Four quick thoughts on Bohemians’ 1-0 victory over Limerick at Markets Field on Monday night.
1. High Bohs line pays off against predictable Limerick
Widely expected to engage in a containment exercise, similar to that which came a cropper at Shamrock Rovers on February 26, Keith Long’s side instead sprang a tactical surprise.
Bohs’ commitment to holding a high defensive line, even after Dinny Corcoran’s 50th-minute opener, was as admirable as it was effective. In doing so, the Gypsies managed to keep Limerick’s lone striker, the aerially-gifted Rodrigo Tosi, as far away from goal as possible — with little fear of the 34-year-old Brazilian troubling them in behind.
That positional bravery brought with it a related high-press, often a thorn in the side of Martin Russell’s possession-based approach. Always in close attention when the Shannonsiders tried to play it out from the back, Bohs’ frontline created two glorious first-half chances from forcing errors in Limerick’s defensive third.
Corcoran missed a 16th-minute sitter, after harrying home captain Shane Duggan into a woefully underhit backpass. And, minutes later, Jamie Doyle prevailed upon one of several rushed and wayward Freddy Hall clearances to strike just wide of the Bermudan’s left-hand post.
Bohs’ insistence upon maintaining this approach throughout only really looked silly in the 67th minute, mere seconds after Russell switched to a 4-4-2 by swapping Lee J. Lynch for striker Chris Mulhall.
Now faced with a 2-on-2 for the first time in the game, Bohs’ centre-backs allowed the newly-arrived striker to get in behind, with his resultant pullback for Duggan forcing a fabulous block from the quick-thinking Shane Supple.
2. Tosi’s presence tempts Limerick into overplaying the long, straight, ball
Tosi’s opening-day hat-trick against Sligo Rovers served early notice to the league that Limerick’s veteran target man was a force to be reckoned with. But on the evidence of this defeat, and the Super Blues’ 1-0 reverse to Dundalk on Friday, there may be a downside to his commanding frontline presence.
The Lilywhites’ decision to conserve energy ahead of Monday’s ill-fated Maginn Park visit, meant that Limerick enjoyed the lion’s share of possession after Patrick McEleney’s 33rd-minute opener.
But rather than capitalise on this dominance by working it wide to stretch the massed Dundalk defence, a panicked Limerick instead too often resorted to booting long, straight, balls in the general direction of Tosi — in the vain hope of making something of the second-ball.
That loss of composure repeated itself on Monday, proving even less effective against a resolutely-high Bohemians defensive line.
Bohs, by way of contrast, played the majority of their long balls towards Limerick’s right-back position, where Doyle enjoyed almost total aerial dominance.
Centre-backs Dan Byrne and Rob Cornwall, like Doyle, won the majority of their aerial duels up against Tosi, suggesting that the Brazilian’s aerial prowess is only really relevant when he uses his superior positional sense to reach more angled deliveries first.
Indeed, Limerick almost equalised immediately from a Turner cross, when Tosi backed away from a back-post throng to force the excellent Supple into a save with a headed effort. Stephen Kenny’s 87th-minute cross, that the former Ipswich Town goalkeeper did brilliantly to punch away from the Brazilian, underlined the type of service that Tosi really needs.
3. Limerick fail to make hay from the space out wide
Against a high — but noticeably narrow — Bohs backline, Limerick consistently failed to profit from the chasms of space their visitors offered up on both flanks.
Chiedozie Ogbene, preferred on the left-wing to Dean Clarke, was continually shown the outside — onto his weaker left-foot — by the wily 33-year-old Derek Pender.
Pender, who showed his experience by sticking ultra-tight to the 19-year-old without incurring Anthony Buttimer’s wrath, must have been delighted to see the disappointing winger instead opt to run inside into blind-alleys.
It was notable that one of Limerick’s best first-half chances resulted from one of the few occasions Ogbene went on his left peg, converting an early Lynch-inspired counter-attack into a back-post cross for Turner.
Limerick’s left-flank cause wasn’t helped by the restrained positioning of full-back Tommy Robson either. An all-too-rare overlap from the Sunderland loanee produced another back-post chance for Turner, suggesting that his side may have had more joy if Robson looked to maintain its left-sided width more often.
Meanwhile, hugging the touchline on the opposite flank was Turner, who endured a tough night in which he was comprehensively bested by Bohs left-back Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Even the aforementioned two first-half chances, for which the former Cork City man had penalty-area sights on goal, were rendered moot by the 28-year-old showing Turner onto his weaker left-foot.
4. ‘Central winger’ Ward signals an end to Long’s tactical tinkering
Having incurred two consecutive defeats to start the season, with a 4-4-2 against Derry City and an ultra-defensive 4-1-4-1 away to Shamrock Rovers, Long may have finally found the optimal shape to suit the scant resources at his disposal.
With one of the smallest squads in the league, and reportedly the smallest budget to boot, the 4-4-1-1 shape Long fielded here, and against Bray Wanderers on Friday, may be the best way for the Dub to continue beating expectations.
Signed from Derry City in the off-season, to commence a second spell at the club, Keith Ward started on a left-wing in the 4-1 opening defeat to Derry, before being cast aside for the subsequent derby.
Restored to the side in the number 10 position for the 3-2 comeback victory over the Seagulls, Ward’s performance was integral to a famous night for the Gypsies — and so it was here too.
Drifting from left-to-right across the Markets Field turf, Ward found space either side of Limerick’s sole holder Shane Duggan to pose problems for the hosts — whose shape is simply too loose when fielding number tens Lynch and Bastien Hery together.
Interpreting his playmaking role in the same “central winger” vein as the likes of Pavel Nedved and Mesut Ozil, Ward ghosted out left to deliver the inswinging cross that Robson failed to intercept at the back-post — allowing Paddy Kavanagh to square the ball for Corcoran’s winner.
It was fitting that the game’s standout attacking player instigated its only goal.
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