Three quick thoughts on Willie John Boland’s maiden victory at the Limerick FC helm.
1. Limerick win with Martin Russell’s blueprint
To herald a new dawn for Limerick FC, after victory at interim manager Willie John Boland’s first attempt, would naturally be tempting for those who long agitated for Martin Russell’s removal from the Markets Field helm.
Departing Richmond Park with three points is an achievement that should not be diminished, but it’s probable that the former Coventry City midfielder would be the first to admit that he had little to do with it.
Expecting Boland to enact significant change to Limerick’s on-field approach in a five-day timespan would be massively unrealistic. And so it proved, as the Shannonsiders’ somewhat fortunate win over the Saints bore all the hallmarks of a Russell performance — warts and all.
The recently departed Dub’s fingerprints were all over this one, with the same formation, tactical approach, and personnel — bar Chris Mulhall for Ian Turner — maintained from the fatal 3-0 defeat to Cork City.
The usual bloody-minded commitment to playing their way out of trouble led to some hairy early moments for Limerick, as did their familiarly confused response to defending Pat’s set-pieces throughout the game.
The fetish for hitting too many long, straight balls to Rodrigo Tosi was also on show, as was the lack of a natural holding midfield player, and the time-honoured tradition of sinking too deep, too early, when defending a lead.
Make no bones about it: were it not for Pat’s profligacy, Brendan Clarke’s heroics, and the second-half introduction of John O’Flynn, Boland — with Russell’s blueprint firmly in hand — could well have been the unwitting architect of another disappointing result against an equally dysfunctional opposition.
2. Tosi’s negatives outweigh the positives
The jury is in on the 34-year-old Brazilian striker, and the verdict is not one his adoring fans may wish to hear.
Unparalleled in his ability to position himself away from opposing defenders to snaffle headed chances, Tosi’s line-leading abilities have otherwise proved disappointing.
When asked to compete against a physical centre-back pairing, common as muck in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division, the Brazilian’s hold-up play and first touch have frequently deserted him.
Meanwhile, while aerially fearsome in the penalty-box, Tosi’s success-rate in competing for the glut of long, straight balls that his team-mates fire at him is far from stellar. Focusing those passes at the wingers’ feet more often, as was the case last season, would surely be infinitely more productive.
And, unlike the similarly-vintaged, fellow 34-year-old, O’Flynn, Tosi offers precisely zero movement into the channels, failing to threaten the perennially-high opposition defensive-lines that have looked to squeeze a defiantly possession-oriented Limerick this season.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Tosi’s inability to last the pace in games, paired with a relatively inactive number 10 like Lee J. Lynch, forces Limerick’s one-paced defensive-line to sink ever-deeper in the second-half of games.
With no pressure on the ball higher up the pitch, the likes of Robbie Williams and Tony Whitehead have no option but to drop, leading to the kind of dizzying second-half Pat’s barrage that their side somehow survived.
Given the impact his 15-minute cameo brought to bear, where his fantastic off-the-ball movement should have added two more to his 85th-minute insurance goal, O’Flynn must be a shoe-in to start against opponents likely to squeeze high.
Late in games when trailing, or against weaker opposition likely to defend as deep as Limerick did here, Tosi’s one-dimensional penalty-box prowess becomes relevant again. Horses for courses, as they say.
3. Buckley’s gung-ho approach is staggeringly naive
It’s not often you see one full-back in the penalty-box, while the other overlaps on the opposite flank, but Liam Buckley’s St Patrick’s Athletic side manage it on the reg.
Such tactical adventure, needless to say, poses opposition defences no end of difficulty, as seen by the sheer weight of chances Pat’s left-wing Ian Bermingham/Kurtis Byrne axis created here.
But, against Limerick’s pacey wingers, who had oodles of space to run into throughout this game, Buckley’s approach seems more than a little naive. Both concessions stemmed from this weakness, with Bermingham rushing back to foul Mulhall and offer up the Shane Duggan free-kick that Whitehead touched in.
On the other flank, Gavin Peers committed a series of fouls on Chiedozie Ogbene when called upon to cover for absent right-back Michael Barker, eventually entering referee Paul McLaughlin’s notebook in the 57th minute for one such offence.
And it was Ogbene, breaking down the right after collecting Brendan Clarke’s precise long-throw, who availed of that ever-present space out wide to set-up O’Flynn’s winner.
Add to that Buckley’s insistence upon fielding two number 10s — JJ Lunney and Alex O’Hanlon — in front of a stranded Pat Cregg, and you have got yourself a recipe for tactical disaster.
The three gilt-edged shooting opportunities, in three first-half minutes, that Limerick were afforded from the edge of the Saints penalty-area, illustrated the folly of this approach from the under-fire Pat’s boss.
Sitting 11th, two places off safety, Buckley needs to moderate his side’s over-zealous approach, or risk becoming this season’s third managerial casualty.
Don’t forget to join Alan O’Brien (@alanob2112) and former LOI manager Noel O’Connor next Saturday evening for live coverage of the Shannonsiders’ clash with Drogheda United — bookmark Limerick Soccer Live now so you don’t miss out! And, if you do miss out, you can listen back to old shows here.