Potential relegation decider as Youths host Longford
The Longford Town FC supporters club notes summed up Friday's upcoming game wonderfully earlier this week when the anonymous scribe declared the match in Ferrycarrig Park as not a relegation six-pointer but an eight-pointer. Without a win in 21 games, "De Town" go into this away trip knowing another defeat will surely end their already slim hopes of survival as an eight point gap would open up between themselves and the play-off position currently occupied by Friday's hosts. However, Town fans will of course point to the fact that this is the ground where Longford picked up their opening and only win of the 2016 league campaign and hope will be high of repeating that feat given the Youths recent poor form.
Despite surpassing all expectations so far this season, voices of unrest have been emulating from the Wexford fan base for quite a few weeks now and that came to a head last weekend when Shane Keegan's men were hammered 5-0 at home to Sligo Rovers. It should be noted however, that despite only two wins from their last six outings, those two wins were huge six pointers against Bray Wanderers and Finn Harps respectively and that form would suggest last seasons First Division champions can pull off another big result on Friday against rock bottom Longford.
As for Tony Cousins side, "De Town" have lost four of their last six matches and despite improved performances thanks to the arrival of a couple of new signings, it's been a disastrous season on and off the pitch for the Midlands club who will surely have to reevaluate things regardless of how the season ends from here on in. The lowest attendances in the top flight, the second lowest amount of goals scored and crucially the most conceded, a real lack of grit in midfield has cost "De Town" dear. Cousins decision to release both Stephen Rice and Mark Salmon, with the latter scoring a crucial goal against the Champions Dundalk last night, has been criticsed by fans and pundits a like all season long and even should new man Gaius Makouta live up to the hype, it may well prove to be too little to late for the manager to redeem the support of the fanbase.
In terms of team selection, Cousins has some big decisions to make with a fully fit and suspension free squad to chose from. The goalkeeping situation has been another area highlighted as a weakness all season with the Town boss already on his third first-choice this season. Paul Skinner and Ian Molloy both tried and failed to nail down the position with new arrival Ryan Coulter pulling off some impressive saves in recent matches.However, Coulter's reluctance to come off his goal line at key moments coupled with his poor kicking ability has lead to calls for Skinner to be thrown back in, and many have questioned the timing of his removal from the starting eleven with the former Athlone 'keeper being one of the teams better performers prior to being dropped. At the back, under-19 player Tristan Noak Hofmann not only gained great acclaim but an underage Ireland call up when he was thrown into the first-team earlier this season but for a reason unknown, Hofmann has not been in the first team squad since. Experienced centre-half Pat Flynn has had a poor season due to injury but his aerial strength may suit against a direct team like Wexford and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him recalled to the starting eleven. In Midfield, the central partnership of Gannon and Hughes was nothing short of a disaster against Shamrock Rovers last time out and as a result Makouta may make his full debut, while the experienced Kevin O'Connor is a real option after he served a three match suspension. Up top the partnership of O'Sullivan and new man Dsane worked a treat in Tallaght but with Don Cowan available again after illness, Cousins may be tempted to rustle the pack with Cowan's pace and power a real game changer when used correctly.
Wexford Youths appear to be struggling to replace a big name departure of their own with centre-back Ryan Delaney having left for Burton Albion in the Football League. Delaney was not only a rock in the Wexford defence but the youngster was also a huge fans favorite and his departure seems to have taken a bit of the early season buzz out of the atmosphere around Ferrycarrig Park. What is certain ahead of Friday's game is the hosts have little to lose. With a five point gap already in place, Keegan's men can afford to go for the win in front of their own fans and effectively kill of Longford's hopes of catching them. Three home points would also close the gap on tenth placed Bray to just two with one more meeting between the sides to come towards the end of the season meaning Wexford may not need to go through the uncertainty of the relegation play-offs in their first ever season in the top flight...What an achievement that would be for what is effectively the only amateur side in the top-flight.
In the clubs most recent meeting, Wexford Youths scored six times but only four of them in the right net as two own-goals saw the scoreline end 4-2 to the visitors at City Calling Stadium. The aggression shown towards Town boss Tony Cousins at the full-time whistle from the small home crowd that night would have lead any neutrals looking on to believe the former Galway United managers time would soon be up, but despite not winning a game since, Cousins still remains in the Longford hotseat. With a home game against St.Pat's on Monday, back to back victories for "De Town" would see them overtake the Youths in the battle for survival, but having not done so all season would suggest this may be the only chance the Red and Black of Longford get. It's do or die at Ferrycarrig Park on Friday night and the old cliche of whoever wants it more may actually be true in this instance.
PREDICTION: Wexford Youths 1-2 Longford Town (Don Cowan with a late winner).