Longford's game management must improve
Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS.
Just seconds away from a crucial first away win of the season, Longford Town were left heartbroken by Ciaran Kelly's last-gasp volley to deny the Midlanders what would've been a well deserved 1-0 triumph at United Park on Friday night. Had Neale Fenn's men have held on to the lead, earned through a wonderful twenty-five-yard strike from man of the match Dean Byrne, they would've found themselves in a position to dislodge early leaders, UCD with a win over the "Students" at City Calling Stadium next weekend.
With last night's opponents, Drogheda United, in hot scoring form and leading the way in the second tier prior to kick-off, the vast majority of Longford Town fans would have been more than happy to shake on a share of the spoils before a ball was kicked and the outdated County Louth venue. Despite the obvious disappointment of dropping two points, with what was literally the last kick of the game last night, you would have found very few, if any, away fans who left the ground annoyed by the teams performance, Neale Fenn's team selection or tactics. Overall, it was a fine display from the team in yellow, while the managers attacking reshuffle worked a treat as highly impressive youngster, Dean Byrne came in for Sam Verdon and was the stand out player on the pitch. However, what will stick in the throat of Town supporters all week long is the lack of game management on show by Neale Fenn's charges so far this season.
Going all the way back to the opening night of the 2018 campaign, Longford Town found themselves 2-0 up at home to a very poor Cobh Ramblers side only for a set-piece and an individual mistake at the back resulting in a 2-2 draw. Away to Shelbourne, "De Town" managed to fight back with nine men to equalise in the 88th minute only to concede a second penalty of the night in the 93rd minute, which former Longford hero Davy O'Sullivan duly dispatched to claim a cruel hat-trick in the 3-2 win. Again away from home, where as already mentioned Longford are yet to taste a win, Fenn's attacking players missed three one on one opportunities in the second half versus a well below par Galway side as two points went a begging in the scoreless draw. Throw last nights result into the equation and that is a minimum of five points dropped if you feel Longford should've at least claimed a draw in Tolka Park or as many supporters feel it is in fact seven points dropped as a victory against "Shels" looked likely with the teams tied at one apiece in the first half and "De Town" well on top at that stage of the game.
Either way, while sitting top of the table at this early stage of the season may seem unimportant the mental aspect of being leaders should not be underestimated. Dundalk's brilliant home win against foes Shamrock Rovers last Friday saw the "Lilywhites" move to the top of the podium for the first time in over a season and the likes of Chris Shields have spoken publicly of the importance of that in recent days. Those comments come from a player who has experienced untold success in Irish football's greatest ever team over the past number of years so that should be evidence enough of just how big a boost going top of a league table can be in a dressing room, even a dressing room that has won so much silverware and played in countless major matches down the years.
Of course luck always plays a part in results like we saw at United Park last night and lady luck certainly didn't shine on the team from the Strokestown road. Before kick-off news broke that Longford's top performing centre-half this season, Mick McDonnell would miss out through illness and many of those in attendance last night feel "De Town" would not have conceded a second phase set-piece goal had the towering centre-half been present and it's hard to argue otherwise. Meanwhile, during the course of the ninety-five-minutes, Longford lost the services of electric winger, Peter Hopkins who simply put was tearing the "Drogs" defence apart in the second-half, while perhaps more crucially, defender Shane Elworthy was forced off which meant an unwanted reshuffle to an already disrupted back-four. While substitute Karl Chambers played a major role in "De Town's" brilliant goal, the make-shift full-back would have been one of the smaller players on the pitch when it came to defending Drogheda's final hail-Mary attack.
Popular Town boss, Neale Fenn is sure to take the positives from yet another strong showing against a promotion rival and so he should as there were many, including another performance well beyond his tender years from local talent, Aodh Dervin. However, as the 2018 First Division campaign gets set to turn into series two in the next couple of weeks, any mistake in crucial areas of the pitch are likely to be amplified and punished as the high stakes games get even bigger and of higher importance. As a result, Longford's management team will have to find the right formula to see out games such as last nights if they are to move into the next gear and grasp a firm grip on not only promotion but the First Division title, which is a very achievable dream for at least six teams, including Longford!