Three quick thoughts on interim manager Willie John Boland’s second successive victory at the Limerick FC helm.
1. Drogs’ diamond disaster
Although Pete Mahon’s ultra-narrow 4-3-1-2 formation only lasted a half-hour, the damage was done for Drogheda United by the time the former UCD supremo dumped his ill-judged diamond.
Paired with the same high-pressing plan employed to good effect by Finn Harps and Bohemians before them, Mahon’s decision to go without wingers made Limerick’s usual efforts to play out from the back criminally easy.
Always free in acres of space, Limerick full-backs Shaun Kelly and Tommy Robson represented obvious out-balls, with Drogheda’s shuttlers Jake Hyland and Ryan McEvoy — in for the injured Gavin Brennan — far too slow to get out wide and confront them.
The ease with which Robson was allowed to play Chiedozie Ogbene in down the inside-left, in the lead-up to Limerick’s seventh-minute second goal, was illustrative of the Drogs’ complete failure to defend wide areas.
But, it was on the right-flank, where Lee J. Lynch continually drifted to create overloads, that Drogheda really had their hands full. Faced with the conundrum of either denying Lynch space between the lines, or tracking the always-overlapping Kelly, McEvoy did neither — leading to a dizzying array of clear-cut Shannonsiders chances.
When Mahon finally gave up the diamond ghost, mere moments after Rodrigo Tosi headed Lynch’s right-wing cross off a fortunate Luke Gallagher, Drogheda reconstituted into a 4-1-4-1 shape, with 18-year-old striker Mark Doyle shifted out to the left of midfield.
Immediately, Limerick’s seemingly never-ending stream of chances dried up, and the visitors managed to limit their half-time deficit to just the two goals.
2. Tosi the perfect horse for this particular course
While last weekend’s visit to a kamikaze St Patrick’s Athletic cried out for the introduction of John O’Flynn’s channel-movement throughout, persisting with Tosi for this one proved a shrewd move from Boland.
Sure, Mahon’s charges attempted to play a high-line too, relying on the sweeping of goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness to bail them out on occasion, but it was the physical and aerial weakness of Drogheda’s back-line that the Brazilian striker really prevailed upon.
Bullying the relatively inexperienced left-sided centre-back Kevin Farragher throughout, and winning the lion’s share of his duels against Gallagher too, Tosi provided the effective focal point that he failed to offer against the physical centre-back pairings of Cork City, Dundalk, and St Pat’s.
Farragher’s covering in behind his central defensive colleague was also poor throughout, further applying pressure to a quick-thinking McGuinness.
Paired with the failure of Drogheda’s central midfield to protect holder Richie Purdy, Limerick also completely dominated the second-ball game too — profiting from Tosi’s lay-offs to the maximum.
As discussed in last week’s piece, the 34-year-old will not always be the preferable option to employ from the start — but he certainly proved to be here.
3. Duggan’s new lease of life
Starting the season as a sole holder in Martin Russell’s then-preferred 4-1-4-1 formation did not make the best of Limerick captain Shane Duggan’s considerable talents.
Exposed to his left and right by his central colleagues, Limerick’s most complete midfielder took some undue flak for his early-season performances, as he looked in vain to plug gaps alone at the best of times.
Restoring Paul O’Conor to the lineup, and returning to the 4-2-3-1 shape of old, for the ultimately victorious trip to Bray Wanderers improved Duggan’s lot however — and the former Cork City man will surely be pleased with the subsequent new lease of life he has received under Boland.
While little else has changed, from a tactical perspective, during Boland’s short reign, the decision to give Duggan more licence to play the box-to-box role to which he is best suited stands as a notable new departure.
With O’Conor more restrained, Duggan barreled into the Drogheda penalty-area to win the 4th-minute corner-kick from which Tosi headed Limerick’s first goal. The home captain’s third-man runs also proffered a raft of second-half chances — at least one of which should have been taken by the 28-year-old.
Obviously, O’Conor is not a natural number six either, and Limerick’s squad still sorely lacks a player of that nature, but the former UCD midfielder won’t mind continuing to sit if his discipline exploits the potential of one of Limerick’s strongest players to its fullest.
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