Can Longford make it three wins in a week?
Two wins in the space of three days was the ideal start to competitive action in 2016 for Longford Town boss Tony Cousins, and on Friday night the former Shamrock Rovers striker will be hoping to make it a treble with a victory over Dublin side St.Patrick's Athletic. The opposite goes for "Saints" boss Liam Buckley, who saw his side fall to a surprise 3-1 home defeat against Tommy Dunne's Galway United on opening night. Having lost a number of star performers in the off-season, such as Greg Bolger and Killian Brennan, plus the obvious departure of Chris Forrester to Peterborough United in 2015, pundits have labeled the class of 2016 a weaker one than that of the 2015 EA Sprts Cup winners.
Despite those setbacks, Buckley's charges will enter the City Calling Stadium as red hot favorites to rectify the defeat to Galway by casting Longford aside. The loss of previously mentioned players at St.Pat's has, according to many, left the Dubliners midfield a less dominate force than that of previous years and as a result the middle area of the tight "CCS" arena is where this game is likely to be won and lost. Longford Town had experimented with a new look 4-3-3 formation in pre-season and while that system was adhered to in the 2-0 victory against Wexford, "De Town" did at times look slightly fragmented despite a solid defensive display from central defensive pairing Mark Rossiter and Noel Haverty.
With former Pat's man, Pat Flynn making his return this past Monday in a Leinster Senior Cup win at home to Drumcondra, you would imagine the thirty-one-year-old to be in Tony Cousin's thoughts when selecting his starting eleven for Friday night. However, Cousins has strongly stated his desire to ease Flynn back into action and that is why it is more likely you will see Flynn start the game from the substitutes bench. Jamie Mulhall impressed greatly in his two appearances this past week (off the bench V Wexford, full 90 min. V Drumconra) and many Town fans will be calling for his inclusion at full-back for the Pat's game, although it looks as if a midfield role is to the forefront of Tony Cousins mind for Mulhall this season. Kevin O'Connor was on the scoresheet in Wexford and will be the first name on the teamsheet for this season should he continue at his best while Kealon Dillon will hope to get the nod for another league start after a wonderful cameo role in Monday's come from behind win. That leaves Mark Hughes and Phillip Gannon battling it out for the final midfield starting role, although both may start should Hughes slot in at full-back as he did in Ferrycarrig Park. Up front, expect the trio of O'Sullivan, O'Hanlon and Simon to continue with the later also appearing from the bench in Monday's fourth-round win.
As for the visitors, Liam Buckley is not taking anything for granted ahead of the trip to the Midlands with the "Saints" boss stating: “Longford will be a difficult place to go. There are no easy games in our league so we’ll just have to go up there on Friday and try to get a result.” (Quotes via extratime.ie). The 2013 Premier Division champions claimed two out of a possible three wins over the Red and Black last season, with Longford's only point coming at City Calling Stadium as Aymen Ben Mohamed played a staring role in a 2-2 draw. Having departed for Bohemians in the close-season, Buckley's charges will be hoping for an easier time of it on their latest visit to the ground formerly known as Flancare Park. Nine new faces arrived at Richmond Park during the transfer window and without doubt the greatest threat to Longford's defence will come in the form of winger, Billy Dennehy. Joining from Cork City, along with his brother Darren, Dennehy may find the extremely narrow playing surface at "CCS" an early challenge, but should the former Shamrock Rovers man manage to adjust quickly, the likes of Conor Powell could be in for a long long night. In the middle of the park, David Cawley's arrival from Sligo should help the "Saints" see plenty of touches of the ball while last seasons team-mate, Dinny Corcoran will be a physical handful for Town's back four. While former Irish international, Keith Treacy will miss out as he recovers from knee surgery, Pats can still call upon the services of lethal front-man, Christy Fagan. The 2014 PFAI player of the year and Golden Boot winner is regarded as one of the domestic games most efficient finishers and if given an inch he will take a mile and run riot of Longford's back four.
With a grueling journey to Cork on the horizon for Longford, followed soon after with a trip to Donegal and Dalymount Park respectively, home form could prove vital if Cousins charges are to prove the critics wrong and avoid a relegation dogfight. As for the visitors, Pats face into two of their biggest games of the calender with Dublin derbies against Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians, meaning they will be viewing this Friday's game as a chance to springboard themselves into some form ahead of those Capital clashes.
BETWEEN THE STRIPES PREDICTION: Longford Town 1-2 St.Patrick's Athletic - Very tight call but when you weigh the team-sheets up player by player you just get the feeling this full-time outfit may have too much explosive power for a young Longford side still finding its way.
Longford Town: Pat Flynn returns but is unlikely to start, Rhys Gorman and Lee Duffy remain long term absentees. No suspensions.
St.Patrick's Athletic: Keith Treacy is still roughly three weeks away from a training return after a knee 'clean up'. Also sitting this one out are goalkeeper Conor O’Malley, Jamie McGrath, Lee Desmond and Jack Bayly. No suspensions.
Likely starting XI'S:
Referee: Jim McKell Assistant Referee 1: Damien MacGraith Assistant Referee 2: Mark Gavin Fourth Official: Paul McLaughlin