Five quick thoughts from Limerick’s exhilarating 5-1 demolition of Sligo Rovers at Markets Field on Friday.
1. Cretaro is not the man to lead Robertson’s press
Sligo manager Dave Robertson sprang something of a pre-match surprise by confining both loanee strikers, Mathew Stevens and Jonah Ayunga, to the bench. Instead, the former Peterborough United boss elected to field last season’s top goalscorer, the diminutive Raffaele Cretaro, in the number nine position.
Supported in behind by 31-year-old John Russell, who is primarily a central-midfielder, the 35-year-old Tubbercurry native struggled to lead the high-press his manager was looking for.
Sligo therefore failed to punish Martin Russell’s commitment to playing the ball out of defence in the same manner that Waterford always threatened to last week.
Encouraged by the imperious presence of debuting target man Rodrigo Tosi, Limerick also went long when appropriate — a stylistic shift that will surely be warmly welcomed by Super Blues supporters.
Cretaro’s line-leading also robbed Rovers of a final-third focal-point; Limerick centre-backs Robbie Williams and Tony Whitehead coped comfortably with the direct passes and crosses they were faced with.
That ease stood in stark contrast to the difficulties experienced by Sligo’s high-defensive line, who had to be bailed out by the sweeping of goalkeeper Micháel Schlingermann on more than one occasion.
2. Robertson’s preference for narrowness leaves full-backs exposed
On the flanks, the Sligo manager fielded two players who share a natural tendency to drift infield. Although Daniel Kearns and Kieran Sadlier threatened sporadically either side of Limerick captain Shane Duggan, particularly in the second-half, their central drifts created big problems in the Bit O’Red half.
In Sadlier’s absence, the visitors’ left-sided central-midfielder Chris Kenny found himself continually dragged out of position to protect Regan Donelon. Predictably,the 20-year-old left-back, who toiled one-on-one against Limerick’s returning winger Ian Turner, was then fatally exposed when Kenny swapped with Russell late in the first-half.
Turner availed of Kenny’s move upfield to stand a cross onto Tosi’s head for Limerick’s third goal, and the wideman very nearly forced Tobi Adebayo-Rowling to turn into his own net with another right on the stroke of half-time.
Choosing a full-back at left-sided centre-back, in 20-year-old Gary Boylan, compounded Sligo’s left-sided weakness. Opting to omit new signing Kyle Callan-McFadden therefore initially seemed like an error.
But, a second-half in which the half-time substitute almost handed Turner a second goal, and gave away a penalty with a crazy foul on Tosi, tempered that suspicion.
3. Sligo’s failure to do the simple things right does not augur well
After a poor start last season, the manner of this defeat does not bode well for a Sligo side looking to avoid a repeat performance.
Both of Limerick’s first two goals were attributable to the visitors falling asleep in the defence of short throw-ins– one on either flank, with Lee J. Lynch the man to react quickest and serve up the assist on both occasions.
The fact that Robertson’s charges were almost caught in the exact same manner mere moments after emerging from the half-time team-talk should have Rovers fans tugging at their collars in unison.
4. The diamond may be Robertson’s best friend
In switching to a 4-3-1-2 formation at half-time, by removing Kenny in favour of Stevens, Robertson immediately effected positive change in the attacking-third.
Finally equipped with a traditional striker in their ranks, Sligo overloaded Limerick’s left-flank through Stevens, Kearns, and rampaging full-back Adebayo-Rowling.
As if to underline the folly of Robertson’s starting selection, Stevens out-muscled Williams to one of several raking Craig Roddan long-passes, forcing Limerick debutant Tommy Robson to block Cretaro’s resultant effort. Here, in this powerful former amateur boxer, was a man that could lead a press.
Stationed at the base of midfield, in the absence of a Limerick number 10 to confront him, Roddan’s freedom was key to Sligo’s mini-resurgence.
But, despite pulling a goal back through Stevens, the visitors’ defensive weakness in wide areas came back to haunt them again. Dean Clarke ghosted past Kearns, with Adebayo-Rowling caught upfield providing the width, to tee-up Tosi’s third and kill Sligo off.
5. Limerick’s Duggan may need a partner against better sides
There were many positives to take from the Super Blues’ performance on Friday night: Robson’s assured debut; Tosi’s penalty-box presence; the pace and end-product of Clarke, Lynch, and Turner; and the physical dominance of Duggan and Bastien Hery.
But, in the second-half performance of Sligo’s Sadlier, there existed a hint of potential danger to come. Fielded on the left of Roberston’s diamond, the 22-year-old regularly found space between the lines in behind a tiring Hery — whose match-fitness is admittedly still a work-in-progress.
Sligo’s ray-of-hope goal was gleaned from this avenue, when Hall spilled Sadlier’s strike from distance — a passage of play that also suggested that Brendan Clarke’s ascension to number-one status may not be very far away.
Against sides with clever attacking midfielders, like Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney, Russell may be wise to revert to the 4-2-3-1 formation of old to prevent his captain from being overrun in front of the Limerick defence.
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