Three quick thoughts on Limerick FC’s first win in six SSE Airtricity Premier Division games.
1. Balance and bravery: McDonald gets it right on and off the pitch
Courage is clearly not an attribute that Neil McDonald has in short supply. Largely pilloried for bravely addressing a professionalism deficit in the Limerick FC ranks in recent weeks, the Englishman went one step further for this one.
Dropping out-of-sorts Shane Duggan came as a bolt from the blue for some. But it was a gamble that paid off handsomely for McDonald here, as the captain’s tireless replacement Bastien Hery turned in a man-of-the-match performance of which any midfield dynamo would be proud.
Hery’s determination and honesty-of-effort — not to mention his ability to deftly spin away from the opposition press — typified the attitude-change that McDonald has sought to effect within the Super Blues’ ranks.
New signing Peter Berki’s energetic performance was befitting of this new Limerick too. The Hungarian got the best out of strike partner Rodrigo Tosi, doing the paceless Brazilian’s running for him, and effecting countless ball recoveries.
Berki’s understanding with the 34-year-old stood in stark contrast to Tosi’s recent outings, where his aerial and physical superiority has been wasted by a lack of effective support. Dundalk, away, springs to mind.
This natural dovetailing between the two strikers was neatly matched by a better-balanced midfield selection too; in which McDonald finally answered this page’s well-worn calls to field Stephen Kenny in a conventional right-wing position.
All eight of Tosi’s non-penalty league goals have been snaffled from crosses, underlining exactly the type of service the target-man desperately needs; and has not been receiving. That all changed in the 10th minute here, when Kenny’s excellent right-wing cross forced Rob Cornwall to illegally prevent the Brazilian’s imminent stooping conversion.
Tosi, of course, converted the resultant spot-kick, while stand-in captain Brendan Clarke saved his second of the season later on; foiling a George Poynton 12-yarder, awarded for a Joe Crowe foul that existed only as a figment of Jim McKell’s imagination.
Limerick’s goalkeeper joined the likes of Berki and Hery tonight by standing up to be counted. As did 18-year-old right-back Barry Cotter, who first shackled Keith Ward, and then executed a vital last-ditch challenge on Ciaran O’Connor to prevent one of Ward’s through-balls from bearing fruit.
Elsewhere, Lee J. Lynch’s use of the ball, both at set-plays and in open-play, was extremely judicious. And David O’Connor’s imperious back-post positioning was vital to repel a string of late Lorcan Fitzgerald crosses.
There were negatives; Ciaran O’Connor somehow failed to convert yet another corner-kick that Limerick failed to defend at their near post. But, given the dizzying array of chances the hosts wasted, in a second-half they dominated, this surely represented a real point of inflection in McDonald’s Markets Field tenure.
The balanced selection he fielded tonight played its collective heart out; is fate finally rewarding him for his courage?
2. Ward’s wizardry woefully misused by Long
It’s not often the tactically-shrewd Keith Long makes a blunder worthy of comment, but marooning Keith Ward out on the left-flank this evening certainly felt like a real misstep from the Bohemians boss.
The well-traveled Ward ran the show throughout Bohs’ 1-0 March victory at the Markets Field, in which the former Derry City playmaker drifted wide from his number 10 position.
In fact, the Gypsies winner on that occasion arrived from a left-wing Ward inswinger, that back-post-dweller Paddy Kavanagh developed for goalscorer Dinny Corcoran.
Both Kavanagh (suspended), and Corcoran (unavailable) were absent on Saturday evening, but Long persevered with the 4-4-2 that featured against Finn Harps regardless; with O’Connor brought in to partner Ismahil Akinade, and Ward remaining in a narrow left-wing role.
And, although Akinade bossed the aerial battle against Tony Whitehead, as Gary Shaw had before him on Tuesday, Bohemians could not get enough bodies around the 23-year-old to profit.
With Ward sidelined, and the leggy O’Connor peripheral, Akinade battled in vain for the balls slopped up to him; as Tosi has done so frequently for Limerick in recent times.
It was more than notable that Bohs’ first open-play chance, in the 51st-minute, arrived just seconds after Long changed the shape of his side; moving Ward behind Akinade in the 4-4-1-1 formation that had bested Limerick back in March.
Ward immediately popped up free between the lines to thread the through-ball that Cotter’s propensity for slide-tackling cut out; much to the watching Shannonsiders’ collective relief.
3. Wasteful Ogbene finally flourishes on the left
Nomination for June’s Player of the Month award may have suggested to neutral observers that Limerick’s Chiedozie Ogbene was firing on all cylinders.
Sure, the former Cork City forward’s initial stint in tandem with Tosi worked to a point; but against clever defences, that know when to drop and deny space in behind, the 20-year-old’s contribution was scant; particularly in comparison to the shift turned in by Berki in a similar role here.
That brief frontline flurry offered succour to Ogbene’s boosters, who might have been tugging at their collars anxiously in response to the player’s rather underwhelming early-season tenure at left-wing.
Ogbene was stationed on that flank again here, however; but, now harnessed with teammates who could retain the ball in the middle-third, he suddenly looked like a fearsome counter-attacking outlet.
Berki and Tosi’s back-to-goal magic, combined with through-balls from the likes of Kenny, Lynch, and Hery, released Ogbene in behind Bohs’ confused defensive-line on at least five occasions.
The bad news is that the raw youngster fluffed his lines on all five occasions; underlining exactly how much his composure needs to develop if the winger is to fulfill his seemingly unlimited potential.
Still, Bohs right-back Dan Casey, who passed a late fitness test to return from an ankle injury here, won’t forget this game in a hurry!
Nor will those who made the judicious call to attend and watch from the stands. This was arguably Limerick’s best performance of the season; a one-nil annihilation that McDonald, and the players he put his faith in, richly deserved.
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 Finn Harps’ FAI Cup Second Round 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.