Cronin's charges can create cup upset
Longford Town will take a much needed break from league action on Saturday night when they entertain third placed Cork City in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup. Caretaker boss Gary Cronin will once again sit in the City Calling Stadium hotseat having overseen Monday's unlucky 1-0 defeat against St.Patrick's Athletic. A Mark Timlin free-kick was all that separated the sides on the night but despite the result there was a huge sense of optimism in the air given Cronin's sides performance. A number of small tweaks to the system were evident in Cronin's first game in charge, following last weekends resignation by long-term boss Tony Cousins, and supporters will be eager to see how Cronin approaches this knock-out game.
As for John Caulfield, the City boss amazingly seems to be coming under renewed pressure from sections of the Turners Cross faithful as the "Rebels" continue to let opportunities slip in the race to catch Dundalk for a third season running. Fast becoming one of Irish football's hottest contested rivalries, City have finished runners up in the last two League of Ireland seasons to Stephen Kenny's "Lillywhites", while they also lost to Dundalk in the final of this competition last season at the Aviva Stadium. Without a win in five games in all competitions, it's been a dreadful recent run of form for the usually reliable City, who impressively have over-turned Ireland's top club three times already this season. However, it's been the opportunities given to them in the wake of slip-ups by their title rivals where Cork City gave failed to capitalise this season and defeat to rock-bottom Longford would really add to City's problems.
John Caulfield will be more than weary of the potential of a big upset having seen his side beaten 3-2 on home soil by "De Town" last season in the league. However, the recent meetings between the clubs have been a walk in the Park for the Munster men with a 9-0 aggregate win from the two league clashes in 2016. With the potential for three meetings between Cork City and Longford in the space of a week, this could be a long seven days for the Midlands outfit. However, on the flip side it will throw up Gary Cronin the opportunity to find the right formula to claim a result in at least one of the meetings at either City Calling Stadium or Turners Cross.
John Caulfield has a number of injury concerns to deal with ahead of Saturday's tie in the Midlands and Town fans are sure to take hope when they see the caliber of names potentially unavailable for selection. Danny Morrissey, Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett & Greg Bolger have all picked up knocks in recent weeks and may not be risked pending pre-match assessments, while Ian Turner looks almost certain to nmiss out through illness. Recent arrival from Bohemians, Dave Mulcahy is cup-tied. John Dunleavy, John Kavanagh and Alan Smith (goalkeeper) are all confirmed as out of action with respective injuries.
As for Longford's caretaker boss, Gary Cronin has an almost full selection of players to chose from while he has also promoted a number of underage players back into the senior squad. Irish underage international Tristan Noak Hoffmann had impressed greatly when called upon, due to an injury crisis, by Tony Cousins but in recent months the eighteen-year-old wasn't even in the match day squad. Hoffmann was immediately reinstated to the first-team squad by Cronin on Monday night and he is sure to put pressure on a number of under-performing players in "De Town's" back four. Meanwhile the experienced duo of Pat Flynn and Kevin O'Connor will be eager to cemenmt their place back in the starting eleven between now and the end of the season after disappointing campaigns to date. New signings Yann Mvita, Gauis Makouta and Eddie Dsane have all impressed greatly since joining the club in the recent transfer window and the trio will all be expected to start against an opponent they are yet to encounter during their brief spell in Irish football so far.....A real unknown quantity that Cork City will have to deal with on Saturday night. The only question marks that remain for Cronin will be the availability of star strikers David O'Sullivan and Lee Duffy. While former Drogheda man Duffy's injury appears to be the more serious of the two, O'Sullivan should return having picked up a knock against Wexford, which kept him out of Monday's game. The clubs all-time leading goalscorer was on the scoresheet in that famous 3-2 win at Turners last season and Gary Cronin will be eager to have "Sully" available to him as there were no strikers on the bench against St.Pat's. That unfortunate situation meant Cronin had very little choice when trying to change the game from the bench on Monday but should one of the two injured strikers return it will strengthen "De Town's" hand to no end.
Given the fact this Town team hold the worst defensive record in the top flight, Longford actually looked incredibly solid at the back during Monday's unfortunate defeat to Pats and more of the same will be expected and needed from the hosts if they are to make this a proper cup tie on the Strokestown Road. With Cork City having only conceded an incredible eight league goals all season, this could turn out to be a tight and well contested cup-tie. With a potential replay scheduled for Monday at the Cross, both sides will be eager to avoid the possibility of three meetings in a week, with a live TV game set for Friday week again at Turners Cross in the Premier Division. That eagerness to avoid an unwanted replay could see the game become stretched in the closing stages if still in the balance and when you look at the pace of players like Kaleem Simon, Don Cowan and David O'Sullivan the opportunity of a deadly counter-attack could come Longford's way. With the hosts looking almost certain to be relegated, an extra-game comes at no real cost to Longford but for Cork it could greatly hamper their efforts in the title race so the responsibility to attack lies almost solely with them given the lack of expectation that the home fans will have. All the ingredients for a massive cup upset are there and don't be surprised if the 2003 and 2004 cup winners pull off a massive shock yet again.
PREDICTION: Longford Town 2-1 Cork City - The new found energy of Gary Cronin's Longford to do a job on an under strength and potentially distracted Cork City side.