Mathews looks for more cup success against struggling Shamrock Rovers
It's been a season of unwanted records for Longford Town in 2017, seventeen months without a home win up until the recent 3-1 triumph over Shelbourne at City Calling Stadium, without back to back league wins since the tail end of their 2015 Premier Division campaign and now "De Town" go in search of a first ever win over Shamrock Rovers senior side at the Tallaght Stadium. A struggling Shamrock Rovers side are the hosts in what may prove to be a far bigger game than anticipated for "Hoops" manager Stephen Bradley, given the Dublin clubs wretched league performance to date.
A 90th minute equaliser from Brazilian sensation Rodrigo Tosi saw manager-less Limerick nick a point at the Capital based venue on Friday night, a result which saw Rovers slip into a mid-table position, just three points above Sligo Rovers in the final relegation place. While talk of Irish footballs biggest name being dragged into a relegation scrap seems unthinkable, mutterings of discontent have long been heard from the Tallaght stands now, with rookie manager Stephen Bradley perhaps already looking over his shoulder in the Rovers hot-seat. Having failed to win this competition since 2013, the EA Sports Cup is Rovers most likely route to silverware this season but even at that it may not be enough to appease the Tallaght faithful should the "Hoops" record of six defeats in eleven league games not improve and dramatically at that.
So where have the "Hoops" problems lay this season? Well, goals have certainly been a problem, especially when you compare their totals to the likes of Bray Wanderers and Cork City who have both scored over twenty-five times in the league this campaign, while Rovers have only managed to find the net on fifteen occasions. The lack of a real out and out goal-scorer seems to be a major issue for Bradley with midfielder Graham Burke the teams top marksmen with just three goals. The signing of the youthful but promising Michael O'Connor from Champions Dundalk is yet to have the desired effect, while former Longford man Gary Shaw has been in and out of the starting XI this season. At the back, Rovers have also conceded some extremely sloppy goals, with a goal difference of minus three on the scorecard at present. The performances, or lack of them, from star signing and new club captain Ronan Finn has also been a major headache for Bradley this season, with last seasons league winner and Europa League group stage participant failing to recreate that kind of form, which saw him become a key-man in Stephen Kenny's "Lillywhites" outfit. Other big name signings made during the off-season such as Paul Corry and Ryan Connolly have also failed to grab the sort of headlines many expected upon their arrival in Tallaght and that will be very worrying for the Rovers board who seemed to invest heavily in the playing staff during the transfer window. While there has been a clear shift in emphasis from first-team to youth structures and community work from the hierarchy at Shamrock Rovers, they will know as well as anyone that without respectable showings on the big stage, a lot of the good work going on elsewhere within the club will go to waste. A defeat to second tier side Longford would certainly draw an even bigger unwanted spot-light on the first-team set up at Rovers so expect Bradley to name a strong side on Tuesday night.
As for the visitors, Alan Mathews men come into this last eight tie off the back of a third "El Clasico" win of the season over arch rivals Athlone. An Enda Curran hat-trick was enough to sink the "Blue and Black" at City Calling Stadium on the night, and while Mathews was the first to point out that the performance was far from perfect, the 2004 league cup winning manager with Longford highlighted Tuesday's game as a real opportunity to progress.
The Midlands side reached this stage of the competition thanks to two wins over fellow First Division sides. Firstly, Athlone Town were beaten away in a breath-taking 4-3 triumph before a second win in forty-eight-hours over Dublin outfit Shelbourne saw Mathews men reach the last eight.
As mentioned at the start of this preview, Longford's record in Tallaght is non-existent to say the least, with only a victory over the now defunct 'B' team to their credit. Even at home meetings with the Dublin club have not gone well, with "De Town" failing to beat Shamrock Rovers in any competition since a Premier Division win at Tolka Park on 31/08/2007. In fact the overall head to head stats for Longford Town against Shamrock Rovers reads played 41, won 10, drew 6 and lost 25. "De Town" have celebrated 40 goals against the seventeen-times league winners but shipped double that (82) in the process.
The most recent meetings between the two came just last season, as Longford were relegated back to the First Division with three defeats from three against the "Hoops". The first of those meetings came in the Midlands as a late goalkeeping error from current Firhouse Clover number one Ian Molloy saw the now retired Danny North bag Rovers second in a hard fought 2-0 triumph. Despite a David O'Sullivan equaliser in the next meeting in Tallaght, Longford would soon concede a sloppy Sean Heaney goal with relegation looking more and more certain as the weeks passed and that drop to the second tier was long confirmed by the time Rovers rocked up to "CCS" for the final game of the season, a 4-2 win for the "Hoops" who helped say their goodbyes to League of Ireland legend Pat Flynn on the night as the 2014 league winner with Longford and former Rovers favorite bowed out and into retirement.
On that form it's hard to imagine Longford claiming a first ever win in Tallaght on Tuesday but with former Rovers man Don Cowan returning from injury recently and putting in a man-of-the-match display at the weekend, the lightening fast winger could give Luke Byrne a real fitness test of his own should the former Bohemians full-back start against "De" Town" Given Cowan's woeful injury record there is no guarantee Mathews will even opt to start him, but even at that Cowan's pace and power from the bench could prove to be a real game-changer. Up front, Enda Curran is now firing on all cylinders after his derby day hat-trick and expect the former Galway striker to start again in the absence of David O'Sullivan (Groin). Last seasons player of the year at Shelbourne, Jack Brady is likely to start in the cup as he did in the previous two rounds to great acclaim, while the likes of Kealon Dillon and Dylan McGlade will also be looking for match minutes, having not featured at all in the victory over Athlone.
While Mathews will not want to tinker too much with a winning team, Saturday's league tie away to Cabinteely is shaping up to be something of a season defining game, given "De Town's" poor start, but after victory over Athlone they still only find themselves eight points off the top and with an opportunity to leap-frog "Cabo" with a win. As a result, the likes of Kevin O'Connor and Mark Langtry may be rested or play reduced roles in this league cup tie.
With Tuesday's tie settled on the night, you'd have to expect the strength of the Rovers squad to shine through should extra-time be required, but with confidence low and an ever growing sense of frustration in the Tallaght air, Longford very well could play to that on the night and claim the kind of result that made Alan Mathews one of the top managerial names in the country during his first spell in charge.
PREDICTION: Shamrock Rovers 2-1 Longford Town (AET).
- Shamrock Rovers:Injuries - N/A, Suspended -Michael O'Connor (One game remaining).
- Longford Town:Injuries - Noel Haverty (Long-term), David O'Sullivan (Groin). Suspended - None.
MARTY'S STAPO'S STATS CORNER (@Marty_stapo)
- Longford's first ever win over Shamrock Rovers came at home in the 98/99 season when Shay Zellor and Paul Perth scored in a 2-1 Leinster Senior cup victory.
- Having clashed in the FAI and Leinster Senior Cups in the 40's and 50's, Longford Town and Shamrock Rovers would go a whole 30 years without meeting again until the 1984/85 campaign.