Two quick thoughts on Galway United’s first SSE Airtricity Premier Divison win in eight games.
1. Tribesmen benefit from a lack of Limerick width again
Faced with a malfunctioning Galway back-three at the Markets Field in April, Willie John Boland’s Limerick did not do enough to exploit it.
Boland’s penchant for fielding workmanlike striker Chris Mulhall on the right-flank, ahead of out-and-out wingers Ian Turner and Stephen Kenny, very much let the Tribesmen off the hook on that occasion.
Boland’s successor Neil McDonald came acropper in a similar manner throughout Friday’s reverse fixture. By allowing Dean Clarke to interpret his wide role in a similar manner to the infield-drifting Lee J. Lynch, McDonald made Shane Keegan’s life significantly easier.
Galway full-backs Colm Horgan and Marc Ludden, both of whom were profligate in possession and erratic in defence, were presented with no real test of their respective mettles.
Instead, bereft of a wide target, Limerick trained a broader than usual array of long-balls at strikers Rodrigo Tosi and Chiedozie Ogbene. The former lost the battle for aerial superiority against the excellent Stephen Folan, while the latter chased a series of terrible channel-balls that gave him absolutely no chance.
Of course, Tosi does generally fare better in the air from wide deliveries. But, with no winger in sight to tee him up, that service was thin on the ground. Improbably, despite fielding a Tony Pulis-esque four centre-backs across the defence, McDonald looked to two of them to provide the attacking width.
Solid in defence, David O’Connor looked in danger of succumbing to altitude sickness when stationed in the Galway defensive third. But, debutant Joe Crowe, a recent arrival from Norwich City, fared a bit better.
With Ronan Murray reluctant to follow the 19-year-old full-back, Crowe’s low crosses teed up both Tosi and Clarke to spurn a clear-cut first-half chance apiece. The loanee’s sense of adventure, in an unfamiliar role, underlined to McDonald the value of a genuine wide outlet.
Yet, incredibly, it took until Eoin McCormack struck Galway’s 83rd-minute third for McDonald to introduce a winger and play him as such. Stephen Kenny’s cameo was very much a case of too little, too late — and, at any rate, Tosi’s 60th-minute departure had already robbed his side of a legitimate penalty-box target.
2. Structured Galway profit from Limerick’s generosity
Set out in a very rigid 4-1-4-1 formation, with little licence to roam afforded to his players, Keegan’s side were never likely to create much here.
Second only to Drogheda United in the lowest-scorers competition before this one, there is still a sense that the Galway manager is struggling to hit upon the optimal way to employ the wealth of attacking talent at his disposal.
Surprisingly, as was the case in April’s 1-1 draw at the Markets Field, former Limerick target-man Vinny Faherty was again overlooked here. In his stead, Padraic Cunningham was rewarded for his late equaliser against St Pat’s the prior week. And the nippy 20-year-old duly spent the first 35 minutes alone up top, failing to make the ball stick.
Meanwhile, Kevin Devaney, who is struggling to match the performances of his breakout 2016 season, was fielded — to little effect — on the right of midfield. And number-10 Ronan Murray, Galway’s top scorer, also largely toiled in a left-wing role.
Yet, it was both Murray, and Cunningham, who came alive in a two-minute first-half blitz to put this game beyond Limerick. Murray’s 35-yard stunner appeared to come out of the ether to the untrained eye, but it owed everything to Cunningham’s first decisive intervention of the game — and the first of Limerick’s catastrophic errors.
Faced with yet another long-pass, this time to his feet, Cunningham profited from Tony Whitehead’s failure to bustle ahead of him and intercept. Holding the ball up for the first time in the game, the striker then laid it off to Ludden, who passed it infield for Murray to put his name in lights.
Whitehead’s tentativeness also cost Limerick the almost immediate second goal, with the young centre-back compounding his error by getting too tight to Cunningham and getting himself turned. Robbie William’s covering position was also poor, allowing the former Mervue United man to beat both — and Brendan Clarke.
And Whitehead completed his hat-trick late on, criminally allowing one of many speculative Galway long-passes to bounce in the box. Again, here, Williams was slow on the cover, failing to bestow upon his callow colleague the benefit of his experience.
Tellingly, those three goals were the only chances Galway created in the game, however — and all were reliant on basic Limerick defensive errors. That those three goals were enough to win the game owed everything to the Tribesmen’s strong defensive core.
Lee Grace’s covering across the entire back-four was outstanding, while Folan showed the kind of aerial superiority and aggression that were seldom visible throughout his two-year Thomond Park stint.
Alex Byrne, who shackled Lynch in April, screened his defence extremely well again, while both David Cawley and Gavan Holohan comprehensively outpressed the sluggish-looking pair of Bastien Hery and Limerick captain Shane Duggan.
The collective commitment that relegation-threatened Galway demonstrated here, overcoming their shortcomings to record a priceless win, should stand as a harsh lesson for Limerick’s playing-staff.
The conditioning of several established first-teamers looks far from optimal, while other marquee, and presumably well-remunerated, names continually underperform.
While the buck obviously stops with McDonald, who has certainly made some curious tactical calls since assuming the role in May, there is a growing sense that he has some significant rooting-out to do, if the character of Limerick’s squad is to match his lofty ambitions.
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 Saturday, for live coverage of Shamrock Rovers’ visit to the Markets Field (if it goes ahead!) — 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.