Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
One after the other, Harry Kenny and Neil McDonald enacted momentum-killing changes that potentially cost their respective sides a rare league victory.
Fielding a 4-1-4-1 formation from the start, for the first time since July’s ill-fated trip to Maginn Park, hinted strongly at McDonald’s pre-match priorities.
And, although Bastien Héry toiled to a degree in a lone holding-role, his presence did force Gary McCabe into space-finding drifts.
Congesting the centre, on an already tight Carlisle Grounds playing-surface, prevented the Seagulls from playing through midfield. Kenny’s side were instead forced to go direct; an over-reliance on mishit diagonals to left-winger Jason Marks did not bear fruit.
Despite securing only one win in Bray’s last seven league games, Kenny obviously smelled blood here. Full-backs Hugh Douglas and Kevin Lynch were dropped from last month’s win over Drogheda United. Midfielders-by-trade Keith Buckley and Karl Moore assumed their respective roles.
Neither looked comfortable in their own-half. Moore started shakily, and never recovered after directing a 1st-minute throw-in into Rodrigo Tosi’s path. Meanwhile, on the opposite flank, Buckley continually relied on captain Conor Kenna to stymie Chiedozie Ogbene’s sorties.
Kenny’s risky gambit eventually paid off, however, when Buckley’s deep-cross instigated the hosts’ only real chance of the first-half. Tony Whitehead was partly culpable, for falling victim to Darragh Noone’s late run. But a workshy Ogbene deserves the lion’s share of the blame, for failing to track the former Bohs man.
Of course, the second-half did bring some spectacular redemption for the former Cork City forward. An otherwise narrow-and-ineffectual Stephen Kenny instigated a right-wing counter-attack, that saw Ogbene beat Moore, Tim Clancy, and Kenna, to score.
Limerick had, just seconds earlier, cleared a corner-kick that stemmed from their own problems at full-back. Outstanding again in Galway last weekend, 18-year-old Barry Cotter showed all his inexperience here in an error-strewn performance.
Cotter has long compensated for his developing positional sense with both pace and a plethora of well-timed sliding challenges. Concentration lapses are harder to mask, however, and his back-post dawdling should have seen Marks convert a Ryan Brennan cross.
Limerick cleared the resultant corner, and immediately equalised in spectacular fashion, leaving Brendan Clarke an unsung hero. Clarke’s quickness off his line twice saved the day from Marks clear-cut chances.
And the former St Pat’s stopper also pulled off his third penalty-save of 2017, denying McCabe the chance to punish Cotter’s crazy challenge.
A double-error at home to Finn Harps will live longer in the memories of Freddy Hall fans, but crucial wins away to Pat’s, and at home to Bohs, were also partly attributable to Clarke’s penalty-saving prowess.
Cotter’s chance-conceding contribution aside, Ogbene’s equaliser sustained the momentum generated by a first-half McDonald’s side largely controlled. Until, that is, the Englishman panicked, and changed shape on the hour-mark.
Central-midfielder Lee J. Lynch was sacrificed, to facilitate a 4-4-2, with striker John O’Flynn newly harnessed in tandem with Tosi. Isolated prior, with no Peter Berki to sweep up the plethora of first-balls the Brazilian won at Clancy’s expense, there was at least some logic to his manager’s hasty change.
But that very change forfeited the midfield control that McDonald’s 4-1-4-1 was originally designed to ensure. Suddenly, Bray were on top and looking likelier to go on and win. Fortunately for the Shannonsiders, Kenny voluntary threw away that momentum, with a bizarre late tactical change of his own.
A relative non-factor in the first-half, striker Aaron Greene was comfortably the second-half’s standout performer. The former Limerick man’s drifts to the flanks bamboozled his former defensive colleagues, winning his side a string of dangerous free-kicks.
Quite why Kenny chose to maroon him permanently on the left, from the 83rd minute on, is anyone’s guess. Compounding the mystery, 16-year-old Jake Ellis was handed a baptism of lone-striking-role fire in Greene’s stead.
Unsurprisingly, Greene’s influence on proceedings immediately attenuated, as did Bray’s push for a winner. Ultimately, a draw was a fair result, in a game neither manager knew how to win.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112
And don’t forget to join him, and former Limerick FC manager Noel O’Connor, on Friday for live coverage of Cork City’s 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.