The matches continued to come thick and fast in the Superleague this week, with the majority of teams in action on at least two occasions. With the group stages nearing their their close, the competition for a coveted Champions League place is intensifying. A number of clubs will go into their next game knowing that only a win can keep their qualification hopes alive.

One club in danger of elimination is Shelbyville Lemon Trees, who head into a crunch tie against St Ketienne this Sunday, knowing that defeat will almost certainly put paid to their Champions League aspirations. To have any chance, they will first need to make sure they have eleven players on the pitch. In their last outing, a 4-1 defeat to Kilmacud Cokes, a mix-up in time resulted in The Lemons playing the first 20 minutes with only 8 players.

The match is made all the more enticing by the fact that this is a game St Ketienne can ill afford to lose either. Having lost 4-2 to Kilmacud Cokes in their previous outing, Ketienne are feeling the effects of a depleted squad, with a strong contingent of their squad still in quarantine. In spite of this, their talisman Bertie Young remains bullish about their prospects. “With a large chunk of our squad in quarantine, we’re very up against it. But we’ve already beat The Lemons handy enough and I’m confident that we’ll be able to do it again,” said Young.

Regarding their title hopes, Young is equally sanguine in believing that his side can replicate their past glories, “I think if we get out of the group we win. Simple as.”

One team without such worries is PSGee, who became the first club to secure their Champions League berth this week. The Gee made sure of their qualification with a resounding 5-1 victory over Trapped Frankfurt on Wednesday, however it was their 1-0 triumph over Tuborg Rovers two days previously which served as the greater reminder of their strong title credentials.

Billed as the heavyweight clash of the group, this fixture certainly did not disappoint. Playing in their typically offensive manner, Tuborg were impressive throughout and will feel aggrieved not to have claimed at least a share of the spoils. On another day, Rovers could easily have scored four or five goals were it not for the outstanding performance of PSGee’s goalkeeper Charlie McCarthy, who produced a series of spellbinding first-half saves. On one such occasion, a curling Brian Murphy attempt seemed destined for the top left corner only for McCarthy to leap high and repel the effort with a vigorous left-handed hook.

With a seemingly impregnable rear-guard, PSGee started to grow into the game. Jack Mulcahy and Pete Fitzgerald linked up well in midfield, but it was an Ivan McConville free-kick which ultimately proved the difference. Reflecting on his side’s impressive start, manager Jed Devereux cut an elated figure post-match, but was quick to downplay expectations at this early stage. “Listen, it’s always great to start well. I couldn’t have asked more from the boys than 3/3 after the long layoff,” said Devereux.

“Our squad depth has been laid victim to the hands of Julia’s Beach but once we get everyone back in camp, we can focus on the goal at hand,” affirmed Devereux. The talk in Superleague circles is that PSGee are very well-placed to emulate their predecessors, Borussia SOYMB who claimed the title in 2017/18. However, Devereux, nor indeed, McCarthy were willing to entertain such utopian notions.

Elsewhere, one of the pre-tournament favourites Hop House 11 picked up two early wins against Crystal P and Zlatan Ibrahit, with Murray Mac Mahon starring in a close 1-0 win against the former. However, in the biggest surprise of the new season, The Hops succumbed to a 5-2 defeat against Paralympiakos in their most recent outing. The result has reverberated around the Superleague, encouraging Hop House 11’s rivals.

Defender Dan Keegan was quick to focus on the positive aspects post-match. “After 15 games unbeaten in all competitions, I think this may be the reality check we needed. We’ll learn from this loss to push on and make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re happy to be top after three tough games in the group of death. We know now that we’ll have to be at our best every game to see ourselves through to the knockouts,” said Keegan.

One week to go, it’s all to play for. An exciting final week of the group stages lies in store.

Team of the Week: Kilmacud Cokes

Player of the Week: Charlie McCarthy (PSGee)

Result of the Week: Paralympiakos 5-2 Hop House 11

Must Watch Game: St Ketienne vs Shelbyville Lemon Trees (Sunday, 14:30)

Neil Stokes – Sports Reporter

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