14 April 2012

Cups, Ups and Downs 2011/12

Father and son: Kenny and Dean Shiels with
the Scottish Communities League Cup
With the domestic season now put to bed, NIFG looks at the joys and sorrows for Northern Ireland players at club level.

Jonny Evans' Manchester United were pipped to the Premier League title by cross-town rivals City on goal difference after a dramatic last few minutes of the season. The race for the other Champions League places was also incredibly tight, with Shane Ferguson's Newcastle United surprise contenders up until the final day. At the wrong end of the table Fulham (with Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird) are safe as are the Brendan Rodgers managed Swansea City, Martin O'Neill's Sunderland and West Brom (with Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley). On the other hand, Johnny Gorman's Wolves were the first side to relegated.

The Championship automatic promotion spots have been filled by Reading and Southampton. While George McCartney's West Ham just missed out on the top two they defeated  Craig Cathcart's Blackpool in the play-off final. Hull City (Corry Evans and Joe Dudgeon), Derby County (Jamie Ward) and Burnley (Michael Duff, Martin Paterson, Daniel Lafferty and Josh McQuoid (on loan)) all fell from the promotion reckoning in the closing weeks of the season. Coventry City (with Sammy Clingan and Oliver Norwood (on loan)) have been relegated, which means Lee Camp's Nottingham Forest, Millwall (Josh McQuoid's parent club who have now made Maik Taylor's loan move permanent) and Peterborough (captained by Grant McCann) are safe.

The Danny Wilson managed Sheffield United just missed out on the second automatic promotion spot from League One, having finished three points behind Steel City rivals Wednesday. In the will play-offs they lost a dramatic final shoot-out to Huddersfield, who have Damien Johnson on loan. Stevenage (Alan JulianRobin Shroot) also made the play-offs, losing out in the semi-finals while Notts County (Jeff Hughes), Carlisle United (Ben McKenna) and Brentford (Stuart Dallas (from next season), Ryan BlakeAdam Thompson (loan) and Niall McGinn (loan)) all fell just short of the play-off spots. Matt McClure's Wycombe are relegated meaning Will Grigg's Walsall and Oldham (Kirk Millar, Philip McGrath and Carl Winchester) have confirmed their place in the third tier for next season.

Lawrie Sanchez was sacked by Barnet
with the club just above the relegation
places with three games remaining
Conor McLaughlin (loan) has helped Shrewsbury to one of the automatic promotion spots from League Two. Eunan O'Kane (ex-NI U21) of Torquay United lost out in the play-offs while Adam Chapman's Oxford United finished four points shy of a play-off place. Paul Morgan's Macclesfield Town and James McQuilkin's Hereford United  have lost their League status. Barnet (managed until recently by Lawrie Sanchez) were saved only by a last-day goal by captain Mark Hughes). Despite a poor season and serious financial worries, Warren Feeney's Plymouth Argyle will retain their League status.

Promoted from the Conference to the Football League are Michael Ingham and Patrick McLaughlin (both at York City) who defeated Luton in the play-off final. Carl Magnay's Gateshead's sticky form in the run-in has saw them fall from the reckoning.

In the FA Cup, any Northern Ireland interest ended at the quarter-final stage with the exit of Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, similarly interest in the League Cup ended with Man United's last-eight defeat by Crystal Palace. York City defeated Newport County 2-0 in the FA Trophy final on 12th May.

Neil Lennon celebrates Celtic's
SPL title success
The SPL was wrapped-up early by Neil Lennon's Celtic (with Pat McCourt among their squad) as Rangers (with Steven Davis, Kyle Lafferty, Andy Little, Chris Hegarty and Andrew Mitchell) suffered a point deduction due to their financial problems and will finish as runners-up, though they will be unable to compete in Europe next season. Stephen Craigan's Motherwell will complete Scotland's Champions League qualifiers. While the Northern Ireland contingent at St Johnstone (manager Steve Lomas, coach Tommy Wright and goalkeeper Alan Mannus) will appear in next season's Europa League following Hearts' Scottish Cup win. At the wrong end of the table, Andy Kirk's Dunfermline have been relegated, leaving James McPake and  Ivan Sproule's Hibernian safe.

