The Championship: A Look at the 2017/18 Season so Far

NIFL Championship

Every team has now played seven games in the Championship and we thought it might be a good time to have a look at the season so far. As is usually the case with the lower leagues in Northern Ireland you could cover most of the league with a blanket, currently only 4 points separate 2nd to 9th place in the league with a number of teams sitting level on points so no team can afford to drop points at the minute.

Knockbreda had a 0-0 draw on the first game of the season and then suffered defeat at home against Ballyclare Comrades in their first two games of the season but since then five wins on the spin have seen them move 3 points clear at the top of the pile. This is Breda’s 5th season in the The Championship with their highest finish being 3rd in the 2013/14 season. Knockbreda have had a watertight defence so far this season, conceding only 5 goals in their opening seven games. At one point last season Breda looked to be in danger of the drop but managed to climb their way up to 8th place and will be hoping they can return to the top half of the league at least this season but if they keep up their current form anything is possible.

Chasing hot on Breda’s heels are Institute, Ballyclare and Loughgall who sit 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. Stute and the Comrades are currently sitting in the positions they finished in last season and came up against each other in the 3rd v 2nd playoff last season to decide who would play Carrick Rangers from the top flight in the Promotion/Relegation Playoff, Stute came out the winners but unfortunately for them they couldn’t go the distance and fell short against Carrick but both themselves and the Comrades will be hoping to make that final step this season.

Rounding off the top six we have PSNI and Lurgan Celtic with PSNI sitting just ahead on goal difference. Both of these sides will likely be content with their starts to the season and if they were ti finish in the same positions come the end of the season would likely take that. If you want to see plenty of goals this season the Lurgan Celtic are the team to follow as they have scored the most goals (14) and conceded almost as many. One slight concern that player-manager Brendan Shannon may have is that more than half their goals have come from frontman Warner Mullen, who has bagged eight goals this season, so there is always the concern that if the key man were to get injured or suspended the goals may dry up.

Moving into the bottom half of the league and most people will be surprised to see Portadown sitting in 7th place in the table. Last time Portadown were in the second tier of Irish League football was in the 2008/09 season when The Championship was a 17 team league. Portadown finished 1st and out of 32 matches they won 25, drew 2 and lost only 5 league games, as things stand they have lost almost as many league games after 7 already this season so if they didn’t already know that they were dropping into a much stronger Championship this time around they do no.

Occupying 8th and 9th place in the league and level on points we have the Harland and Wolff Welders and Limavady respectively. After getting promotion last season Limavady are likely to be very pleased with their start to the season with nine points on the board from the first seven games of the season. United suffered a blow when they lost their talismanic striker Robbie Hume to Institute but the frontman re-joined United just 21 days later as he was unable to commit to Stute’s training programme, the joys of part-time football. Not long ago the Welders were challenging for this league and manager Gary Smyth was attracting interest from Premiership sides but last season they failed to get into the top half and have had something of a sluggish start to this season. Consistency would seem to be an issue with the Welders with it being impossible to call what they might do from one week to the next and that coupled with the fact that they have conceded almost as many as they have scored sees them sitting 7 points off the top but also only 7 points off the bottom. Smyth will be hoping for a few positive results in the coming games to move them further towards the right end of the table.

Occupying the two spots directly above the relegation zone is Dergview and Newry, who have both only won one game each this season but have at least managed to scrape a few draws to add to their points tally to move them clear of Larne at the bottom.

Larne have had a torrid time this season with 5 defeats, 2 draws and 0 wins in the league so far this season, they’ve also only scored 5 goals this season but conceded 16. Unfortunately Larne’s position may not come as a surprise to many as they were predicted to struggle at the start of the season. They have been boosted in the last couple of weeks with the news that a new millionaire investor from America will be investing in the club and they also on Friday announced the signing of former Cliftonville goalkeeper Conor Devlin. Devlin was a two time league title winner with the Reds and was also formerly on the books of Manchester United where he was a teammate of none other than Paul Pogba, perhaps as someone suggested on one of the Irish League supporters Facebook pages last week there’s a parallel universe somewhere where Pogba has just signed for Larne and Devlin rejoined United in a record breaking transfer. The signing of Devlin is something of a coup by Larne and they will be hoping he can put recent off field troubles behind him and get back to the form he once showed but Larne will need a lot more than a new goalkeeper to solve their problems and January come too late.

This week we have another full Championship programme with the following fixtures:-

Limavady v Institute (Friday night)

Newry City v Larne (Friday night)

Ballyclare Comrades v Lurgan Celtic

Harland & Wolff Welders v Portadown

Knockbreda v Dergview

PSNI v Loughgall