By Oisín Bradley
After a busy Christmas period and a turbulent January in the top tiers of English football, league tables are well and truly starting to take shape in what has been a bizarre season with even stranger results across the footballing pyramid. Here, we’re going to be casting an eye over how some of our local talents have fared, including two men who have made moves in the January transfer market in recent weeks.
Greg Cunningham – Preston North End:
Cunningham was given a slim slither of game time by now-ex Cardiff City boss Neil Harris in December, both as a late substitute in a 3-2 home win over Birmingham, as well as playing the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 loss to fellow Welsh side Swansea City.
That would be the last game he played for the Bluebirds, as he was benched for the next two games against Brentford and Wycombe Wanderers, before being dropped from the match-day panel entirely for games vs Norwich, Queens Park Rangers and Barnsley.
Former Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy has since sent Cunningham on loan to Preston North End, and the Galwegian has already made his debut in his second spell at Deepdale, coming on in the 78th minute of a 1-0 loss on the road to Sheffield Wednesday.
Preston North End sit in eleventh place in the Championship, five places higher than Cunningham’s parent club Cardiff City, and six points off the promotion play-off places.
Conor Shaughnessy – Rochdale AFC:
Conor Shaughnessy has found it difficult to make an impact at Elland Road for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, having not made an appearance for the senior team in well over two years. Late in the day, Shaughnessy made the switch to Rochdale, where he will be playing under Cork native Brian Barry Murphy at the Spotland Stadium, and alongside fellow Irishmen Gavin Bazanu and Paul McShane.
Rochdale are currently embroiled in a relegation battle and sit 18th in League One, a mere three points off the drop zone.
Daryl Horgan – Wycombe Wanderers:
It has without doubt been a trying campaign for Horgan’s Wycombe Wanderers, who are currently rooted to the foot of the Championship and 12 points off safety. That being said, Horgan has been a staple of the side, playing in seven matches in succession for the Chairboys, including the full 90 minutes in a 2-1 home win over Cardiff City as well as well as the full game in a 1-1 draw with Queens’ Park Rangers at Adams Park.
Horgan was dropped from the squad for Wycombe’s FA Cup defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and didn’t feature for the beleaguered outfit in their 7-2 away defeat to Brentford but made his return to the panel on the bench as the Wanderers managed a goalless draw vs Birmingham City.
Ryan Manning – Swansea City:
Like Cunningham, Ryan Manning is another Galway native who has found game time hard to come by in Wales in the 2020/21 League campaign. Manning has played three times in the last eleven games for the Swans, with mixed results. In mid-December, he was a half-time substitute in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Derby County, replacing Jake Bidwell.
In the first game of 2021, Manning played 85 minutes as Steve Cooper’s men ran out 2-1 winners over Watford, as well as making a last-minute appearance as Swansea drew one a piece with Brentford on home turf.
Swansea City are well in the hunt for the Championship title, sitting third in the table, one point behind Brentford and five off the top with a game in hand.
Aaron Connolly – Brighton and Hove Albion:
Brighton and Hove Albion are a side who have turned their fortunes around considerably in 2021, only recording a solitary loss since the turn of the year. While Aaron Connolly has not quite played the role he would’ve hoped for, he and his team-mates will likely be pleased with their run of form in the new year.
Connolly was in from the off for the Seagull’s first Premier League game of the season vs Wolverhampton Wanderers, and was the scorer of the opening goal, turning in Leandro Trossard’s cross first-time to edge his side into the lead, before being subbed off at the changeover.
Since then, Connolly has been a late substitute in Brighton’s remarkable narrow victories over ‘Big Six’ clubs Tottenham and Liverpool respectively, as they continue to put considerable daylight between themselves and the bottom three on the Premier League table.