Four quick thoughts on Cork City’s Munster derby victory at Markets Field on Friday evening.
1. Air of depressing familiarity about all three Limerick concessions
Defying pre-season predictions that their scant defensive resources were not fit for Premier Division purpose, the Shannonsiders surprised many by only shipping four goals in the five games prior to this one.
Two of those goals were attributable to Limerick’s longstanding keenness to offer up possession in their own half, mind you. Little surprise then, when Sean Maguire’s 20th-minute opener resulted from Tony Whitehead’s failure to deal with Shaun Kelly’s backwards pass.
Martin Russell’s insistence upon encouraging his charges to play football in their own half had earlier seen the Super Blues come a cropper in Oriel Park — when Dean Clarke lost possession in the lead-up to Patrick McEleney’s winner — and at home to Finn Harps, when Sean Houston punished a Freddy Hall error.
All four clubs that have visited the Markets Field thus far have employed a high-press, with only Sligo Rovers inadequately equipped to employ it on the opening day. Bohemians, Harps, and now Cork, have all created chances in this manner.
The Leesiders’ second goal, registered by number 10 Gary Buckley, was also a rerun for keen-eyed Limerick fans. Buckley ghosted in behind Sunderland loanee Tommy Robson, to snaffle a left-wing cross at the back-post, as Dinny Corcoran had done to send Bohemians home with all three points earlier this month.
Robson, removed at half-time alongside Whitehead, also toiled at the Carlisle Grounds last Saturday, with Robbie Williams called upon time and time again to cover in behind his left-back.
Belying a promising start to SSE Airtricity Premier Division life, the English defender is struggling at the moment, and he may very well lose his starting berth to a soon-to-return Shane Tracy.
Finally, Gearoid Morrissey’s 47th-minute strike, registered just two minutes after Russell’s half-time switch to a 3-1-4-2 formation, underlined the perils of operating with Shane Duggan as a sole holder.
Limerick’s first concession of the season, back in February, saw Sligo’s Kieran Sadlier finally profit from the always-available space to Duggan’s right — in behind Bastien Hery — to unleash a strike from distance that Hall parried into Matthew Stevens’ path.
Here, the player culpable for not protecting the pocket to his captain’s right was Paul O’Conor, with Morrissey’s path to goal proving a criminally-facile one.
2. Maguire’s movement is marvelous to watch
The timing of Sean Maguire’s diagonal runs, designed to link up with a dizzying stream of Cork channel-balls, was truly a joy to watch on Friday evening.
Particularly fond of running off the inexperienced Whitehead to collect balls played into the gaping chasm between Robbie Williams and Robson, the 22-year-old striker should have doubled his personal tally from this avenue when poking Bennett’s 24th-minute long ball wide from close-range.
With seven goals in as many league games, and eight in all competitions, the former Dundalk striker is the best player in the league at the moment, and may be the key to John Caulfield’s perpetual-bridesmaids resting the bouquet off the Lilywhites at season’s end.
Maguire’s task was helped hugely by winger Karl Sheppard — double-goalscorer against the champions in the previous game — who continually dragged Robson away from his defensive mooring to create space for his striker.
Cork also fashioned two gilt-edged chances for the excellent Dooley, with byline pull-backs fashioned from training-ground, right-wing moves — underlining the fact that the peerless movement that Caulfield has engendered in this Cork team is not just limited to his top marksman.
3. Tosi’s one-note presence renders Limerick’s attack extremely predictable
If Limerick’s top-scoring target man, Rodrigo Tosi, had headed Lee J. Lynch’s 13th-minute cross past Mark McNulty, perhaps this game’s eventual outcome would have been very different.
Tosi’s ability to position himself advantageously from wide deliveries has been unparalleled this season, but that early drift in behind Alan Bennett was one of the very few occasions that the Brazilian got the better of Cork’s centre-backs here.
As against Dundalk’s Brian Gartland and Paddy Barrett, Tosi’s touch completely deserted him here, when faced with the dual physical presences of Bennett and Ryan Delaney.
With the man asked to provide Limerick’s width, right-winger Ian Turner, also proving a turnover machine for Cork, the hosts really offered very little going forward indeed.
Russell’s half-time switch to 3-1-4-2, presumably designed to give Tosi a partner without creating a numerical disadvantage in midfield, seemed kind to the 34-year-old.
Offering precisely zero of the threat-in-behind that half-time substitute John O’Flynn carries, is it worth leaving Tosi on the pitch if his hold-up play is malfunctioning too?
4. Russell’s second-half 3-1-4-2 will surely be a one-off
Operating with an unfamiliar back-three throughout the second-half, against a home-and-hosed opposition with no real need to attack in numbers, Limerick still conceded a worrying number of chances.
With Kelly, Williams, and substitute David O’Connor unsure as to who should be doing what, Maguire was allowed to take a deep Kevin O’Connor cross on his chest in the 55th minute, forcing another save from Clarke.
That was just minutes after Kelly was fortunate not to be red-carded for hauling down Maguire on the Limerick area’s edge, and confusion reigned again late on, when all three defenders stood off Maguire’s teenage replacement Connor Ellis, forcing Clarke into action again.
Although both Whitehead and Robson could not really quibble with their half-time withdrawals, the rationale behind switching to a system the remaining defenders were so clearly unprepared for seems weak.
Fielding a penetrative striker like O’Flynn made sense, but could have been achieved in the form of a straight swap for Tosi, maintaining both Limerick’s shape and midfield numbers.
That would have also given Russell scope to replace the abject Turner with fellow Cork native Stephen Kenny. Rather than dump Robson, the player could have been taken aside at the break, and instructed to narrow the gap between he and Williams — only moving to close-down Sheppard when the ball to the winger is played.
Instead, save for Ogbene’s 20-minute purple-patch at the beginning of the second-half, a disorganised Limerick cohort looked even less likely to get back into the game, forced as they were to add defensive confusion to the long list of problems that Cork were already posing them.
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