Three quick thoughts from ten-man Finn Harps’ FAI Cup defeat at the Markets Field.
1. Limerick’s wide-play disappoints again
The winger is an endangered species in modern football, and Neil McDonald is not about to go into the conservation business just yet.
After Stephen Kenny’s first-time cross forced Rob Cornwall into conceding the decisive penalty-kick last week, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
The Cork native’s touchline presence brought balance to the Limerick attack against Bohemians; a balance that was sorely lacking here, against a deep-lying, ten-man Harps unit.
Rather than instructing Kenny to stretch the play, as the 24-year-old did throughout last week’s precious league victory, McDonald reverted to tactical type. Kenny returned to a tucked-in inside-right role, with Dean Clarke — in for absent right-back Barry Cotter — expected to overlap.
With left-back David O’Connor also expected to advance in support of ineffectual inside-forward Chiedozie Ogbene, McDonald was again looking to two naturally-central players to provide width, from full-back, in the final-third.
All eight of Rodrigo Tosi’s non-penalty goals have been snaffled from crosses, and the Brazilian again found himself starved of the very service he requires. Although Limerick found themselves continually blessed with right-wing 2-on-1s — thanks to Pascal Millien’s reluctance to defend — Clarke was the wrong man to capitalise on them.
The Shannonsiders’ only chance of an awful first-half, prior to Caolan McAleer’s idiotic dismissal, showed McDonald the folly of his ways.
From the second-phase of a rare Lee J. Lynch corner-kick, Kenny found himself one-on-one with Paddy McCourt — of all people — on the right flank. The former Cobh Rambler duly produced a low, near-post, cross for Tosi, that the target-man completely failed to connect with.
Kenny did waste two second-half one-on-ones, when finding himself clean-through from inside-left positions, but Limerick only became a serious attacking threat upon the 62nd-minute introduction of Garbhan Coughlan.
Perfect for a 11-v-10 game, with no semblance of defensive responsibilities required, Coughlan probed both between the lines, and wide, to find the spaces between a tiring Harps cohort.
Eventually, the former Regional United striker went where no blue-shirted man had gone before; reaching the byline to stand up a lovely cross for O’Connor to escape Millien and head home — underlining just how much the former Rovers defender’s attacking play has improved, from a super-low base, throughout his extended stint at left-back.
2. Harps’ appalling disciplinary record could prove their downfall
Immediately upon returning from a two-game ban, incurred for the honour of becoming the first to reach the 12 yellow-cards mark, McAleer’s impetuousness all but cost his side their FAI Cup status here.
Kicking out at O’Connor, after failing to beat the left-back to one of many early McCourt diagonals, was immensely irresponsible. And it served as a timely reminder of how damaging Harps’ propensity to incur the referees’ wrath is proving at the business end of the season.
In-form forward Eddie Dsane missed out against Cork City on Monday, for earning Harps’ fourth red-card of the season against St Pat’s, and the former Longford Town man was absent here again — thanks to accruing his fifth yellow-card of the season in the same game.
McAleer, arguably Harps’ most dangerous attacker this season, missed the Leesiders’ visit too, further hobbling Harps’ almost non-existent counter-attacking threat.
And, if my calculations are correct, Ollie Horgan’s side are primed for another shock when the FAI suspension-list letter lands through the letterbox on Monday.
Centre-back Killian Cantwell, and utility-man Gareth Harkin, may both miss Friday’s crunch return to the Markets Field, due to racking up eight, and five, yellow-cards respectively.
With centre-back Packie Mailey also still on the injury-list, and McAleer about to commence a three-game ban for his actions here, Horgan may be down to the Harry Redknapp-esque “bare bones”.
Succour for Limerick, in their ongoing fight against relegation; as the side with the second-worst disciplinary record in the league (Shamrock Rovers with the worst, natch) generously self-destruct before their very eyes.
3. Hery and Lynch bring balance to the Limerick midfield…to an extent
Handed a start in the previous round of this competition, away to Cobh Ramblers, Bastien Hery has certainly seized his opportunity with his both hands.
The Frenchman followed up a man-of-the-match performance in St. Colman’s Park with two further standout showings: here, and in last week’s 1-0 victory over Bohemians.
Repaying his manager’s courageous decision to drop out-of-sorts captain Shane Duggan, Hery’s tireless ball-winning prowess has dovetailed impressively with Lynch’s deep-lying playmaker tendencies.
While the latter surely enjoyed more touches than any other player on the pitch, Hery did the donkey work — gutting through a seemingly endless string of crunching tackles and timely interceptions.
It was, of course, a brilliant Hery challenge that teed up Coughlan for the impressive late swivel-and-shot that almost caught the excellent Ciaran Gallagher unawares.
Clearly lacking conditioning in the early part of the season, the 25-year-old former Carlisle United man took some time to get up to speed. But now that he’s there, it’s difficult to see him being unseated from the starting eleven any time soon.
One important reservation still lingers about the Hery/Lynch partnership, however. With both players positionally-suspect, and keen to advance, opposition number-10s may find a lot more time and space between the lines than Limerick fans would like.
Bohemians only really became a threat last week when they swapped Keith Ward into that position, switching from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 in the process.
And here, former Derry City winger Mark Timlin was finding oceans of space behind Hery — without necessarily punishing Limerick — before McAleer’s dismissal forced him to move out wide.
Ahead of Harps’ return this Friday, when the dangerous Sean Houston is likely to be fit to play off Ibrahim Keita, this is a problem McDonald really needs to cut out on the training ground in midweek.
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 Finn Harps’ return 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.