It was bad day at the office for Limerick, as they hosted league leaders Longford at Jackman Park Friday night. Heading into the game second in the league, looking to stamp their authority as favourites, Limerick left the pitch that night with a 2-1 loss, lying third in the table.
So much went wrong that it is hard to fit it all in. Despite the success that the 4-4-2 has had in the last few games, Scully reverted to a 4-5-1 formation in the absence of Dominic Foley, with Denis Behan isolated upfront save for some rare uniting with Paudie Quinn. Gaffney, arguably Limerick brightest star this season, started on the bench, same story fro Bradley. Several players were played out of position, with right and left backs playing on the wrong side for their naturally stronger feet, and defenders in midfield.
Limerick choose to play most of the game with long ball tactics – “hoofball” as it is dismissively called by many of the Limerick faithful – opting for a route one direction is most instances. Keeper Barry Ryan and his defence seemed always to be looking for an attacking option, always quick to simply hit the ball with power as far as they could.
The result was a disaster for several reasons. Limerick lack the composure and accuracy to make such tactics work. Behan, his fitness somewhat lacking, was too often surrounded by Longford defenders, too often unable to do anything with the high balls that were being played into him.
Limerick’s packed midfield was largely bypassed for most of the game, traditionally dominant captain Joe Gamble even more isolated then Behan. He cut a frustrated figure for much of the night, watching the ball fly above him when Limerick had it, unable to keep up with the calm and collected showing from his “Town” counterparts, most notable Keith Gillespie, who shows again and again that his age is hardly a detriment – he ran the show at midfield. Gamble and his fellow midfielders cannot take much of the blame, they simply had no possession, no service from defence. Being so sidelined, much of Limerick’s team strength was non-existent.
Paudie Quinn may appear to have been one of the few sparks for the Super Blues, but in truth he had a poor game. He had plenty of chances, several free headers and a first half one-on-one with the Longford keeper, but missed them all. Longford had some difficulty dealing with crosses from the left flank and corners, but more often than not it was Quinn on the end of them, and he failed to test the keeper, save for one shot put straight at his legs. Worse was a catastrophic miss in the second, when a deflection left him with the goal at his mercy from just a few yards out, where he sidefooted high into the sky.
Behan, too, missed an amazing opportunity in the first half, heading straight at Longford keeper Hyland, who also saved well from Kelly moments later.
Gaffney, as stated, was left out until after Longford had scored their first goal, when Ryan had strayed dangerously off his line when he shouldn’t have, allowing Noel Haverty to loop a free header into the net. Limerick had been well on the backfoot for much of the game before that of course, often playing like they were the away team. Gaffney immediately made an impact, threatening down the wing and with his long throws, but Longford were wise to it: they quickly had two men on Gaffney shortly after his introduction, halting much of the threat the formers Shamrock Rovers man can offer.
Limerick equalised through a fluke of a penalty, an absolutely unnecessary handball from Haverty, then simply fell asleep. Purcell watched a ball trickle towards his own endline, happy to pull up and watch it go out of play, only for Longford’s Gary Shaw to nip in, cross excellently to Colm James, who powered home a header into the top corner, barely a minute after the penalty. An unforgivable defensive error from Purcell, evidence of a criminally lazy aspect to Limerick’s play.
So Limerick crashed to their second loss in six, and must now deal with a serious reappraisal of their expectations. They were supposed to be able to walk this First Division on the basis of last year. Now, in the form they are in, continuing to lose big games at home in front of large crowds (over 1200, how many will come back?), talk can be heard about less stellar objectives. Behind the league leaders by four points but, much more importantly, simply playing quite bad. Playing like a team that thought it would be a cakewalk, like a team that isn’t too bothered.
It cannot be understated, how bad the Limerick performance was on Friday, how frustrating it was to see such a poor performance in front of such an impressive crowd. To give fair dues, Longford impressed, controlling large portions of the game with ease, taking their chances when they came. To use a sporting cliché, they wanted it more.
So what about Pat Scully? Sentiment from some Limerick fans across the internet is very negative as the core support comes closer and closer to open calls for his dismissal. Scully’s tactics and selections are a cause for much grief, and at least some supporters claim to be witnesses to squad dissension with their manager, though how true that is cannot be ascertained.
Scully isn’t going to be sacked yet, but it would be impossible for the board of management not to have some raised eyebrows, considering the time and money he has had. Yet after all that, Limerick continue to bottle it in the truly big games. The ground underneath him is beginning to look increasingly unsteady.
And worse may be to come. Limerick face Cork today in the second round of the League Cup, a competition where they reached the last four just a year ago. A good result there, against the team that put them out in 2011, would do much to steady the ship, though some may expect Scully to plump for a number of U-19 players, whose team continues to have a good run in that level of the LoI.
After that, it is business time once again, as Limerick travel first to Wexford, who lie ahead of the Shannonsiders by a point in the league table, before taking the long trip to Donegal to play Finn Harps. Both are games are critical, and on the basis of Limerick’s performances thus far, good results are not guaranteed.
What about the rest of the League of Ireland? In the top tier all of the talk is of St Pats, who gave Shamrock Rovers an unexpected thrashing in the Dublin derby, 5-1. An unexpected and spectacular slip from the champions, undone by a cacophony of defensive and goalkeeping howlers, which Pats were only too eager to exploit. Such a result could well prove to be a turning point this season, depending on how much damage is done to Rovers’ confidence.
Cork City’s woes continued as they find themselves stuck to the bottom of the table, having lost away to fellow stragglers Bohemians, who earned their first three points, and first goal, of the season in a 1-0 win. Cork’s early expectations are being obliterated due to one of the most porous defences in the league system, which has not had a league clean sheet in over six months.
Drogheda continued their decent season at the expense of Monaghan United, who also languish in the lower places, Roddy Collins’ men become experts at grinding out tight losses. Sligo Rovers pounced on the failings of the champions to take top spot in the league, beating Bray 2-1. An important result, considering the continuing rumblings of financial problems.
Two 0-0 draws, between Derry and UCD, Shelbourne and Dundalk, rounded out the top tier this week, Shels clearly struggling in the last few weeks while Derry continue to fall off the pace. They face Sligo, away, next week, in a game that will go a long way towards testing their ambitions.
Drogheda United are emerging as a potent force in this years league, currently level on points with the champions, three off Sligo Rovers. It will be a welcome change to the expected race if “Drogs” can keep that up. St Patrick’s Athletic lay just a point behind them, and their confidence must surely be sky high. They play each other next week, a mouth-watering clash.
Down in the First Division, Wexford jumped into second with a 1-0 win over Athlone, the “Town’s” second consecutive loss at home by such a scoreline. An important clash between the Youths and Limerick next week, to be sure. Finn Harps continued their resurgence from poor opening game results, beating SD Galway 3-0, their second win on the trot, which moves them into the top half of the table. They face Longford next, away.
Notwithstanding that result, Galway soccer had some small reasons to be cheerful, as Mervue finally got off the mark this season, a scoreless draw at home to struggling Waterford enough to get them their first point of the season. The two Galway clubs have currently three points between them, from a possible 36. One of them will get more points next week, as the first Tribesmen derby of the season is played at Terryland.
Big few weeks to come.