A disappointing week for Limerick FC. A home defeat to Drogheda, where Gamble was sent off and a general apathy could be seen throughout, was followed by an away trip to UCD, the sort of game that Limerick should be more than capable of winning.
Things started off great. It was O’ Callaghan working with Galbraith to get the cross in from the right, UCD probably should have cleared it since it was a bouncing ball, but somehow it got to Tracy and he just rifled it home on the volley. I really thought Limerick would push on from there.
But it just didn’t happen. It was always either Axel or Curran upfront on their own, usually heading down the left wing. Long ball to them, and if they get it ahead of the two defenders around them they’d have to stop, hold, and wait for options. Precious little low through balls, even though one of them had Axel clean through on goal in the first half. UCD got around the park nicely, had some fire. The #19 for them, going down the left, was a constant threat. Limerick were giving away so many frees in their own half throughout the match, that the Students had ample opportunity to float crosses in. Thankfully that appears to be a weaker part of their game, but better teams will relish such opportunity.
The UCD goal was coming for a while, and it was a badly exposed left back position that gifted it, though the CB’s were AWOL when the ball was actually played to Benson in the box. He had time to take the pass, control, turn and one more touch before just burying it past a helpless Cusack. And it happened that way a few more times in the second, but thankfully UCD weren’t good enough to put them away, though there were some scary moments. Bar one bad pass out in the second, Cusack had another good game, and thank God for that because the defence is just so breakable. O’Callaghan was caught for pace frequently, and when Purcell was brought on to help out, well he didn’t last long, going off with an injury around 75 minutes in I think.
The midfield struggled. Galbraith was looking a bit of a threat in the first but grew less and less effective as the game went on. O’Leary wasn’t at his best, and Feeney wasn’t having a good night I thought. UCD played a lot of stupid passes in the centre mid position straight to them, but they were very slow to use that possession and there was plenty of aimless ball played forward high and long for Curran and Axel to waste their time chasing. Limerick had plenty of chances before they started losing players, and Curran was guiltiest, an absolute sitter from a few yards out with the keeper stranded. He got the ball tangled up and UCD survived.
The ref wasn’t great, tended to blow too often. I could have sworn I saw Dean Clarke come down directly on O’Leary’s foot early in the first. All he got was a yellow while O’Leary hobbled off, and then the ref booked Curran and one of UCD’s players for mouthing and jostling a bit. Totally unnecessary, though Curran was in a bad way all game, screaming at his teammates and cursing at the officials. Seemed a bit hesitant to challenge for high balls at times, because of the face injury maybe. Typically similar behaviour from the bench at times, giving out, etc.
Judge came on and could have been a bit of a threat, but he never got the chance. He got hit by a really bad, cynical tackle from a UCD lad bursting forward, should have been happy with the free. But he jumped straight up and squared up to the guy, might have been a clash of foreheads, I couldn’t be sure from the angle I was at. But I think in this league, with the way Limerick players and staff have been acting towards refs and other players at times, he was asking for trouble and got it with a red card. I think he knew coming off how stupid he was, since we’d already gone down to ten after losing Purcell to what looked a bit of a bad injury. Ironically, play restarted with a Limerick free, and Tracy nearly won the game with it, hitting the outside of the post.
Down to nine, and who was next with the stupidity? Axel goes shoulder first into the back of a UCD defender while being the only Limerick player contesting the ball in their half. Less than 20 seconds after getting a yellow, he chases down another Student and trips him up from behind really recklessly. Total nonsense. I don’t know if they were annoyed with the ref, if UCD were aggravating them, but I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if he got another red for it. Axel played well enough and did his bit in defence when it was called for, but that was a total rush of blood.
Held out in the end, and results elsewhere make it a bit more palatable. But still pretty poor stuff at times. Defence very dodgy, midfield not working right, strikers isolated most of the time, and a really small amount of depth in the team. O’Leary and Purcell now out I would presume, and Judge suspended for the next game. I have no expectation of getting anything off Sligo. Discipline just has to improve.
Nearly everyone else in the same region of the table as Limerick dropped points as stated, keeping Limerick’s mid-table position secure. The big Dublin derby was an odd one in contrast to previous games this year, with Shamrock Rovers not really being too far away from Bohs on both points and ability so far. Neither side seems capable, for different reasons, of challenging for higher positions. It was a tense affair in Tallaght, two late goals only adding to that, and plenty of referring controversy. The Gypsies always seem capable of raising their game when it comes to Shams, and this is the second draw between the two teams this season. Some major positional and team selection problems remain in the Shams camp.
Tommy Dunne is on thin ice at Cork City. Losing is bad. Losing at home, for the fourth time so far this season, is bad. But losing to Bray, impotent Bray Wanderers, and conceding three goals in the process? Some concerning times at Turner’s Cross, and while they won’t have any real fears of things getting dangerously worse, this is far from where the rabid fanbase Leeside expected their club to be after returning to the league last year. A critical win for Bray that seems them neck and neck with UCD, though they should be really concerned at the lack of firepower coming from Jason Byrne.
