15 April 2017

Cups, Ups & Downs 2016/17

Gareth McAuley has been a
potent goalscoring threat
from West Brom's defence
We're now at the business end of the season with most of the important matters about to be decided. So, will there be glory or frustration for Northern Ireland's players at club level?

English Premier League

There is no Northern Ireland interest at the very top-end of the English leagues, even European qualification will be a push for Southampton (captained by Steven Davis), West Brom (who have among their squad Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt) or Watford (with Craig Cathcart in defence).

At the wrong end, Sunderland, who have been without PaddyMcNair through injury for most of the season, look to be all-but relegated.

Will Grigg hasn't been on
fire for struggling Wigan
English Football League Championship

Brighton look nailed-on for a return to top-flight football for the first time since 1983, so giving Ollie Norwood a first chance to experience Premier League football next season. Also in the mix for promotion are Leeds United (Stuart Dallas) who are in the play-off positions.

Lee Camp has been a long-time relegated with Rotherham. They could be joined by two of Wigan (where Will Grigg has struggled for form), Blackburn (who have been denied the services of the injured Corry Evans for much of the season), Burton (with Tom Flanagan a regular in defence) or Nottingham Forest (with Jamie Ward back in the team after a loan spell at the aforementioned Burton).

English Football League One

Sheffield United have been crowned as League One champions, taking Daniel Lafferty and Caolan Lavery up a level. Conor McLaughlin's Fleetwood and Rory McArdle's Bradford are still in contention for automatic promotion with Shane Ferguson's Millwall slightly further back battling for a play-off spot with Adam Thompson's Southend. Rochdale, with recent international debutant Matty Lund in their midfield, are losing touch of the play-off spots.
Will Caolan Lavery score goals in the
Championship for the Blades next season?

Swindon Town (with Under-21 internationals Jordan Stewart and Jamie Sendles-White in their squad) are currently in the relegation places, while Ryan McGivern (at Shrewsbury), Rory Donnelly (at Gillingham), RyanMcLaughlin, Cameron Dummigan (both at Oldham and previously managed by Steve Robinson), David Buchanan (at Northampton) and Josh Magennis (at Charlton who also have Mikhail Kennedy out on loan with Derry) will all be looking nervously over their shoulders.

English Football League Two

Luke McCullough has been
injured, but will be playing
in a higher division in 2017/18
Luke McCullough has just come back into the Doncaster team after a lengthy injury as they claim an immediate return to League One. In the play-off spots are Stevenage who have a strong young Northern Ireland contingent (Ben Kennedy, Dale Gorman, Ryan Johnson and Nathan Kerr) among their senior squad while Cambridge (Adam McGurk), and Accrington (Billy Kee and ShayMcCartan) are still in with a slim chance of making the play-offs.

Robbie Weir's Leyton Orient have virtually no hope of avoiding relegation to the National League. Just outside the relegation spots are Hartlepool (with Trevor Carson, Carl Magnay, Liam Donnelly and Louis Rooney (on loan from Plymouth)), Cheltenham (Carl Winchester) and Yeovil (Ollie Bassett).

National League

Hoping for a return to league football are Jeff Hughes' Tranmere who are guaranteed a play-off spot as a minimum, but still harbour slim hopes of automatic promotion. Also in with a shout of the play-offs are Matt McClure's Aldershot.

Steven Davis captained
Southampton in the EFL
Cup final at Wembley
FA Cup

All Northern Ireland interest in the English Cup has been extinguished, with the last representative, Shane Ferguson of Millwall exiting at the quarter-final stage.

EFL Cup

Steven Davis captained Southampton to the League Cup final where they were unfortunate to lose out to Manchester United at Wembley.

Scottish Premiership

Brendan Rodgers has managed Celtic to absolute domination of Scottish football with the league title wrapped up on 2nd April. The battle for best of the rest and Europa League qualification is currently being led by Niall McGinn's Aberdeen with Lee Hodson's Rangers in third. Tommy Wright's St Johnstone still retain hopes of also claiming a Europa League spot depending on results in other competitions.
Can Liam Boyce's goals keep
Ross Co in the Premiership?

Inverness, who have Billy McKay on loan from Wigan, are adrift at the foot of the table and seem doomed to relegation. The play-off spot could fall to the James McPake captained Dundee, a resurgent Motherwell managed be Steve Robinson or Ross County who's safety could be dependent on the goals of Liam Boyce.

Scottish Championship

Hibernian, managed by Neil Lennon, have claimed the Championship title giving the recently signed Brian McLean the chance to play Premiership football next season. In the play-off spots are Greenock Morton's JamieMcDonagh.

Still in danger of dropping out of the Championship are St Mirren with Conor Brennan and Jordan Thompson (on loan from Rangers) among their squad.

Scottish Cup

The Scottish Cup is at the semi-final stage, with Hibs to face Aberdeen and Celtic to face Rangers.

Scottish League Cup

The League Cup was won by Rodgers' Celtic in November as they defeated Aberdeen (who brought McGinn on as a late substitute) 3-0 in the final.

Ryan Brobbel has been playing
regularly for a dominant TNS
Welsh Premier League

Ryan Brobbel has won the Welsh title in his first season with The New Saints. Conall Murtagh seems likely to be playing Europa League next season with Bala Town who are currently in third place.

Welsh Cup

The Welsh Cup final will be contested by TNS and Bala.

Welsh League Cup

Brobbel has also claimed a winner's medal in the League Cup as TNS defeated Barry 4-0 in the final in January.

Josh Carson has struggled
for a place in a resurgent
Linfield team
Irish Premiership

Defending Champions Crusaders (Colin Coates, Michael Gault, Jordan Owens) are being chased hard by a resurgent David Healy-managed Linfield (Roy Carroll, the injured Sammy Clingan, Chris Casement, Jamie Mulgrew, Josh Carson). With the top two guaranteed Champions League and Europa League spots respectively, any other team in the top nine can currently make the Europa League qualification play-offs.

At the foot of the table Portadown (Robbie Garrett) have long been adrift following a 12 point deduction though they retain a slim mathematical hope of avoiding automatic relegation and qualifying for the relegation play-off ahead of Carrick.

Irish Championship

Warrenpoint have secured the Championship title and their first signing for Premiership football, Alan Blayney.

Irish Cup

The Irish Cup Final will be contested by Linfield and Coleraine.
Kirk Millar has helped
Linfield to a first trophy
in three seasons

NIFL Cup

Ballymena continued their recent cup successes with a 2-0 final win over Carrick. Both sides fielded a number of Northern Ireland Under-21s, past-and-present with Ross Glendinning, Tony Kane, Jim Ervin (BUFC) and Patrick McNally (CRFC) all featuring in the decider at Seaview.

Regional Cups


David Healy claimed his first honour as manager when Linfield (Mulgrew, Kirk Millar, Andrew Waterworth) defeated Crusaders (Sean O'Neill, Coates, Owens (1 goal)) 3-1 in the Co. Antrim Shield final at Ballymena. In the Mid-Ulster Cup Warrenpoint (Liam Bagnall) defeated Armagh (Shea Campbell) 3-2 in the final. The North-West Cup was won by Institute who defeated Coleraine in the final.

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