St Pats and Derry meeting twice. In what could be the crucial factor, St Pats have the other 3 all at home. The first of these huge games is next week when Dundalk host Sligo.
2) Shamrock Rovers' discipline is gone
In the last 4 games Shamrock Rovers have had 5 men sent off (including 2 after the final whistle), have given away 3 penalties and most importantly have only earned 2 points (scoring only 1 goal in the process). Rovers had conceded only 12 goals in their first 22 games. They conceded 7 in the last 2. On Friday night against local rivals St Pats their squad was already stretched with 3 out through suspension and Rovers found themselves down to 9 men with 37 minutes left in the game. Rovers complained bitterly about each of the sendings off on Friday but for 25 minutes or so they had completely lost all control.
3) The bottom 4 stay as they were
The bottom 4 all lost with Bohs being the unluckiest; conceding a 94th minute winner to Cork City. Next week Shelbourne travel to leaders St Pats while the other 3 host teams from the middle tier. That middle tier of 4 clubs is now 4 points ahead of UCD in 9th, and it's hard to see all 4 catching Drogheda. 9 games left for the bottom 4. Bohs and Bray play in the second last series and Shels and UCD meet on the last game of the season. It's probably going to go down to these games.
4) A middle tier was created
The teams in 5th-8th are now safe from relegation and not catching the top 4. So for them their attention switches to the Cups with the added bonus of trying to play spoiler in the battles for honours and to avoid relegation. Clearly Shamrock Rovers will be the most disappointed but Drogheda, Cork and Limerick won't be over the moon about it either. For those 3 a top 6 finish is the aim now with an eye to building for next season.
5) Athlone Town are clear favourites in the first
Huge win for Athlone Town last night away to Longford Town. Roddy Collins' lads are now 5 points clear with only 7 games left. Long time leaders Longford are now joint 2nd with Waterford having picked up only 2 points in the last 5 games (compared to the 11 earned by Athlone and Waterford). It looks like another play off appearance for Longford and Waterford (they both lost out last season too). Athlone now look on course for their first promotion since the mid 90s with Roddy Collins delivering on his preseason promise.
EA Sports Cup semi final action between the Rovers on Tuesday and another full weekend of league action next week fill the schedule.