Three quick thoughts from Neil McDonald’s debut victory at the helm of Limerick FC.
1. McDonald sets his tactical stall out
In full control of Limerick for the first time, Neil McDonald enacted an immediate change of shape. The former Carlisle United and Blackpool manager lined out his chosen eleven in a 4-4-2 formation, with Birmingham native Chris Mulhall partnering Rodrigo Tosi up top.
Lee J. Lynch was duly shifted from his customary number 10 position, featuring instead in a narrow right-of-midfield role, with Chiedozie Ogbene also tucked in on the opposite flank.
The result was a tactical approach not entirely dissimilar to that employed by new Sligo Rovers manager Ger Lyttle, throughout the Bit O’Red’s May 6 victory over Limerick.
Presumably following the successful blueprint laid down by the likes of Leicester City and Atletico Madrid, both managers’ 4-4-2s are ultra-narrow, and ultra-compact, to prevent the opposition playing through the centre — with some rampant middle-third pressing added into the mix to make that task even more difficult.
In possession, McDonald — like Lyttle, and the two more-vaunted sides mentioned — seemed to encourage a more direct approach, with three of Limerick’s front-four — Tosi excepted — continually making runs in behind their respective markers.
Against a poor Bohemians side, weak in several areas (see below), McDonald’s plan was largely effective. Allowing the Gypsies’ technically-ungifted defenders to have the ball, with both strikers instead focusing on denying passing angles into the central midfielders, worked like a charm — forcing countless turnovers.
The Tosi/Mulhall combination, last seen in March’s disappointing home draw with Finn Harps, also proved difficult for Bohs centre-backs Dan Byrne and Robert Cornwall to handle.
Although both dealt comfortably with Tosi’s lone-striking threat throughout Bohs’ 1-0 victory at the Markets Field, the added danger posed by Mulhall’s penetrative runs caused havoc here.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s high-line, necessary to employ such a compact defensive structure, kept Bohs focal-point Dinny Corcoran away from goal, and denied number 10 Keith Ward space between the lines…
2. Ward, the central winger, hurts Limerick again
…which is why the 26-year-old continually made clever leftward movements — as he did throughout March’s Markets Field clash — to find the space he was not being afforded in central areas.
After an opening half-hour in which Limerick dominated their hosts, it was Ward and Paddy Kavanagh’s left-sided overloads that dragged Bohs back into the contest.
With Lynch needed infield to overcome Bastien Hery and Shane Duggan’s one-man central-midfield deficit, the ex-Derry City pair made hay in his absence.
Georgie Poynton’s back-post equaliser resulted from the second of two byline Ward crosses, after the 26-year old was released beyond an isolated Shaun Kelly by a wonderful Kavanagh reverse-pass.
Ward and Kavanagh repeated the trick just before the break — this time isolating Lynch — forcing Robbie Williams into a vital interception in front of his own goal.
This recurring theme may explain why McDonald swapped the orientations of his central midfielders at half-time, with Shane Duggan — who started left-of-centre — swapped to the right, to help combat Ward’s pre-eminence.
Ward, of course, responded by simply drifting right instead (!), skipping past Hery in the 69th minute to tee-up the Poynton byline-cross that necessitated a vital block from the excellent Barry Cotter.
3. Long’s relegation-threatened side are lacking in key areas
In addition to the aforementioned struggles of Cornwall and Byrne — the latter of which conceded the comical, and decisive, late own goal — Keith Long’s side was peppered with other players not playing to the required standard.
20-year-old Fuad Sule, who only made his senior debut for the club against Sligo on April 8, stood out for his close-control and careful distribution, but a complete number-six he is not (yet).
Positionally lacking and rash in the challenge, it was Sule who conceded the Hery free-kick that saw Tosi open the scoring — fouling a revitalised Duggan to prevent a counter-attack he should have been in a position to legally extinguish.
Meanwhile, former Cabinteely midfielder Oscar Brennan, situated to Sule’s left, offered few of the attributes required of a Premier Division number eight. Bereft of supporting runs, and vulnerable to the opposition’s press, Brennan was wasteful in possession and a non-factor in attack.
Elsewhere, while Poynton again did well in an unfamiliar right-wing role, and Kavanagh dovetailed well with Ward, neither offered the vertical running required to compensate for Corcoran’s back-to-goal style, and Ward’s crab-like movements.
Indeed, it was notable that the controversial late foul drawn from Shaun Kelly by Kavanagh’s replacement, Jamie Doyle, represented one of the few occasions that the Gypsies carried a threat in behind the Limerick defence.
Finally, in the full-back positions, the dismissed Dylan Hayes — a late injury-enforced replacement for Derek Pender — failed to silence Chiedozie Ogbene in the manner Pender managed in March.
And, on the opposite flank, Lorcan Fitzgerald, dropped in Bray after a derby horror-show against Shamrock Rovers, endured another stinker here — proving awful in command of dead-balls, wasteful in open-play, and overly-permissive of Lynch’s dribbling and crossing tendencies.
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