Four quick thoughts on Limerick FC’s 1-1 draw with Finn Harps at Markets Field on Saturday afternoon.
1. Brendan Clarke’s opportunity must be nigh
As good as Harps were in the execution of Ollie Horgan’s tactical plan here, it is notable that the Donegal side were only afforded two clear sights at Limerick’s goal.
One, a Ciaran O’Connor missed-sitter, was facilitated by a moment of penalty-area magic from the veteran Paddy McCourt. But the other, Sean Houston’s 24th-minute opener, was wholly attributable to a shanked Freddy Hall clearance — a depressingly familiar sight for Super Blues fans.
The Limerick goalkeeper’s poor distribution, in the face of a high opposition press, was a continual feature of Monday night’s game against Bohemians too, in which the Bermudan offered up a clear-cut chance to Jamie Doyle in carbon-copy circumstances. A Hall handling error also cost the Shannonsiders a clean-sheet in the 5-1 opening-day win over Sligo Rovers.
A regular for St Patrick’s Athletic in 2016, it’s difficult to imagine that Brendan Clarke signed for Limerick to be Hall’s understudy. And, given that Hall has been culpable for 50% of his new employers’ concessions this season, one imagines that Clarke’s opportunity must be right around the corner.
2. High-press a potent tactic against possession-based Limerick
Despite an apparent early-season willingness to go long if required, Hall’s cause hasn’t been helped by a reversion to type from a possession-oriented Martin Russell.
Expected to extract the maximum six points from the consecutive visits of Bohs and Harps, Limerick have instead won just one — thanks to both sides’ collective willingness to squeeze up on the home defence and cut-off attacks at source.
Even if one discounts the impressive Houston’s opener here, chances have regularly flowed from this avenue for Limerick’s opponents. Dean Clarke lost possession in his own-half in the lead-up to Patrick McEleney’s cracking winner for Dundalk. And Dinny Corcoran missed a first-half sitter on Monday evening, when Shane Duggan was harried into a poor backpass.
In contrast to his unrivaled ability to free himself from defenders in anticipation of wide deliveries, Limerick aren’t helped by Rodrigo Tosi’s struggle to compete for long, straight balls — a theoretical option that Limerick could use to bypass the press.
In addition, when Tosi does win his aerial duels, Limerick’s relative lack of compactness — a feature here, and against Bohs — makes claiming the second-ball unlikely.
Chris Mulhall’s disappointing second-striker showing was a factor in this failure too, and it was no surprise that Limerick’s chances of picking up the scraps improved greatly upon Lee J. Lynch’s introduction.
3. Limerick’s strongest central midfield combination still a work-in-progress
Lynch’s omission here rendered the hosts extremely predictable in open-play, with only the touchline-hugging and crossing prowess of Stephen Kenny (and, later, Ian Turner) causing Harps any problems.
Although dropping Bastien Hery back beside Duggan reduced Limerick’s vulnerability between the lines — a consistent feature of the Shannonsiders’ opening three games — it is clear that this is not the best way to use the former Carlisle United midfielder either.
A creative, if also physical, number 10 type, Hery probably needs to play in the position the more mobile Lynch favours if he is to fully flourish.
Unlikely to make dangerous third-man runs into the opposition area either, it was understandable that Russell chose to replace the Frenchman late on with off-the-ball threat Paul O’Conor — despite the chorus of boos that greeted this call.
Fielding both Hery and Lynch ahead of Duggan has looked fraught with danger, while omitting Lynch — who drifted wide to instigate Tosi’s 72nd-minute equaliser — should not be an option for a Limerick side struggling for goals at the minute.
Unfortunately for Hery aficionados, a midfield three with Duggan holding, O’Conor in the box-to-box role, and Lynch at number 10, may well be the wave of the past, and future.
4. McCourt, the deep-lying playmaker?
When it became apparent that Paddy McCourt would be restored to the side in place of former Wexford FC midfielder Jonny Bonner — presumably dropped for his clanger against Pat’s on Monday — few expected it to be a straight swap.
The former Celtic attacking midfielder has featured behind the striker for Harps this season, but the deep-lying playmaker role in which he was fielded at the Markets Field may represent a new dawn for the Northern Irishman.
Deployed alongside Republic of Ireland under-21 squad member Ethan Boyle, McCourt’s job was to collect the ball from his defenders, and play long passes — both to the flanks, and in behind the Limerick defence.
To his credit, and to the probable surprise of many, McCourt performed this task with aplomb too, until his 62nd-minute departure in favour of his more defensively-minded fellow veteran Barry Molloy — as Horgan reacted immediately, and appropriately, to Lynch’s introducion moments earlier.
Hardly renowned for their pressing game, Limerick are a good opposition to risk a player of McCourt’s nature in such a deep-lying role. Like much of what Horgan instructed his players to attempt today, the 33-year-old’s surprising deployment both made sense on paper and came off in practice.
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