Do or Die for "De Town" on Tuesday night
The sunshine has arrived just in-time for the ground staff at City Calling Stadium, where a football match resembling a water-polo contest took place against Shamrock Rovers on Saturday evening, and supporters of the Midlands club will be hoping the turn in weather will coincide with a turn in fortune for Tony Cousins rock-bottom side. A stone-wall penalty decision, which was not given by the extremely poor referee Ben Connolly, changed the course of the game on Saturday night, as missed opportunities and mindless defending once again cost the "Red and Black" dear. Throw into the mix an injury to first choice 'keeper Paul Skinner and the subsequent slip of teenage replacement Ian Molloy, then you can truly see everything and anything that could of went against Longford did on Saturday night.
However, excuses simply can not be tolerated and will not be accepted by the Longford faithful, should "De Town" fail to beat a Wexford side they have not lost to in league action for almost six years. October 2010 was the last time the men from the appropriately named "sunny South East" managed to take three points away from the Strokestown Road venue, and having already lost to Longford on the opening night of the 2016 campaign, the bookies make Cousins team the slight favorites for this latest encounter.
Despite Saturdays 4-1 defeat away to a confident Sligo Rovers, the Youths find themselves above Tuesday night's opponents in the Premier Division table on goal difference and will be viewing this game as a real opportunity to send out a statement to all of their relegation rivals, including Longford of course. On a run of six matches without a win, Wexford's last three points did notably come against a direct rival at home to Bray Wanderers, while earlier that week, Shane Keegan's men dumped Longford out of the Leinster Senior Cup.With star names such as O'Sullivan, O'Hanlon and Cowan taking to the field in Carlow IT that night, the result was seen as something of an upset and it should give the Youths major hope of pulling off something similar tomorrow night!
Prior to Saturdays defeat to Dave Roberston's Sligo Rovers, Keegan's men claimed a valuable point at home to Finn Harps, and that again demonstrates the reigning First Division champions ability to pull results out of games against the teams around them. Throw in the fact that Wexford have gained huge plaudits from their brave performances against the bigger teams in this division, which included a point away to Cork City, then you have to say that survival in the top flight is a realistic achievement for the largely amateur club.
Under-fire Town boss, Tony Cousins has made a lot about talk of budgets in his post-match interviews this season and the fact his semi-professional group of players simply can't compete against the big boys of Irish football. However, when you look at what Wexford have achieved not only so far this season, but their magnificent success in getting promoted to the Premier Division as Champions, it really does little to back up such claims by Cousins. The simple fact is, Longford's season will be defined by how they fair against the teams around them in the league table and to be fair, they have acquitted themselves reasonably well in that regard so far. An opening day 2-0 win at Ferrycarrig Park, a home draw with Bray Wanderers and a narrow 1-0 defeat away to Harps, where "De Town" were missing up to seven first-team players suggests Longford wont be cut adrift from their rivals any time soon.
Tony Cousins has also stated his belief that it is a lack of goals that is costing his side dear this season, however, the ease at which his players are conceding goals means his attacking players would find it hard to win games even if they were on top form and this is a major concern for any club trying to avoid a drop in divisions. The goalkeeping situation was brought up in our last match preview on 'Between the Stripes' and to our disbelief those pre-match comments were proven to be true as an injury to an already out of form Paul Skinner saw the introduction of the totally inexperienced Ian Molloy, who was then at fault for Shamrock Rovers second goal. It should be remembered that Molloy is only eighteen-years-of-age and had never played a competitive League of Ireland match before being unexpectedly called upon on Saturday night, so the fact the club will now have to rely on two teenagers to keep net, whilst in the mist of a relegation dog-fight, lays firmly at the feet of the manager, who failed to recruit an experienced goalkeeper in the off-season. Questions have already begun to be asked on why Paul Hunt was shown the door at the end of the 2015 campaign, and it is no surprise to see the 2014 First Division winner going on to have great success with Cobh Ramblers in their First Division promotion chase.
As for the visitors, Wexford Youths will have the luxury of being able to call upon one of the leagues most experienced shot-stoppers in captain Graham Doyle and that could prove to be a game changer come Tuesday night at City Calling Stadium. It is no secret as to how Wexford like to play so expect manager Shane Keegan to set his side up in an "old fashioned" 4-4-2, with much of the teams reliance on the excellent forward partnership of Paul "spot" Murphy and the clubs all-time leading scorer Danny Furlong. A lack of experience in key positions has often been Longford's undoing at times this season, but that shouldn't be a problem for the Youths, who have bags of experience across a back four of Delaney, Last, McCabe and Ledwith. The capture of former Sligo full-back Ledwith certainly raised a few eyebrows when it was announced after Christmas and Shane Keegan and the clubs hierarchy should be commended for the squad they've been able to not only put together but keep together over the last few seasons, on what is largely an amatuer budget.
Tony Cousins and his board have not had the same luck unfortunately with star names such as Gary Shaw and Aymen Ben Mohamed moving on to full-time clubs in the Capital. The Longford Town manager has taken a lot of stick for allowing Stephen Rice and Mark Salmon in particular to leave the club at the end of last year, and it's fair to say despite the undoubted potential of signings such as John McKeon and Kealon Dillon, "De Town" are badly missing the grit and leadership qualities of the aforementioned Rice and Salmon. No less than eight new faces arrived at "CCS" during pre-season but those new players still appear to be trying to gel with the likes of John McKeon and Peter McGlynn, who was surprisingly substituted despite a superb attacking display on Saturday, have failed to get a consecutive run of games. Injuries have also hit the new signings hard with Lee Duffy failing to make a start since arriving from Drogheda, while Dillon has also had his setbacks. Experienced full-back, Noel Haverty is the latest member of the squad to suffer a long term injury, and will miss up to three months with a broken arm, while Rhys Gorman continues to sit out with a broken ankle. A lack of form for key performers such as Kevin O'Connor and Josh O'Hanlon, who has been a huge disappointment during his loan spell from AFC Bournemouth to date, has also contributed to Tony Cousins managerial headache and he will be keen to see all his big names come out all guns blazing in this massive six-pointer.
With a trip to Inchicore to follow on Friday, for a game that will be broadcast live on Setanta Sports against St.Patrick's Athletic, this really does have the look of a make or break week for the Midlands club and their manager. With Wexford and the "Saints" both out of form at the minute, there is every expectation of taking at least four points from the next two games, although it's fair to say everyone who turns out to support the home team on Tuesday night would settle for the three points over Wexford there and then. The second series of games offer Longford a great chance to claw back lost ground on the teams above them with Finn Harps set to visit "CCS" while a trip to out of form Bray should be relished by Tony Cousins and his management staff. However, all of that optimism will turn to fear should Longford Town FC fail to claim anything on Tuesday night, an unthinkable result which would leave them three points adrift at the bottom, and at that point you would imagine serious questions over the immediate future of Tony Cousins would have to be asked.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI'S
Longford Town - Injuries - Noel Haverty (Broken arm - 3 months), Rhys Gorman (Broken ankle), Paul Skinner (Hamstring). Suspended - None
Wexford Youths - Injured - Lee Grace (Knee), Peter Higgins (Knee), Aidan Keenan (Back)/ Suspended - None.
- Referee: James McKell
- Assistant Referee: Ciaran Delaney
- Assistant Referee: Darragh Keegan
- Fourth Official: Raymond Matthews
- VENUE: City Calling Stadium, Longford
- KICK-OFF: 8:00PM
- ADMISSION: Adults €15, Students/OAP €10, Under-12's €5