After Shamrock Rovers could only manage a 0-0 draw with Ekranas on Tuesday night in their Champions League qualifier, the attention now turns to the Europa League with Sligo Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic both in action tonight. We're joined this week by ExtraTime.ie's Sligo correspondent Jessica Farry to talk about the Bit O'Red's chances in Slovakia this evening, while also discussing UCD's letter to MNS and the league fixtures this weekend.
Shaun Cronin is here as well to pick both Jess and my own brains' on all matters LoI. If you want to get involved or ask a question, don't hesitate in sending us a message!
Hello Jessica and Alan, well lads we will start with Sligo who are playing Spartak Trnava at 6pm how you guys feel they will get on?
Well Sligo's performances so far in the league have been far and above anything produced by any other side in the country. But heading to Slovakia is never going to be easy - I reckon they'll be delighted with a draw this evening and bring it back to the Showgrounds for the second leg on a level footing.
Hi guys. I have a feeling they will get a result over in Trnava. A draw seems the most likely. Mark Quigley won't be there, and Alan Keane is out but Baraclough has added to the squad so they have a strong team. Spartak will be a tough team to beat and they have plenty of European experience with several players who play for the Slovakian senior team.
Do you feel like Sligo are too reliant on Danny North for goals though, Jess? He's been in great form but if you take away his goals, things would be looking a lot different for them at the moment.
I know its a SILLY question lads but how important is it to have the advantage of playing at home in the second leg for Sligo?
He has scored something mad like 17 goals this season which is a great record but without him Sligo would be a different team. They probably rely too heavily on Danny but there are other goal scorers there. Danny needs people who can provide him with the ball, he has those there are Sligo. They lacked a proper goalscorer for the last few seasons and even turned Eoin Doyle into a striker. Things would be a lot different without North, for sure, but he's playing his best football at the moment and shows no signs of stopping.
It's a big advantage Shaun. It means that Sligo can have a good look at Trnava and suss out the team. If they get any sort of a result, even a 1-0 loss, or 2-0 it means that crowds will flock to The Showgrounds to see the game. The new stand has been opened increasing the capacity hugely and what a boost that would be for the team. The players themselves will tell you that they prefer to play the first leg away as it would be brilliant for them to bring the tie home and should they qualify, they will have the home support to celebrate with.
It's always said Shaun but it's still true. Look at Bohemians' horror show last week with the second leg away from home. I'm not too sure that the result would have been the same if the second leg was in Dublin. But back to Sligo - if they get a draw this evening then you would really fancy them to go through with the second leg at home.
Jess - defensively Sligo have seemed very, very strong, conceding only 10 goals so far in the league, and apart from the shock Monaghan result have looked very solid. Would you say that's been more crucial than North's goals so far this season?
I would definitely fancy them to qualify at home. Let's not forget last year, they drew 0-0 against Vorskla Poltava in Poltava and they should have won that game. They were completely outclassed in the home leg and lost 2-0 but The Showgrounds was full to the brim and it was nice to see. Baraclough is adamant that they will not spend the 90 minutes defending and he sounds very positive heading into this game, too. It's very hot out there at the minute though, in the 30s so the players have that to contend with too.
How much is summer football a factor in these early rounds of Europe for LOI teams?
Tough question Alan. The defence has been brilliant and the back four of Keane, McGuinness, Peers and Davoren have stuck together and it's important they're kept together but a lot of shuffling has been done this season thanks to injuries and suspensions and they've still been doing brilliantly at the back. Gary Rogers has been solid too and can always rely on his defence. In my opinion, it's more crucial than North's goals. The defenders can even score too, which is always a plus!
Everyone in Sligo seems to be a major fan of Baraclough Jess - when you consider how little time he had to prepare, his start at the club has been impressive. It could easily have become a situation where everyone cried foul after Paul Cook's departure but I've been very impressed by Baraclough.