The First Division championship (and only promotion place) has been claimed by Johnny Flynn's Ross County, while Michael McGowan's Ayr United have been relegated via the relegation/promotion play-offs with the second to fourth place Second Division clubs.
Falkirk lift the
Ramsdens Scottish League Challenge Cup

Kenny and Dean Shiels' Kilmarnock were surprise winners of the Scottish League Cup, defeating Celtic in the final. The Scottish Cup final was an all-Edinburgh affair - Hibs (who defeated Rory McArdle and Josh Magennis' Aberdeen in the semi-final) losing 5-1 to Hearts (who beat Celtic in their semi). The Challenge Cup was won by Michael McGovern's Falkirk (he had also won the trophy the previous year while with Ross County).

Linfield celebrate their 51st title success
The IFA Premiership has again been won by Linfield, who featured Alan Blayney, David Armstrong, Nathan Hanley, Jim Ervin, Chris Casement, Michael Gault, Damien Curran, Philip Lowry, Daryl Fordyce, Robert Garrett, Jamie Mulgrew, Peter Thompson, Gary Browne, Rory Patterson (now Derry City) and Mark McAllister among their squad. The Europa League places have been claimed by Portadown (David Miskelly, Wes Boyle, Richard Clarke, Kevin Braniff) and Cliftonville (Martin Donnelly, Liam Boyce) with Coleraine (David Scullion, Curtis Allen) just missing out. The Michael Hughes managed Carrick Rangers are doomed to an immediate Championship return, while the promotion/relegation play-off spot was taken by Lisburn Distillery (Aaron CallaghanDavy Larmour). Dungannon Swifts (Shea Campbell, Sean Friars, Emmet Friars) and Glenavon (Gary Hamilton (player-manager), John Convery, Johnny Magee) only guaranteed their status on the final day of the season.

Championship 1 has been won be Ballinamallard United who will be making their first appearance in the top tier. Newry City, managed by Pat McGibbon, hoping for an immediate return to the Premiership, qualified for the promotion/relegation play-off, but were defeated over two legs by Distillery.

Crusaders captain Colin Coates lifts
the Irn Bru League Cup
The Irish Cup final was won by Linfield (who claimed their sixth "Double" in seven seasons with a team including Blayney, Curran, Ervin, Carvill (1 goal), Garrett, Casement, Mulgrew (1 goal), Lowry, McAllister (2 goals), Fordyce, Thompson) 4-1 against Crusaders (Sean O'Neill, Colin Coates (1 goal), Ryan McCann (did not play), Stuart Dallas, Jordan Owens). The Crues however were guaranteed a Europa League spot no matter the final outcome as Linfield had already claimed the Irish league title. The Irish League Cup was won by Crusaders, who beat Coleraine 1-0 in the final.

Crusaders played in their third final of the season when they faced Declan Devine's Derry City (Eddie McCallion, Dermot McCaffrey, Ruaidhri HigginsOwen Morrison, Rory Patterson) in the Setanta Sports Cup at The Oval on 12th May. The game finished 2-2 (Coates and Patterson scoring two goals each) before the Crues won 5-4 on penalties.

In the regional trophies, Cliftonville (Martin Donnelly (1 goal), Rory Donnelly) defeated Glentoran (Elliott Morris, Johnny Taylor (1 goal), David Howland, Stephen Carson, Gary Hamilton) in the Co. Antrim Shield 2-1; Newry defeated Glenavon (Gary Hamilton) in the Mid Ulster Cup; Institute (Dean Jarvis, Sean Friars) defeated Coleraine (Scullion, Allen (2 goals)) in the North West Cup 4-2.

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