Longford chasing hat-trick of home wins as UCD come to Town
Having previously gone almost eighteen long months without a home win, Longford Town will be looking for a third consecutive home triumph on the bounce when they host surprise title contenders UCD on Saturday.
Despite being among the youngest squads in the league, Collie O'Neills UCD have proven a number of doubters wrong by climbing to within a point of heavy title favourites and big spenders Waterford FC at the top of the table. With six wins from their opening eleven league matches, UCD have double the amount of W's on the board compared to a Longford side who also got the cheque book out quite regularly during the off-season, in the hope of an instant return to the top flight.
However, it's been a slow start for Alan Mathews side, who failed to break down a well organised Cabinteely side at the weekend, a result which saw Longford Town's wait for consecutive league continue. Incredibly, the tail end of the 2015 season is the last time the Midlands club managed to claim back to back league wins, that is a record that must change immediately if ''De Town'' are to show the kind of constancy required to mount a title challenge.
Injuries have played a role in Longford's inconsistency this season and the news that record goal-scorer David O'Sullivan is to be sidelined for a prolonged spell certainly comes as unwelcome to Town followers. A lack of ruthlessness in front of goals has been Longford's biggest issue this season, with Enda Curran the latest Town striker to miss an absolute sitter in the recent meeting with ''CABO'', so for O'Sullivan to now be unavailable is a major headache for boss Alan Mathews to contend with. Perhaps the option of deploying strikers turned wingers Cody Mulhall and Don Cowan in a more central position will be a route Mathews decides to go down at some stage, but with Jake Kelly and Dylan McGlade struggling for form it would certainly leave Longford lacking in wide areas.
On the bright side for the Longford coaching staff, the teams defensive shape has certainly come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks with the back four of Mark Langtry, Stephen Walsh, Daniel O'Reilly and Tristan Noack Hofmann (Click hereto read an exclusive interview with the young Town star) now picking itself every week, while Dean Zambra is growing into his role as midfield protector with every passing game.
The only previous meeting between Longford and UCD this season came at the UCD Bowl, where a fine first half showing by the ''Students'' blew a lacklustre Longford away. Despite putting in one of their worst performances of the season, Longford could have still left Dublin with a point to their credit as a youthful UCD tired dramatically in the second period and again only for poor finishing ''De Town'' could have gone home with a different result. It will be interesting to see if O'Neill's side are still struggling with their stamina now that we are into the second series of games, as this would certainly be a hindrance to his side in sustaining their early title challenge.
Poor playing surfaces have been a constant talking point throughout the 2017 League of Ireland season, particularly in the First Division but the crucible like surface at City Calling Stadium should see both sides encouraged to get the ball down and play some attractive football.
With a trip to rivals Waterford next on the cards for Longford Town, this game certainly falls into the must win category, with the gap to the ''Blues'' already standing at nine-points ahead of this upcoming round of games. With a real injury crisis currently taking place at the RSC, plus the loss of key players who's loan deals with Swindon Town have now expired, this may be Longford's only realistic opportunity to catch Waterford FC napping and they will have to take that chance starting Saturday night against UCD!
Prediction: Longford Town 1-0 UCD- With Longford showing a lot more steel at the back in recent weeks the onus will he on their attacking players to find the key to winning this game. Expect a big performance from lone striker Enda Curran who has scored 5 goals in his last two home appearances.