Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
Not fixing what ain’t broke is normally a pretty good rule-of-thumb. But Limerick FC manager Neil McDonald almost paid the price for adhering to it on Saturday evening.
Keep on keeping on
Unbeaten in three league games since re-introducing a 4-1-4-1 system in Bray, McDonald’s urge to keep on keeping on was somewhat understandable. Were it not for the nature of Saturday’s opposition, that is.
Pete Mahon’s Drogheda United, who had managed just four goals throughout an abject eight-game losing run, were unlikely to pose McDonald many defensive problems. And yet, the Englishman responded to Shane Duggan’s suspension in the most negative manner possible, reinstituting Joe Crowe to the side in a holding-midfield role.
Rodrigo Tosi, whose aerial dominance was wasted in Bray and Inchicore, was again asked to plough a thankless lone furrow. And again, in the continued absence of the dynamic Peter Berki, Limerick’s second-ball dividend was puny.
Tosi’s lack of support rendered Limerick’s regular right-flank forays moot too. Several decent crosses, from the boots of both Stephen Kenny and Barry Cotter, came to naught thanks to the dearth of blue bodies in the Drogheda box.
With Mahon’s side engaged in little more than a containment exercise, such positional conservatism was completely unnecessary. The Drog’s attacking plan, such as it was, consisted almost exclusively of hopeful long-balls, kicked towards a surprisingly unwilling runner in Chris Mulhall.
In short, fielding both Crowe and regular holder Bastien Héry was an error-in-judgement from McDonald, whose over-protected defenders nonetheless appeared keen to gift chances to their toothless visitors.
Barry Cotter was particularly culpable, twice erring massively to let fellow teenager Mark Doyle in behind. Rewarded with a start for instigating Duggan’s last-gasp equaliser against St Pat’s, Cotter unfortunately proved a defensive-third liability upon his return to the side.
Both the 18-year-old, and fellow full-back Shane Tracy, did feature prominently in opposition territory, however, as McDonald handed his wide-defenders some rare attacking leeway.
Despite taking the ever-vocal minority’s opprobrium, later shamefully reserved for a returning Sean Russell, Cotter persevered — chipping the pass that teed up Lee J. Lynch’s cross, and Colm Deasy’s resultant penalty-concession.
Lynch’s right-touchline drifts are an ongoing feature of this system, and they were key to the Shannonsiders second-half mini-resurgence here. Soon after scoring the penalty he won, Tosi spurned another glorious back-post headed chance, from another Lynch delivery.
The right-footed Deasy, by-the-by, surprisingly started at left-back here, with Shane Elworthy commencing in the 20-year-old’s customary role. Perhaps, with this Steve Staunton-esque gambit, Mahon was trying to avoid the chasing Chiedozie Ogbene administered to Deasy here back in April.
Fate conspired against the Drogheda manager again, however, as Elworthy’s first-half injury forced Deasy back onto his natural side; where he was booked for his part in the penalty, and booked again for a cynical pull-back on yellow-card-machine Ogbene.
Drogheda’s already paltry threat waned even further after that dismissal, leaving Mahon’s side easy prey for Will Fitzgerald’s thrilling late, left-wing, cameo. Fitzgerald created three gilt-edged chances in his fifteen minutes on the pitch, that Lynch and a profligate Tosi allowed to go astray.
Indeed, Ogbene — baffling voted third in the September SWAI Player of the Month reckoning — could learn a lot from the 18-year-old’s direct, mature, performance here.
Frustrating again, on another night of blind-alley running and shocking off-the-ball movement, the former Cork City forward is crying out for someone to coach some efficiency into his game.
Not that his performance, nor Limerick’s collective showing, mattered much in the end. They fell over the line here, bringing an overly-conservative outlook to the dance against a desperately poor standard of opposition. Unbeaten in four league games now, and five points clear of 10th-placed Galway United, next Friday’s Tribesmen visit will pose a much sterner test.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112