OBVIOUSLY, it hardly needs repeating that Cork City are enduring something of a slump right now.
Friday’s 3-1 loss at home to Shamrock Rovers was the Rebel Army’s fourth defeat in their opening eight Premier Division games, leaving them on ten points, level on points with sixth-placed Waterford but with a worse goal difference.
It’s an unprecedented state of affairs in the John Caulfield era. For comparison, City’s fourth league loss last season didn’t come until the 24th game, away to Dundalk in June, while in 2017 — admittedly an outlier in terms of results — the fourth reversal was in game 28, away to Limerick on September 22.
Back in 2016, it was even later, the 30th game, away to St Patrick’s Athletic, and it was the same in 2015, losing 3-2 at home to Longford Town with three games to go. In Caulfield’s first year in charge, 2014, it took until City’s 22nd league game for the fourth defeat to be registered.
In each of those five campaigns, City finished in the top two, the only side able to sustain a challenge to Dundalk’s dominance, but this time around Shamrock Rovers look to be a more formidable proposition.
While their ten-point lead over Dundalk (they are 15 ahead of City) is inflated by having played two extra games, both against Finn Harps, they showed on Friday that they are the real deal. It was a big test for Stephen Bradley’s side, especially as the Hoops hadn’t won at Turner’s Cross since June 2013, but they came through it with distinction, full value for the victory.
For City, it’s a trying time, made more difficult by the fact that the fixture-list gave them Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers on successive weekends, and while St Patrick’s Athletic at home this Friday may have been seen as a good chance to get back on track, Pat’s will have been buoyed by the 1-0 victory over Dundalk at Richmond Park last week.
There is a shortage of confidence and when that happens it can become a vicious circle as the lack of belief leads to poor results, which further dent confidence. Eleven goals conceded in eight games is most unlike City — last year, the ninth, tenth and 11th were left in against Rovers in the 14th league game, on April 30 — and while that could be shouldered if the net was bulging at the other end, just nine have been registered, four of those away to Finn Harps.
With a busy run of fixtures approaching — there are seven league games in the 21 games between Friday and May 3 — they need some inspiration and fast.
The flipside of such a hectic schedule is that the discovery of form would be most opportune and allow a run to be put together. While a title challenge is unlikely at this remove, there is no logical reason why City shouldn’t be in the mix for third, or second if Rovers fall off and Dundalk pull clear. The margin for error has been drastically reduced, though.