- Larne are top of the pile at Christmas. Ten games in, 26 points on the board and four clearly off the champions Linfield with a game in hand. They appear to be the team to beat.
- Linfield are in 2nd, but they have a lot to do if they want to keep hold of the Gibson Cup.
- Carrick Rangers prop up the table with only one win from eight games played. Can they get off bottom spot? With three games in hand on both Portadown and Dungannon Swifts, they can. But they need to get it together – and fast.
What a year this has been! I want to start by wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. COVID-19 has taken over our lives and changed the way we do things for years to come. Football again has had to take a back seat as the Northern Ireland executive cancel all football for the next 2 weeks. I really do worry for the rest of the season now. I hope this season does not get curtailed again, and we end up with another mess at the end of it. Squabbling clubs hunting down the bounty of the European money to pay for their ever-expanding wage bills.
This week I will do a little catch up of things burning through my head as we go from lockdown to lockdown. COVID outbreaks to empty stadiums, player signings and disgruntled players. Plus, we are still pushing through a pandemic with no cash coming through the turnstiles, but clubs continue to sign players (for undisclosed fees). But that’s normal for Irish League clubs. Keep it all under the table.
League so far
Well, this season has started differently. We go into a 2-week shut down for football matches – yet the clubs can train. A lot of things don’t make sense. We have also had COVID outbreaks at Carrick and Crusaders. Not great for Carrick and they sit at the bottom of the table and are now playing catch up.
Larne have shown the way this season. Unbeaten, they sit four points clear at the top and appear they will be the team to stop. They have the squad depth and are playing the best football in the league at present. My only issue for them will be when they try to play their slick football on some of the horrible playing surfaces we have in the league.
Linfield has work to do if they are going to keep hold of the Gibson Cup. They will not want the league curtailed as it stands today, I am sure. It will be a big second half of the season for the Blues, and what will go for them is the size of the squad they have. Also, the imminent arrival of Joel Cooper back at the club on loan will help in the New Year.
Other title contenders have a lot of work to do. Neither Crusaders, Glentoran or Cliftonville have hit the ground running. The Crues sit 3rd but have already been beaten by both Larne and Linfield. The Glens for me have got too many players and just don’t seem to be able to click regularly. Maybe a certain Gary Hamilton might be the man to push the team on a little and let Mick get back to his day job as a fitness coach. The Reds have been highly inconsistent so far.
We have had confirmation that Joel Cooper will be joining Linfield in the New Year on loan from Oxford United. As I have previously mentioned, there were only a few clubs within the league that could have done this transfer. Larne being the other team, who did make contact with the player. Maybe the Glens – but I just don’t think they realise over at the Oval how many players they have, and how many they have registered.
The Glens have signed Rhys Marshall from Shamrock Rover. Marshall left Glenavon for Shamrock Rovers looking for a challenge. Away for just short of a year and he has decided he needs a challenge in the Danske Bank Premiership. A great signing for the Glens, but the wage bill at the Oval must be through the roof. They have – for me at least – far too many players on the books. I don’t know much about the financial fair play in the league or how many players you can register in a season, nor do I think many people know. But the Glens have a lot of playing staff.
Last for me on the transfer front is one that I think will be a mistake for the Crues. Rory Hale asked to leave the Crues due to lack of first-team opportunities. The best technical midfield option the Crues have and he has been deemed not good enough. Linfield, Cliftonville and Glentoran are all reported to be interested in Hale. That says it all. The problem here is he is not over 30, nor is he the type of player Stephen Baxter needs to stop teams playing through the thirds – when the long ball tactic doesn’t work, and teams counter. The Crues signed another 30+ midfielder in Robbie Weir. Weir made 14 appearances for Waterford United last season.
This is going to be one of the most unpredictable seasons. Will we have a repeat of last season? Who knows! We all want to see fans back in stadiums and the league to finish, but I really cannot see this until the back of next year. COVID-19 has taken over the world and we are all paying the price.
Danske Bank Premiership