I think summer football really helps LOI teams in Europe. You're coming up against teams who are in pre-season or at the beginning of their new season so they are fresh and ready to go. With the LOI, the players are at their fittest when the European games come about.
@alanfinn94 But surely all the statistics point towards a heavy (if not over) reliance on him?
Of course that summer football advantage didn't work in Bohs' favour last week, while St Pat's struggled before scraping through...
St Pats won last week in Iceland who have summer football what do you guys make of their chances again Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
The panic amongst Sligo fans was unbelievable when Cook left just before the season started. With a strong squad it was nearly disastrous that there was no manager. Baraclough came in with little or no knowledge of the LOI and he has been brilliant. Paul Cook had signed all of the players and Ian has only just signed his first few players. Personally, I knew very little about him but he has been brilliant and he's also a very stylish man. The coolest man you will ever talk to also, never gets in a panic.
It'll be another tough game for them Shaun - Pat's have been scintillating at times this season but on occasion they've put in flat performances. Again, they'll no doubt be delighted with a draw. Once they're still in the tie for the second leg, they'll be happy.
It's going to be very tough for Pats tonight. As Alan says, a draw or any sort of a result would be ideal for Pats and they can bring it home. They have a brilliant squad and they now have a striker, in Anto Flood, so hopefully they can do well tonight.
And further to that, Pat's seem to draw an awful amount of games. They've only been defeated twice all season in the league but seven draws have really killed their momentum.
But is Flood fully fit yet Jess? Seems to be lacking a little bit of sharpness from what I've heard...
Exactly Alan. Yes he's lacking fitness slightly but Pats have been missing a striker all season so throw him on the pitch for 20 minutes and he's liable to score.
Further to @scoopsdcfc comment lads what do you make to UCD's open letter to RTE?
@scoopsdcfc I certainly don't scoops - the additional profits should be shared amongst the clubs. For example, if RTE pay €xxx for games each season, it should be shared equally, and totally, amongst clubs.
I think UCD are dead right to send that letter. They are such an important club in the LOI and provide so many important players. I felt that MNS were extremely condescending towards them and UCD had every right to send that letter.
Plus, as Shaun mentioned there - RTE have been doing a great job or winding up clubs in the past couple of weeks. First Richie Sadlier - who I admit I'm actually a big fan of - seemed to really get to Stephen Kenny a couple of weeks back, while the UCD comments are way over the top.
I agree Jess. We'd all love to see big attendance etc. but we have to be realistic as well. Are UCD ever in financial trouble? No. Do they ever cause problems within the league? No. They play football the right way, the people behind the scenes are very committed and the club has a great atmosphere - plus, their drink and chocolate for the press every game is legendary within the league!
Agree with Alan. Profits should be shared amongst the clubs. Clubs lose a lot of gate money thanks to the times that games are on television and it lowers attendances which has an effect on the atmosphere at a game.
It's difficult for UCD to get crowds as anyone who already follows the LOI will probably follow their own local game and with the games being on a Friday, they're probably already gone home for the weekend. They play some of the best football in the league and Martin Russell has such a difficult job to do every year, as he loses players to other clubs but he gets on with it. The last time I was at The Bowl, you got a free bar of chocolate if you checked yourself into The UCD Bowl on Facebook. That's what you want!
Is Richie Sadlier the 'Dark Knight' of the LOI? In that the more he makes headlines the better for the League?
Indeed - other clubs should take note of how welcoming they are to fans. Small things like that make all the difference. In a time where some clubs have flooded toilets and rusty nails in their grounds, having some decent hospitality is really appreciated.
I'm a big fan of Richie usually, Shaun and I agreed with some of his comments about Kenny a couple of weeks back. In the end though, he went a little bit too far and Kenny reacted angrily. Still, there's no doubt he's under severe pressure at Rovers.
Is it fair to say Kenny is on the prink lads?
It's the small things Alan, as the fella says. I find myself agreeing with Richie Sadlier a lot, I think he talks a lot of sense. He did go a little too far but that's football and you're going to get criticism when you're not doing as well as expected.
