Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
At least it wasn’t televised. For the second successive game, Bohemians constituted one half of a shocking advert for League of Ireland football. But, with four precious points under his belt already, Keith Long will care not one jot.
After an hour of watching 22 lads kick for touch, the 2,225-strong Markets Field crowd may have felt otherwise. They say that in the Game of Thrones, you either win or die. But, in a game of throw-ins like this one, everyone’s a loser.
Long did not exactly help matters with his team selection. Shorn of injured creator Keith Ward, the Bohs boss opted for the functional Philly Gannon ahead of loanee Dylan Watts. Gannon, like Limerick’s Shane Duggan, looked a fish out of water in Ward’s number-10 role. Neither Keith Buckley nor Oscar Brennan were likely to offer much guile either.
Not that they were asked to, mind you. As against Shamrock Rovers, the Gypsies went direct to Dinny Corcoran as often as possible. And the 29-year-old striker was again faced with a plethora of speculative balls-in-behind he was never likely to chase down — particularly given the depth of Limerick’s defensive line.
Long did, however, gift his full-backs more licence to advance, killing Limerick’s second-ball game. Forced to track back continually, neither Daniel Kearns nor Billy Dennehy could feed off Mark O’Sullivan’s knock-downs.
Limerick lumped it up to the 35-year-old regardless, plumbing such unimaginative depths that to call their 58th-minute opener a bolt from the blue would be charitable.
Meanwhile, when they did get the ball down in the final-third, Bohs targeted Limerick left-back Shane Tracy with merciless consistency. Fortunately for Tommy Barrett, Paddy Kavanagh suffered the off-day of all off-days, wasting umpteen chances to cross under no pressure with some putrid deliveries.
Bolt from the Blues
That the 33-year-old survived until the 68th minute here may be the evening’s greatest mystery. And he was caught offside, while looking across the line, on at least three occasions too! Nonetheless, Bohs did fashion three chances down that side before Limerick punished their profligacy on the break.
Coleman may be energy personified, but his goal completely flew in the face of a previously lifeless Limerick performance. Kearns was the instigator, Billy Dennehy provided the killer right-wing cross, and Duggan — free at the back-post — his second assist of the season. Pender, incidentally, was occupied in aerial combat by the irrepressible O’Sullivan.
The veteran did eventually tire, though, removed just moments after wasting another fast-break to which both Duggan and Kearns were again central. For the second straight game, Limerick posed a serious counter-attacking threat after going ahead.
This is where the likes of Duggan and Coleman, both super-fit, come into their own. The club captain has already doubled his 2017 assists tally.
Bohs, meanwhile, looked anything but threatening. But, as time ticked away, and Limerick sank ever deeper, their full-backs again became prominent. Blessed with acres of space, both Pender and Leahy rained a string of deep crosses in on top of the Super Blues’ defensive cohort. Darren Dennehy headed most of them away. But concerted pressure like that is difficult to weather. Eventually it told.
Eoghan Stokes earned his start here, after his left-wing introduction transformed Bohs’ attacking fortunes last Friday. The 21-year-old’s lack of senior game-time showed, however, with the former Leeds United forward effecting a minimal impact on proceedings until his glorious last-gasp leveller.
Rob Cornwall looked offside in winning the first header, from Pender’s latest hoik into the box. But the power generated by Stokes, in forcing home the second, was quite a sight to behold.
Cornwall’s presence in the box can be explained by the long-throw that preceded Pender’s punt. Three of the Gypsies four 2018 goals have now stemmed from set-pieces. Limerick, for their part, will rue Duggan’s failure to clear his lines in the build-up. That momentary lapse of reason betrayed the composed experience that saw Limerick over the line in Sligo last week.
Still, this is a point neither Barrett nor Long will quibble with. Neither side, nor their respective managers, did enough to win all three. Unrestrained full-backs will please Gypsies fans, but calls to incorporate the guile of Watts — particularly against weaker opposition — will surely start to surface.
For Long, selecting Gannon in an advanced role is not the act of a man who won nine away games last year. Unless more progressive tactics are considered, when appropriate, the club’s longstanding struggles in front of goal are likely to persist.
As for Limerick, an alternative attacking plan, for games in which the striker becomes isolated, is a must. In possession, the present system asks little of either Coleman or the again-erratic Eoin Wearen. That needs to change if Barrett’s side are to gain a foothold against dominant opposition, who pin back Limerick’s wingers and monopolise the second-ball.
Tuesday night’s free-hit visit to Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk, therefore, represents the perfect opportunity to try something different. Because if Limerick continue to play like this, and results sour, it won’t be the officials bearing the brunt of local fans’ opprobrium.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112