Late drama as Fenn is made to sweat for first win
An improved attendance, a first ever League of Ireland victory over Cabinteely, a clean sheet and a Daniel O'Reilly wonder-goal made up the story of the night as Longford Town FC claimed a maiden triumph under new boss Neale Fenn on Saturday night. A crowd of 327 turned out on a fine July 1st evening at the City Calling Stadium to witness to beginning of a new era at the Midlands club as Londoner Neale Fenn got off to the best possible start in his new job. However, Town were made to fight tooth and nail against a Cabinteely side, who had already taken four points from a possible six against Alan Mathews Longford team earlier this season.
Former Leyton Orient assistant manager Fenn lined "De Town" out in a traditional 4-4-2 formation for the visit of the South-Dublin outfit, with Don Cowan returning to his natural position of advanced striker, having featured exclusively as a wide-man ever since returning to the club from Stevenage in 2014. Jake Kelly partnered Cowan with David O'Sullivan still out of action thanks to a groin issue, while Enda Curran started life under former striker Fenn on the Longford bench. Goal hero against Cobh Ramblers two weeks previous, Karl Chambers operated from the wide-right following the departure of Dylan McGlade from the club last week and the youngster will now fancy a real run of first-team minutes as a result. In a final selection decision, Noel Haverty and Daniel O'Reilly started at the back, with Stephen Walsh the unlucky defender to miss out, although given the performances of both Haverty and match-winner O'Reilly, Neale Fenn may already have found the bedrock of his new team.
On to the game itself, the first forty-five minutes was one of the dullest seen in the First Division this season to be brutally truthful. Chances were at an absolute premium for both sides, with Mick Kelly's close range save from Karl Chambers moments before the break the best opportunity either side had mustered up. However, despite totally dominating the possession in the opening period, Cabinteely really should have taken the lead just after the half-hour when Noack Hofmann was disposed as he attempted to run the ball out from a short-kick out, however he was robbed by striker Joe Doyle who attempted to round Paul Skinner in the Longford net, but thankfully for the hosts he spurned the opportunity. Short and quick passes from the restarts were a constant and noticeable theme in Fenn's first match in charge and it's clearly something the home faithful will have to be patient with, cries of impatience grew louder and louder as the clock ticked down.
Neither manager opted to make any alterations at the interval, although "Cabo" did lose new signing Peter Durrard to a head-injury early on in the game, while centre-half Conor Keely was also forced to the line in the second half with what appeared to be a back issue after a collision mid-air. Keely was once again the Dublin clubs stand out defensive performer and his build alone gives him every chance of forging an extremely successful League of Ireland career.
Fenn had clearly instructed his troops to pick up the tempo in the second forty-five and it seemed to lift the home crowd with the likes of Dillon, O'Connor, Chambers and Friel all becoming more involved higher up the pitch. Substitute Enda Curran, who replaced the hard working Cowan, was then presented with a glorious opportunity to open the scoring when a "Cabo" defender failed to cut out a loose cross but Curran was caught napping at the back stick as the ball whizzed by him at out for a goal-kick.
Given Longford's lack of goals this season, one could be forgiven for thinking a better chance may not come their way, however a moment of pure genius would soon bring a smile to Town faces. Prior to that though, "Cabo" turned down a match-winning moment of their own when Joe Doyle evaded his marker inside the Longford penalty area only to head the ball over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box. Bar Hofmann's aforementioned mistake in the first-half and some risky short passes here and there, "De Town" had looked reasonably solid defensively so the management team of Fenn and Cronin will have been annoyed that Doyle found so much space during this set-piece routine.
Onto the winner however, Daniel O'Reilly's 'gascoigne-esq' volley will surely be a contender for goal of the season as the centre-back flicked a breaking ball past an opposition and up to himself before rifling home a delicious strike into the bottom right-hand corner of Kelly's net. The twenty-three-year-old could barely believe it himself as the City Calling Stadium rocked like rarely seen over the past two seasons.
For a game that had been so dull for so long, all the drama was now coming at once as Pat Devlin's "Cabo" threw the kitchen sink at a Longford side clearly desperate for this win. However, in their urgency to try and claw a result out of the bag, Cabinteely left themselves exposed and Chambers really should have killed them off when he was played in one V one, only to lift the ball over the bar as he attempted a cheeky chipped finish.
Goalkeeper, Kelly was out for revenge as he made his way forward for a Cabinteely corner. The Longford six-yard box was now resembling a war-zone with tempers threatening to boil over between Paul Skinner and former Town captain, Daire Doyle. Longford 'keeper Skinner was to win the battle however, as he clawed away what was an inviting delivery from the impressive "Marty" Waters.
It wasn't over with that though, as in added time, of which there was five excruciating minutes, Michael Scott found himself on the end of a knock-down by Waters and just as his goal bound volley looked destined to deny Longford Town their moment in the sun, a heroic block by man of the match contender, Noel Haverty broke the Cabinteely resistance. Haverty, who has only just returned from serious injury and also required treatment for a nasty cut to his nose in the first-half, the same incident that saw Durrard go off injured, showed his well publicised bravery and commitment to the cause with that block, as he flung his body and the rasping shot, blocking it with his chest and winding himself in the process as was the force of the shot. Tweeting after the game, Fenn commented on his players work-rate and Haverty's contribution will certainly have shown the new manager exactly the sort of standards he can expect from his players.
Tonight's win moves "De Town" to within twelve points of league leaders Waterford, who visit Fenn's new home in a fortnights time. Up next for two time Premier Division winner Fenn however, is a trip to the UCD Bowl as the "Students" look to move within a point of Waterford and go on to secure one of the most unlikely title shocks in recent years.
Between the Stripes man of the match: Daniel O'Reilly (Longford) - A magnificent winner but also once again "De Town's" stand out performer at the back alongside the heroic Noel Haverty. A real match winning partnership.