Mathews former clubs collide as Cronin leads Longford into battle at Tolka
Less than a week on from the shock news that Alan Mathews and Longford Town FC have parted ways, first-team coach Gary Cronin will lead Longford into a battle for mid-table supremacy when they face thirteen-time League of Ireland winners Shelbourne on Friday night. A 5-0 home win over rock-bottom Wexford FC was not enough to save Longford Town's most successful ever manager from the chopping board, as a slow start to the season effectively killed off the clubs hopes of an instant return to the Premier Division, with Mathews paying the ultimate price.
Ahead of this final game before the mid-season break, Gary Cronin will be looking to not only throw his name into the hat for the hot-seat position at Longford Town FC, but in the process claim a win which would see "De Town" move four-points clear of sixth placed Shelbourne and potentially within a single point of fourth placed Cabinteely.
This will not be the first time Cronin has filled the role of caretaker manager at the Midlands club having taken the reigns as recently as last season, following the long overdue departure of unpopular boss Tony Cousins. While long-time club servant Cronin, who has acted as a player, coach and assistant manager in his two spells with Longford, failed to claim a win during his most recent caretaker spell, he did oversee an FAI Cup replay victory on penalties away to Finn Harps in 2015, with the hot-headed Cousins banned from the dugout on the night. However, even should the popular Cronin claim a success over Alan Mathews former club on Friday night, it is unclear whether he will be considered for the position, with the club immediately advertising the managerial post on social media in the wake of Mathews departure.
That lack of uncertainty may play into the hosts hands, as Shelbourne come into this game licking their wounds from a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Cabinteely. However, if ever the saying of "beware of the wounded animal" was to be preached inside the walls of the Longford dressing room, this is the time to preach it, as the "Reds" look to avenge the 3-1 defeat they suffered at City Calling Stadium in mid-April.
80/1 outsiders at the start of the campaign, Owen Heary's charges are probably were many expected them to be in the current league standings. Despite sitting in a lowly sixth of eight in the second tier table, Shelbourne have shown glimpses of potential this season, with a lack of consistency holding the Dublin club back from mounting an assault on the top-four. Late March and Early April stand out as "Shels" best period so far this season with three wins in a row over Athlone, Wexford and Cabinteely. However, that defeat away to Longford was then followed by three more league defeats, before an expected win over crisis club Athlone helped stopped the rot. However, back to back defeats to Wexford, who had remained winless up until that encounter with "Shels", and the hammering by Cabinteely have proved particularly damaging to the "Red" reputation, with attendances plummeting at the out-dated Tolka Park.
Similarly to Friday's opponents, Shelbourne have struggled to score goals this season with a ratio of only one per game. At the back, Heary's men have shipped twenty-goals, an unpleasantly high rate for a team managed by one of the best defenders in League of Ireland history. Also just like "De Town", Shelbourne have struggled with injuries in recent weeks and former Town defender Aidan Collins remains a doubt for Friday's game, as does Chris Lyons. Dylan Kavanagh will definitely sit out of the action but in brighter news, Derek Prendergast returns from suspension this week and should expect to slot back into a leaky back-four.
As for Gary Cronin's first team selection, the Town caretaker boss will once again have to do without David Sullivan and winger Don Cowan, while Cody Mulhall, Enda Curran and Mark Langtry all remain doubtful. Vice-captain, Noel Haverty returned last week for the first time since the opening five-minutes of the season in Tolka Park back in February, while Stephen Walsh has well and truly put the clash of heads he suffered against UCD behind him in recent weeks, even though he is still sporting a head bandage as results of stitches received. Local lad, Aodh Dervin came off the bench to make his senior LOI debut against Wexford and may see some game time again, while former "Shels" winger Dylan McGlade will be out to show his old club he made the right move in joining Longford.
With both sides struggling to string consecutive results together this season, Friday night's encounter will be viewed as a chance to build some much needed momentum ahead of the mid-season break. However, defeat would come as a hammer blow for either side, who are likely to play out this encounter in front of a small and unenthusiastic audience, with the majority feeling the respective races for each club are already run for 2017.
Between the Stripes prediction: Shelbourne 0-2 Longford Town - Despite all the off-field issues going on at the Midlands club and a long injury list to contend with, "De Town" seem to have Shelbourne's number this season with back to back wins in league and cup, which should give Cronin's charges confidence ahead of Friday's game.