Sligo Rovers season preview: Holders hoping to retain Premier Division title

The Bit o' Red will be expected to win the League of Ireland for the second year running, with manager Ian Baraclough free to choose from most of the 2012-title-winning squad

Gavin Peers
Joseph N'do
Danny North
By Ronan Murphy

When Ian Baraclough was named as Paul Cook's successor two weeks before the start of the 2012 Airtricity Premier Division season, the appointment was met with trepidation from Sligo Rovers supporters. Worried about the lack of managerial experience and particularly League of Ireland knowledge, fans' concerns were eased as Baraclough's exciting side went on a 12-game undefeated run which put them top, a position they held for the remainder of the season.

With Baraclough now a fan favourite at the Showgrounds, there is huge pressure on him to repeat the success of 2012, where he guided the Bit o' Red to a first title in a quarter of a century. Most clubs would struggle with the exits of established players like Mark Quigley and Jason McGuinness, but Baraclough has recruited well from fellow Irish sides, poaching Shamrock Rovers' exciting midfielder Aaron Greene and the level-headed defender Evan McMillan from Bohemians.

The most interesting off-season capture for Sligo, however, was England C international Anthony Elding - a journeyman striker who they signed under the noses of Limerick FC. Now 30, Elding will add experience to the frontline, while fans will be eager to see whether he can improve his goals-to-games ratio from his usual one in two. Bold claims have also come from Baraclough about the quality of Kieran Djalili, who he believes is better than Sligo's beloved Romauld Boco.

With one of the most balanced squads in the league, Sligo are comfortable title favourites, and will be expected to repeat their League of Ireland success. However, fans will also be looking for the strong squad to compete across all competitions, with European success in the latter half of the season a huge priority. By the time the 2013-14 Champions League Second Qualifying Round rolls around, they may already have the league sewn up.