Three quick thoughts from Shamrock Rovers’ first win in three SSE Airtricity Premier Division games.
1. Individual lapses in concentration must cease if Limerick are to survive
Neil McDonald has watched his charges concede 24 goals in the 11 leagues games since he assumed control of the Limerick FC helm; and at least half of those concessions were eminently avoidable.
Much focus has centred around Limerick’s dead-ball frailties, and rightly so. McDonald’s Shannonsiders have shipped five from indirect set-pieces; a figure that rises to seven if one includes the direct free-kicks bagged by Patrick McEleney and Conan Byrne.
But silly, and avoidable, individual defensive errors are arguably the prime culprit. If one counts the penalty-kick Bastien Hery gifted to Bray Wanderers in early-June, Limerick’s gaffe-prone players have generously handed seven goals to their opponents during the McDonald era.
The much-mythicised, and recently-departed, Robbie Williams kicked the blundering off — and the downhill trajectory of his own personal form — with two consecutive goal-causing mistakes at home to Bray and away to Cork City.
Central-defensive partner Tony Whitehead followed up with a clanger against Galway United, by letting the ball bounce in his own area. And the 23-year-old erred again here, committing the botched clearance that allowed Ronan Finn in to double the Hoops’ advantage.
Of course, the cover provided to Whitehead by Williams, throughout that particular Eamonn Deacy Park horror-show, was almost non-existent.
Finally, away to Derry City, loanee Joe Crowe’s misplaced back-pass put Limerick behind in the opening minutes. And Dean Clarke, fielded out of position at right-back, botched a routine back-post clearance late on, to allow Ben Doherty in to score.
The concentration-lapses that lead to costly slips like these can also be seen when Limerick attempt to defend set-pieces. Employing what appears to be a mixed system in the defence of corner-kicks, neither the man-marking, nor the zonal-marking, elements appear to be working for McDonald at the moment.
Limerick were fortunate to escape punishment here in the 11th-minute, when the player stationed at the near-post failed to notice an imminent short-corner routine, that eventually forced Lee J. Lynch to clear David McAllister’s point-blank effort off the goal-line.
Maddeningly, for Limerick fans, their side continued to allow 2-on-1s to develop from all subsequent short-corners — failing to learn from their earlier mistake.
Opposition match-ups do not appear optimal at the best of times. Whether David O’Connor was the right man to mark Brian Gartland at set-plays in Oriel Park is up for debate, but it cost Limerick two goals.
Here, judging from the corner delivered in its immediate aftermath, it was captain Shane Duggan who appeared to have responsibility for McAllister — who eventually opened the scoring by losing his marker and heading home a Brandon Miele corner. Incredibly, Lee Grace was also permitted a free header from the next Miele effort.
Chiedozie Ogbene was the man tasked with minding McAllister in dead-ball situations throughout the second-half, and the former Cork City forward fared a lot better; staying close to the former Stevenage midfielder, to prevent him from earning another free header.
But Ogbene is hardly the first name that springs to mind when one is looking to mark a potent aerial threat either. There should be at least one benefit accruing from playing four centre-backs in defence!
Following on from indirect set-piece concessions against Bray, Finn Harps, and Dundalk (two), Limerick’s players seem unable, or unwilling, to stay with their assigned player — regardless of who that may be.
This kind of unacceptable abrogation of individual responsibility needs to stop immediately, if McDonald’s side are to arrest a five-game winless run.
2. Narrow Rovers create nothing in open-play
Shamrock Rovers were rather fortunate that their hosts were in such a giving mood, as Stephen Bradley’s side looked completely incapable of creating chances from open-play here.
Configured in their early-season 4-1-4-1 system, in the absence of suspended number-10 Graham Burke, a narrow Rovers front-five looked devoid of a coherent plan-of-attack.
Burke’s absence between the lines largely wasted all the good, physical, work gutted through by target-man Gary Shaw; who got the best of the aerial battle with Limerick centre-backs Whitehead and Crowe.
Meanwhile, with wide players James Doona and Brandon Miele both more comfortable foraging infield, Bradley looked to full-backs Trevor Clarke and Simon Madden to provide width in the attacking-third.
Limerick’s excellent, compact defensive shape largely cancelled out the infield forays of Messrs. Miele and Doona, rendering the Hoops full-back’s roles even more important. Alas for the visitors, Dean Clarke did well to track his namesake Trevor, nullifying the 19-year-old as an attacking threat.
Meanwhile, thanks to Lynch’s tendency to forget his defensive responsibilities, Madden was far more prominent on the opposite flank; to which Rovers funneled most of their attacking play.
But, thanks to a combination of Madden’s poor final-ball, and David O’Connor’s excellence in parlous 1-on-2 situations, Limerick largely escaped punishment for Lynch’s laxity.
Madden did reach the byline to win the fatal corner-kick that gave Rovers the lead, however; and it was Lynch who followed him back on that occasion to deflect the former Derry City full-back’s cross behind.
Bradley has made noises about trialing wing-backs in recent weeks, in an effort to add attacking width to his rather blunt side; even trialing a 3-5-2 system against Glenville in the FAI Cup. But the toils of Madden and Clarke here may give him pause for thought.
Adding goals to this haphazard side, that has even blunted the goalscoring prowesses of Finn and Ryan Connolly, will be a much tougher ask than that.
3. Goalless Limerick desperately need to get the best out of Tosi
Four league games without scarcely a chance created, let alone scored, indicates that something is seriously wrong with the way McDonald’s side go about their business in the opposition half.
Save for a brief, failed, two-game experiment with 3-5-2, the Englishman has largely stuck with a narrow 4-4-2 system throughout his Markets Field tenure; in which the wide midfielders are expected to tuck in, protect the central-midfielders, and compete for second-balls.
Although giving Tosi a partner, in the pacey Ogbene, initially improved his game, removing the wide-service that he so dearly needs to score goals very much did not.
The Brazilian now has only one non-penalty-kick goal to his name in the last ten games; and that goal was a header at home to Bray Wanderers, teed up by a cross from Dean Clarke — who on that occasion was fielded on the touchline as a right-wing-back.
Only two of Tosi’s eight open-play league goals have not been headers. All of them have been converted from crosses.
Tucking your wingers in is all well and good if you have full-backs capable of overlapping and producing reliable delivery, but Limerick don’t have that. Few League of Ireland teams do. As such, the one-dimensional Tosi becomes redundant.
In that sense, the decision to drop the 34-year-old last night, in favour of the seemingly more mobile, and more creative, Peter Berki made sense. If you’re not going to give Tosi what he needs, why bother even playing him?
Aside from the fortunate ricochet that handed Dean Clarke his first-minute sitter, Limerick created absolutely nothing until both Tosi, and right-winger Stephen Kenny, arrived on the pitch. The former headed a Lynch free-kick just wide, while the latter teed up Garbhan Coughlan for a big chance with a wonderful cross.
There was of course nine minutes between Kenny’s introduction and Tosi’s — during which McDonald switched to a bizarre 4-1-4-1, with Ogbene leading the line alone. Quite how that was supposed to help a side one goal down is anyone’s guess, and switching back to 4-4-2 upon Finn’s second was inevitable.
With confused decision-making like this, McDonald is not helping himself. To do that, he needs to effect whatever tinkering is necessary to exploit the limited, but significant, talents of his only reliable goalscorer.
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 Bohemians’ visit to the Markets Field — 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.