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Friday 16 November 2018

All to play for

Promotion still up for grabs for Irish players

TOUGH GOING: Cyrus Christie has started only one game for Fulham since his move. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
TOUGH GOING: Cyrus Christie has started only one game for Fulham since his move. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Premier League title has been handed out and the Champions League places all but agreed, but for a batch of Irish players in England's lower leagues it's still all to play for as the season heads into a career-defining fortnight.

Some issues in the Championship have already been sorted as Wolves, led by Matt Doherty, are guaranteed promotion.

The other automatic promotion place is up for grabs and will probably go to the last day but Cardiff City, who include veteran keeper Brian Murphy and winger Anthony Pilkington in their squad, look well placed to go up with Wolves.

If Cardiff lose out, Fulham will be there to sneak second spot and a return to the Premier League, but it's not been easy for Cyrus Christie, who has started just one game since that mid-season move from Middlesbrough.

For the play-offs from the Championship it's pretty tight. It looks like the four involved will be Fulham (Christie), Aston Villa (Glenn Whelan, Scott Hogan, Conor Hourihane), Derby (Richard Keogh and Alex Pearce) and Middlesbrough (Darren Randolph).

Just outside the top six are Millwall (Shaun Williams and Aiden O'Brien), Brentford (Alan Judge, John Egan and Chedozie Ogbene) and Preston (Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan, Alan Browne, Greg Cunningham) but they are facing a nervous two weeks to see if they can squeeze in.

Going the other way are Sunderland, already relegated no matter the outcome of last night's game against Fulham, a disaster for their Irish contingent of John O'Shea, Aiden McGeady and Marc Wilson, though at least McGeady has a year left on his contract.

Burton, including Damien McCrory, also look doomed.

Promotion from League One has already been decided, with Wigan and Blackburn already up - good news for Noel Hunt (Wigan) and the Blackburn pair of Derrick Williams and Darragh Lenihan.

Williams has stated that Blackburn's plan now is to pip Wigan for the title in the final two games.

The League One play-offs should see Rotherham, with the Irish trio of Richie Towell, Anthony Forde and forgotten man Darren Potter, aim for promotion, as well as Charlton, who have Cork lad Billy Clarke on their books.

Plymouth could make the play-offs but if they fail to do so, they expect to lose Dubliner Graham Carey, scorer of 14 goals from midfield this season and a player in demand.

Bury had four Irishmen in their squad this season but those lads (Joe Murphy, Eoghan O'Connell, Stephen Dawson and Jay O'Shea are headed for League Two, Bury already relegated. Oldham could join them, bad news for Jack Byrne.

Accrington Stanley have been one of the success stories in England this season, guaranteed promotion from League Two despite having one of the smallest budgets around, and Galway lad Seamus Conneely has been a big player for them, while Dundalk boy Jimmy Dunne played a role, on loan from Burnley.

Luton Town are also up, deserved promotion for hard workers like Alan McCormack, Alan Sheehan and Glen Rea.

Michael Doyle (Coventry), Pierce Sweeney (Exeter) and Sean Long (Lincoln) should feature in the play-offs.

Chesterfield are already demoted from League One, relegation for current U21 cap Connor Dimaio, and Fuad Sule's move to Barnet from Bohemians in January also looks likely to end badly, Barnet all but relegated while Sule played just once.

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