Three quick thoughts on Limerick FC’s first clean sheet since April 15’s reverse fixture.
1. Two direct sides + one tight pitch = stalemate
This was not one for the purists. Pity the poor football, that spent more time flying through the rarefied air high above United Park, than it did at the feet of any one player.
Under Neil McDonald, Limerick have found joy from the route-one approach, mind you; but not on Drogheda’s ultra-tight playing surface.
While Rodrigo Tosi won most of his aerial duels — as he did throughout April’s reverse fixture — the resultant flick-ons to Chiedozie Ogbene did not bear much fruit.
With little space available for the ball to invade, it invariably ran into Stephen McGuinness’ hands before Ogbene could pounce. Indeed, the former Cork City forward was often flagged offside while attempting to start his runs early — to compensate for United Park’s shortness.
Meanwhile, when Tosi’s touch was more of a knock-down than a flick-on, the football simply fell prey to a crazily-congested central midfield skirmish. Few enjoyed any time on the ball here, as both sides’ compact 4-4-2 shapes cancelled each other out.
Despite playing on this surface at least once a fortnight, Drogheda persisted with an equally fruitless direct approach.
Pete Mahon obviously did his homework, instructing his players to target Limerick’s left-back area with a string of chipped balls in behind its latest occupant, David O’Connor.
Surprisingly, although the vast majority of these balls either ran out of play, or fell victim to Robbie Williams’ well-judged covering, Mahon’s side stuck with it.
Admittedly, the hosts’ only real chance of the game arrived indirectly from that avenue; when 18-year-old striker Mark Doyle collected Sean Brennan’s channel ball at the byline, to win one of only two Drogheda corner-kicks.
From the second-phase of Brennan’s resultant corner, centre-back Ciaran McGuigan’s header forced Brendan Clarke to claw the ball away from goal. That was to be the Drogs’ only shot on target; underlining the inertness of a side that have managed only one goal in their last eight league games.
2. Neither side exploited their respective wide outlets
If they weren’t booting hopeful balls over O’Connor’s head, Mahon’s side were kicking them towards the heads of nippy forwards Doyle, and Ryan Masterson; a tough ask for players with modus operandi completely anathema to such an approach.
Perhaps the hosts might have had more joy if they got the ball to the feet of Adam Wixted, who was fielded here on the left of midfield.
Wixted, who played on the opposite flank as an inside-forward throughout last week’s defeat to Shamrock Rovers, would surely have been favourite to best a sluggish-looking Shaun Kelly in a one-on-one skirmish.
Indeed, Limerick’s own wideman, Dean Clarke, got great joy out of 18-year-old left-back Conor Kane — a mismatch that the visitors themselves were unable to fully exploit.
Limerick had a Luke Gallagher own-goal bizarrely ruled out for offside early-on, when Clarke dribbled into the Drogheda area and struck goalward. And, the former Shamrock Rovers forward should have scored in the second-half too, when a rare Tosi/Ogbene route-one combination put him through on goal.
Lee J. Lynch certainly learned from Clarke’s joy. The 25-year-old mostly took up narrow positions in the first-half to help Limerick win second-balls, but that changed after half-time.
From then, the number 10-by-trade generally stayed wide on the left-touchline, cutting in to deliver a stream of dangerous right-footed inswingers; one of which saw Ogbene nip in ahead of McGuigan to glance the ball just wide.
With central midfield space at such a premium, on such a short pitch, the implicit message from Lynch was clear; play with width if you want to get anywhere.
3. Individual defensive errors decide the day
Rather than heed that advice, a dysfunctional Limerick attack instead relied upon a generous Drogheda defence to gift them all three points.
Drogheda have been vulnerable to aerially-competent strikers all season, as evidenced by Tosi’s beasting of Kevin Farragher throughout April’s reverse fixture. Suspended on that occasion, Ciaran McGuigan subsequently reclaimed his place, but looked equally lost in his efforts to battle Rovers target-man Gary Shaw last Friday.
It was a similar story for the Northern Irish defender here, up against Tosi, but the Brazilian was nowhere near McGuigan when the defender handed Limerick their first goal.
Botching an attempt to head away a Lynch free-kick (that Ogbene, of course, won), McGuigan richocheted the ball into Williams’ grateful path.
At least his partner Gallagher’s covering positions were better here; something Drogheda’s misshapen back-four do not usually do well.
Later, McGuinness, also hesitant off his line against the Hoops, gifted the Shannonsiders their insurance goal, misjudging the bounce of a simple long ball — that substitute Garbhan Coughlan headed into an empty net.
Mahon’s side have conceded a division-high 40 goals for a reason. When errors like this are compounded by an inadequate back-four, and awful defensive structure, the only way is down — particularly when chances are not being created at the other end either.
While a topsy-turvy Limerick begin to look upwards again, the portents are already looking ominous for their beleaguered fellow promotees.
You can follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter, @alanob2112; and don’t forget to join him, and former Limerick FC manager Noel O’Connor, on Friday for live coverage of the Shannonsiders’ visit to Shane Keegan’s Galway 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.