Another Shels disaster, going down 3-0 at home to the Saints, going off the field with only ten men at the conclusion. Can a managerial switch change their season? They actually aren’t that far from safety as it stands, but the team is poor, ill-disciplined, has a tendency to implode in second halves and is presumably suffering from some bad morale. For Pats, an easy day at the office after the half time break, strolling to three points that keeps them well in contention at the top, level on points with Sligo after the champions Dundalk game was called off.
Lastly, there was Derry overcoming Drogheda, in a game where all the drama seems to have come in the last 15 minutes. It was Derry on the receiving end of a late com back this time, Drogheda continuing on from their impressive victory over Limerick to claw things back to 2-2 after a fairly substandard first 76 minutes. But there was Rory Patterson a very handy player for the Brandywell club, to get the winner, again, with just a few minutes to play. Things so tight at the top as it stands, as we head into the second round of the League Cup.
Down below, Waterford United and Cobh are both falling out of serious contention for promotion places. Waterford’ defeat at home to the wildly unpredictable Wexford marks the end of Paul O’Brien’s reign at the club. Cobh’s spectacular collapse against Longford probably shows their deficiencies up better than any other result this season.
Longford are sitting pretty and Finn Harps home win against Mervue has made them the new pretenders. I always fancied Finn Harps since the start of the season, as the club with the best retained squad since last year, to challenge most effectively for the top spot. With Waterford falling out of contention, Wexford being so variable in form and Mervue perhaps just showing some scenes of tiredness and inconsistency, now might the time for Finn Harps to push and establish a gap. The same can be said for Athlone Town whose win over wooden-spoon certainties Salthill should give them the opportunity and the impetus to leapfrog the other Galway club into third soon enough.
So, one more season done across the water.
The damp squib that was the finale of the English Premier League leaves little to talk about. The only remaining interest was in the 3rd, 4th and 5th positions, which ended with all three teams concerned winning without a gigantic degree of fuss. Wigan’s relegation during the week was matched by Arsenal essentially sealing their CPL position, just about coming good after an uncertain season.
All United had to do was play out a bonkers 5-5 game against West Brom, with both teams defences clearly having their minds on summer beaches rather than attackers. A bizarre game to see out Alex Ferguson’s reign, but a dead rubber is a dead rubber.
The goal was always to immediately bounce back and nip any prospective talk of United being a spent force in the bud decisively. Alex Ferguson’s last achievement with the club was just that, besting Manchester City with weeks to spare, while traditional rivals fell far behind. The continuing improvement of David De Gea and Rafael, along with bursts in good form from Ferdinand and Evra in the latter half of the season saw United’s general defensive quality remain solid. Michael Carrick has become the critical factor in the midfield, and will only have to be more so without Scholes. Kagawa has slotted into an attacking midfielder role with ease at the club. The wings are a serious concern to be sure, and one I would expect to be rectified during the summer, with Valencia, Giggs, Nani and Young all looking less than capable of being the star player for that role for various reasons.
And upfront, while Hernandez, Rooney and Welbeck have all put in good shifts for varying levels of return, the season belonged to Robin Van Persie, like it was probably destined to since the start of the season. I’m delighted the Dutchman has managed to stay healthy and maintain his scoring abilities, despite my initial expectations, and he has been key, whether it was running riot over clubs like Southampton or grabbing late winners against Manchester City.
Man for man, if you compared the United team to their opposite numbers at Eastlands and Stamford Bridge, they come up short over and over, as the team did against such opposition several times this year (winning one and losing one against City, a win, draw and two losses to Chelsea). But as a team? City, especially at times in the CPL, looked like a squad on autopilot, and dropped points in the league race at a rate that was startling sometimes. Chelsea were much the same, having to work around more managerial changes and some players, like Torres who should have been ditched long ago.
United’s advantage, probably much to do with the insatiable desire and never ending drive of Alex Ferguson, is that they are a team, the best group of players who work well with each other in the English league system. The first goal against West Brom yesterday is the perfect example. West Brom had the ball in the United penalty area, but the attacker was crowded out and forced into a wayward pass. Short interplay inside the box shepherded it out. Cleverly with a short pass to Carrick. Drives on, neat flick out left back to Cleverly. Long searching ball into the corner, much to the derision of the West Brom fans who thought possession was wasted. Hernandez runs and collects, takes a few moments for the play to catch up. Swinging cross, Kagawa drifting into the gap between two defenders, downward header, goal. Six or so players involved, penalty area to penalty area, 12 or so seconds. That’s Manchester United.
Overall, a fine season. United should have pushed on further in the Champions League, but for one of those twists of fates that leave fans infuriated. I could argue that some poor scheduling seriously affected FA Cup hopes, but it messed Chelsea up too. Regaining the league after the heartbreak of last season is a return that is more than good enough.
So ends the Ferguson era. Moyes is a good manager, but his style of play and methods of coaching have never been tested at this level before. The pressure will be on from the get go. I hope he does well and I hope that a degree of patience can form within the fanbase. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Moyes era, after the glittering majesty of the Fergie years, is going to need some time to come to frutition.