@scoopsdcfc Fair point - being on TV certainly detracts from the travelling support and that's a blow to the home teams. In addition to that, some grounds aren't capable of hosting games due to their ground being unsuitable for an OB (Tolka Park, for example), so less clubs have to suffer more. Then again, Shams have been on nearly fortnightly!
@Shaun Cronin I think progressing past Ekranas in the second year will determine that. Rovers fans, after the success they've experienced in the past couple of years, are expectant and are then quick to get on the backs of the team and manager when they're performing poorly - how many times has that happened already this season? They're 10 points off of Sligo and that's going to be tough to overhaul but if they can progress in the Champions League and then keep pressure on the teams above them, Kenny will stay. If they lose to Ekranas and fail to close the gap on Sligo in the next couple of weeks, the pressure will be turned up to 11.
It's a shame to see him doing so poorly, especially with a squad like that. There's still time to pick things up but whether or not he will be given that time is a different story. If Kenny was to go, it would start the search for a new manager in the middle of the season. He's under severe pressure though and in post-match interviews, when the hoops haven't done well, it's pretty clear. We all remember their European travels last year so should they win against Ekranas it would change things slightly and maybe the fans will get off his back slightly.
@Jessica Farry But who would come in and do a better job? I can struggle to think of candidates who can transform things immediately. Yes, he's under pressure but those in charge at Tallaght aren't stupid and will realise that changing the manager now won't change much on the pitch. If they don't pick up, leave him go at the end of the year, but these mid-season hiring-and-firing jobs rarely produced the desired effects.
This is the thing. Who would do a better job? Leave him there until the end of the season and then see, there would be no point in getting rid now. Not sure anyone could transform things immediately. Things get messy when you change the manager in the middle of the season.
We should probably mention Portadown as well who take on Slaven Koprtvnica at 6pm tonight - best of luck to them!
Before we wrap up though - what will happen in the league this weekend Jess?
Oh good question Alan. It's been unpredictable at times this season. I think Dundalk are so eager to get some sort of a result that they will. Bray beat Shamrock Rovers once a season (usually) so this weekend could be their time. I don't think there will be any other shocks, but who knows. We'll see this weekend and you will all be laughing at me because I was wrong!
As for Sligo v Cork City on Sunday night - what chances are there of Sligo slipping up after the quick turnaround? The fact Cork have had two weeks off will mean they're well rested.
I think it'll be a tight game. Sligo should win but Cork's rest and Sligo's travels may shake things up. Although, Sligo have added to their squad to prevent this kind of thing from happening. What do you think yourself Alan?
@Jessica Farry I think a score draw - Cork are porous at the back too often but are always likely to score. Their rest and Sligo's tired legs will have an impact.
What do ye make of Keigan Parker signing for Cork City?
@Ger It was a tough one Ger but from talking to several Bohs fans afterwards - they all felt that it was the inexperience which cost them. After going two behind they pushed forward too much and paid the price. They're the youngest team to have competed in Europe from Ireland in many, many years so hopefully they'll learn from it and improve as both players and a unit. Still, it was terribly sad.
Ya I wouldn't be overly surprised should we see a score draw, to be honest. Sligo aren't playing as well as they could be and even when they win they don't look overly convincing. You'll get to see the new stand too, Alan. It's not open for the game, I don't think but at least you'll get to look at it!
As for Keigan Parker - he's got huge potential and is a lovely finisher but word is that's he's lacking in fitness badly.
It was hard to watch the Bohs game. Was disappointed to see them lose so badly and as you say Alan, they're a very young thing and will have learned a lot from playing that game.
Get Parker fit and he'll be a great player for Cork.
I guess we'll wrap it up for this week so everyone. Cheers for all of you who popped in with their views and to Jess and Shaun for their input throughout. We'll be back at the same time next week to reflect on the European games as well as plenty more! Slán