Managed to make it out Friday night to Thomond Park to see Limerick take on Athlone Town. After a surprise win away at Bohs the previous week, picking up an additional three points against the teams lowest team was crucial. There was better stuff on display that night than when I last got to a game, but plenty to still improve upon.
You could tell the way the game was going in the first ten minutes, Limerick were all over them, floating balls in from the flanks from corners and from a plethora of set-piece opportunities given away by the Athlone defence, that was fouling frequently. But it seemed like the only time Limerick made something of one in the first half was for the first goal, a decent headed effort from Williams. On the other hand Athlone looked plenty dangerous when they got the ball in Limerick’s final third, even if they were more wasteful than threatening with their final shot, usually off target.
Limerick could have put this game to bed before half time, but couldn’t seem to work enough chances to actually hit the ball at the goal: one shot on target, one just wide and the goal were the best efforts. A lot of times players – Prince, Hughes, Duggan – would run at the Athlone defence from midfield and just take a few too many touches, and let the opposition defence scramble the ball back. Sometimes they’d work it down the wings, plenty of times getting to Gaffney at the byline, but that usually just resulted in a corner, which was subsequently wasted. That, or they just trying one too many interconnected passes just outside the Athlone box. One time it worked out, and Hughes just blasted it straight at the keeper. A lot of possibilities down the flanks, Limerick just didn’t seem to have the men to take advantage with headers, save for Oji’s second half effort off the post (and the first goal of course).
Ryan was solid in goal, and only had one really difficult save to make in the first and he made it. The backline was mostly OK: Oji was a beast as usual, but the left back position was caught out a good few times, especially for the equaliser, when Dillon was given so much time and space (and not for the first time). Williams had more than one shot on goal, and most of them were very wayward. Seemed like the midfield and even the frontline kept having to drop back to support the defence as the game went on. The midfield was alright, Duggan got himself around, Tracy was busy all night, though his set-pieces could have been a bit better. Prince was decent in the first half but just seemed to fade out of the game later on, and I wasn’t surprised to see him come off.
Gaffney was a workhorse, up and down the field all night, but he looked totally spent with around 15 minutes to play. Good effort overall though, lots of decent passes and inswinging balls from the left. Curran was decent with the time he had, and I could have sworn he was the one who scored that first goal. It was a shame to see him come off so early, and I hope it’s nothing too serious. MacManus had that one moment of brilliance for his goal, top notch stuff to control, get space and finish, but seemed subdued for the rest of his time. Does seem like the kind of player who can turn a game very quickly though, and I think he can make a big impact as the season goes on.
I was in the terrace section, on the other end of the pitch, for the penalty/red card decision. It looked legit to me though, and he had to go if so. Unfortunately it was a weak enough penalty from Tracy, not like him. It would have killed the game there and then if it had made it 3-1, but missing it seemed to give Athlone new life, and Limerick were pressed hard enough for the last few minutes. Gorman should have scored right near the end, and Athlone might have deserved a point if I’m being honest.
The pitch was in better condition than I feared it would be. Not as bobbly as before, some sand placement might have helped, and when watered the ball moved fast enough. There was a lot more mis-control as the game went on of course, and that pitch will never stop being an issue.
Over 1100 announced as attending. That’s not that great really considering it was Good Friday, a lovely evening weather wise and alcohol was available in the ground when it wasn’t elsewhere. The general results and style of play will insure a worsening situation in that regard. It seemed like a good enough crowd in the terrace, Athlone brought around 30 – 40 fans, back across the way after that section had been previously closed. Bit of a quiet atmosphere for the first half it has to be said. It seemed like people only found their voice when Taylor started gesturing at them before the second half began, and the vast and empty space that is Thomond is certainly a factor there. It also seems like there might be some deeper issues between the Official Supporters Club and the Independent Supporters Club, with some abuse directed towards the OSC from the largely ISC singing section. I couldn’t really tell if it was good natured or not, and from what I hear, it wasn’t. That sort of simmering problem could well turn worse as we move forward.
Anyway, nine points got and away from the relegation spots for the moment. That’s great, because there was a creeping concern in the earliest games that Limerick really could find themselves in a race to the bottom with the likes of Athlone and Bray. There should be enough talent in this team to rise above that, and hopefully UCD and maybe a few others as well. If they could push on a get a few points from the next few games, all the better. As for Athlone, I can’t see them staying up. Too wasteful up front and prone to letting the opposition dictate the pace for too much of the game, only coming into matches late on when the task is too hard.