Two quick thoughts on Galway United’s fourth 1-1 draw in five league games.
1. Keeping it simple is the path to redemption for Keegan
There was little in the way of justification for the lineup and shape that Galway manager Shane Keegan started with here. The presence of two strikers, that so prevented Limerick from committing both full-backs together, stood as a sole positive from Keegan’s preferred 3-5-2 system.
But Ronan Murray’s similarity to the returning Kevin Devaney rendered this a particularly ineffective strike partnership, especially in light of an extremely successful midfield press from Willie John Boland’s side.
Matching up one-for-one in the engine room, Limerick’s central triumvirate — Lee J. Lynch, Paul O’Conor, and Shane Duggan — consistently smothered their counterparts’ attempts to initiate counter-attacks.
Numerically disadvantaged on the flanks due to the inexplicable decision to field three centre-backs against one Rodrigo Tosi, Galway were therefore continually forced into hopeful long balls that their bemused strikeforce had no hope of competing for.
In that sense, the continued omission of former Limerick target-man, and last season’s top scorer, Vinny Faherty, was baffling. And it was no surprise when his 64th-minute introduction, alongside right-winger Gary Shanahan, tilted the game’s momentum in the Tribesmen’s favour.
Coinciding with a switch to a much-simpler 4-4-2 system, the belated arrival of that Limerick-linked duo paid a quick dividend for Keegan.
Previously comfortable in defence, without a winger to mind, Limerick left-back Tommy Robson was terrorised by Shanahan, earning a yellow-card for exhibiting his frustration in the 78th minute.
And Robson was involved again for David Cawley’s 85th-minute equaliser, when he and substitute Dean Clarke failed in several attempts to stop Shanahan and Colm Horgan from teeing up the latter’s eventual cross — that Tony Whitehead headed into the former Sligo Rovers’ midfielder’s path.
Horgan, the club captain, who toiled at right-wing-back in the first hour, looked far more comfortable at right-back, with centre-back Lee Grace no longer forced to perform two jobs.
Grace, who followed Keegan from Wexford, certainly had his hands full with Chiedozie Ogbene in the first-half, as the former Cork City winger continually drifted in behind an advanced Horgan, dragging the right-sided centre-back out wide to confront him.
The message therefore for Keegan is clear: greater tactical simplicity is key to getting the best out of the talented cohort of players at his disposal — players who mostly look ill-suited to a 3-5-2 system.
Even the manner of the first goal — another set-piece concession for the Tribesmen, on foot of Rory Feely’s back-post header last week — indicates that reinstituting an entirely man-marking-based system may be wise for the Galway manager.
As Limerick themselves have demonstrated this season, players at this level may not have the required attributes to competently carry out a mixed or zonal plan.
2. Mulhall’s run in the side robs Limerick of an out-and-out wide outlet
While the Birmingham-born forward’s work-rate, in the pursuit of toiling wing-back Marc Ludden, deserves plenty of plaudits, Chris Mulhall’s right-wing presence did little for Limerick in an attacking sense.
Banjaxed in central areas by Galway’s 3-on-1 advantage over Tosi, and Alex Byrne’s close attention to Lynch, Limerick desperately needed an out-and-out winger to penetrate the space behind Ludden, drag Paul Sinnott out of position, and provide penalty-box service for their Brazilian target-man.
With Robson, and inside-forward Ogbene, combining excellently on the opposite flank, creating two clear-cut chances that the former wasted, Boland was unwilling to encourage right-back Shaun Kelly to advance in the same manner — for fear of exposing his centre-backs in 2-on-2 situations against Galway’s strikers.
With a necessarily restrained right-full, it therefore made sense for Limerick to field a touchline-hugging winger ahead of Kelly, to test Galway in their area of greatest weakness.
Instead, Mulhall retained his place in the side, largely interpreting his role in a very narrow, workmanlike, manner. The former UCD man, who top scored for Limerick in a striking capacity last season, was often seen battling for possession infield — showing little sign of the width Limerick so sorely required to break the Tribesmen down.
On the one occasion that Mulhall did get to the byline, off a 25th-minute Duggan through-ball, the excellent Stephen Folan was forced into a desperate near-post interception to prevent Limerick from opening their account.
In short, a largely unthreatening Limerick needed a lot more of that to build on Robbie Williams’ eventual opener. Instead, they were administered the late sucker-punch their failure to adjust invited.
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