Byrne-Mandroiu axis can help fire Hoops to new heights

Champions can expect a stiff test from arch-rivals Bohemians at Dalymount

"Ah the pass was a peach," said Danny Mandroiu after Monday's one-touch finish felled Dundalk in Tallaght. "He's been doing it all season and I just couldn't get on the end of them but finally it came off."

Warning: it has only happened twice – Jack Byrne finds Mandroiu and Mandroiu nonchalantly finds the back of the net.

There is no better advertisement for the SSE Airtricity League than the Dublin duo bringing Shamrock Rovers within one point of league leaders Derry City before their day trip to Dalymount Park for a Dublin derby against Bohemians that rarely fails to disappoint.

If Byrne and Mandroiu are the most naturally gifted footballers in the League of Ireland, there is a strong argument for Liam Burt being the most effective. Bohs did unbelievably well to attract and keep Burt, a product of both Celtic and Rangers, with Tolka Park last Monday supplying plenty of evidence to support this working thesis.

The Scottish livewire shredded Damien Duff's Shelbourne, with a little help from fellow Scotsman Ali Coote and Canadian winger Kris Twardek, in a 4-1 victory that ends a confounding run of six draws from their opening 10 fixtures.

"We've been ahead a lot," said Bohs manager Keith Long. "That's extremely frustrating, none more so than the team and the backroom staff working so hard to put things right. I'm stating the obvious but you go on a winning run you climb the table very quickly. Draws don't help you do that, we're better off losing a couple and winning a couple then drawing the ones we have.

“It’s a funny league at the moment. Most managers, I would imagine, would be disappointed with their points return at this moment in time.”

He is correct about the topsy-turvy state of every team’s affairs as we enter the summer months. Take Derry City, under Ruaidhrí Higgins, striding clear of the rest only to silence talk about competing with Rovers by losing at home to Shels and drawing with Drogheda United.

Rovers, it is all but certain, will eventually break away from the peloton, especially if Byrne keeps rolling sumptuous balls for Mandroiu to slide passed hapless goalkeepers.

“We naturally understand each other’s game but we do discuss it building up to matches, definitely,” Mandroiu adds. “When he’s on the ball, I run and he finds me.

“You can’t be predictable as you’ll get found out pretty quickly and lose that bit that you bring to the team. You can’t always play the through ball, you have to wait, wait, wait sometimes but finally it came off.”

The rest should be afraid, very afraid, if ‘Byrne to Mandroiu’ becomes the catchphrase that defines 2022. Such rare talent almost demands it be so.

Weekend s previews (7.45pm)

Friday

Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers, Dalymount Park
Bohs fans can and will fire verbal abuse at Andy Lyons, after the Ireland under-21 swapped Phibsboro for Tallaght this year, but it was unquestionably the right call for a wing back who cannot stop scoring goals. Big night for Dawson Devoy in the battle for midfield supremacy.

St Patrick's Athletic v Finn Harps, Richmond Park, 7.45pm
A clear pattern is emerging. Harps will follow UCD into the First Division, after a paltry seven points from the opening 11 games puts the onus on the rest to take maximum points off Ollie Horgan's injury-ravaged squad.

Derry City v UCD, The Brandywell, 7.45pm
"I genuinely don't care about Shamrock Rovers closing the gap," went Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins, which is all well and good considering the Candystripes blew their chance to go nine points clear. Derry's modern system struggled to dissect the students on the Belfield campus earlier in April, until Will Patching and Ronan Boyce bagged late goals.

Dundalk v Shelbourne, Oriel Park, 7.45pm
Shels will show up, because it is established that the Duff-coached side are designed to catch teams on the break, but anyone looking to unearth a rough diamond would do well to pay the €7 LOITV match pass fee to watch Steven Bradley, Dundalk's teenage loanee from Scotland in action.

Saturday

Sligo Rovers v Drogheda United, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm
A landmark meeting in the sense that Sligo and Drogheda are the only top-flight clubs in Ireland advocating for a ban on gambling advertisements in sport, or as Sligo chairman Tommy Higgins stated: "We feel this small step of not accepting any sponsorships from gambling companies may go a small way to helping what is a huge problem in our society."

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