Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
The phrase ‘relegation six-pointer’ calls to mind adjectives like ‘tight’, ‘attritional’, ‘scrappy’ and ‘dull’. This was none of those things.
Back in March 2017, in the dying embers of the Martin Russell era, Bohemians exacted their most recent victory at the Markets Field. Earned through a high-press, super-effective against Russell’s possession-based style, the Gypsies were full value for Dinny Corcoran’s second-half winner.
Corcoran may have been absent here, but the high-press certainly wasn’t. Philly Gannon, renowned for his industry rather than guile, duly started in the number-10 position. It was the 21-year-old’s third start of 2018, two of which have come against Limerick.
Alas for Keith Long, the Super Blues are a different prospect under the stewardship of his opposite number Tommy Barrett. Barrett’s more mixed style permits his players to bypass the press, going direct to striker Mark O’Sullivan when necessary. And the target man was fantastic here, outmatching Rob Cornwall to the first ball time and time again.
More often than not, however, Limerick bravely elected to play through the Gypsies press. The technical proficiency of Eoin Wearen in defence, and the likes of Conor Clifford and Barry Maguire in midfield, made that eminently possible.
Still, Bohs pressing did create three good chances either side of Barry Maguire’s 34th-minute opener. Dylan Watts enjoyed the best of them, arriving late in the box to strike Paddy Kavanagh’s pull-back at Brendan Clarke.
Watts was easily Bohs’ standout performer here. The former UCD midfielder played the Robbie Benson role to perfection, perennially running into Limerick territory without Shane Duggan in tow. That this state of affairs persisted into the second-half, even after Duggan was asked to sit beside Conor Clifford, was criminal from a home perspective.
Indeed, it was the Leicester City loanee who instigated his side’s latest last-gasp Markets Field equaliser. Dispossessing Duggan on the halfway-line, Watts was allowed to run right through the middle of the pitch and force an acrobatic save from Clarke. And from the second-phase of the resultant corner, from which Limerick were again too slow to clear their box, Dan Casey struck.
It was the seventh goal Limerick have conceded from indirect set-pieces this year. But Bohs, on six, are little better off. And indeed the Gypsies were fortunate to survive a Will Fitzgerald long-throw on the half-hour mark, with both Casey and Ian Morris required to make vital last-ditch blocks.
This is one area in which Bohs have regressed since last year; basic penalty-box defending. The presence of Dan Byrne, required of late in central midfield, is perhaps missed back there. Not that Byrne covered himself in glory here, mind you.
Limerick had a third-man runner of their own, you see, in Barry Maguire. And Byrne, replaced along with the ineffectual Gannon at half-time, could not keep tabs on him. Daniel Kearns, in always looking to invade the pocket behind Watts, didn’t exactly help Byrne’s solo defensive cause either.
Returning after a two-game absence, the recently hamstrung Maguire recreated the relationship he struck up with O’Sullivan in Waterford. Always in close proximity to his striker, the Dutchman was on the scene to convert O’Sullivan’s penalty-area knockdown in the 34th-minute.
That goal aside, Maguire frittered away two further glorious chances to put the game to bed before half-time. Both involved him running off the Bohs midfield; the first, a one-on-one with Shane Supple, should have been put away.
Will Fitzgerald, cutting inside on his favoured left-foot, created that chance with a wonderful reverse through-pass. And the teenager, who tormented Morris throughout the first-half, also swung in the cross that led to Limerick’s goal. The significantly more immobile Morris, understandably afraid of getting too tight, continually failed to show Fitzgerald down the line. Paddy Kirk, introduced at half-time along with Kevin Devaney, fared much better.
And in that regard both Long and Trevor Croly deserve huge credit for changing their entire left side at half-time. The centrally-minded Keith Ward, of no use to Morris in the defensive phase, was moved inside; rendering Bohs immediately more dangerous. Kirk, protected by the otherwise quiet Devaney, killed Fitzgerald’s influence on proceedings. Ony Karl O’Sullivan’s late introduction caused the impressive 19-year-old any problems.
Limerick still posed a threat through the middle, however, as Watts’ abandon continued to offer space between the lines. Both Maguire and Duggan remained willing to avail of it, with the latter shooting just wide after more good route-one work from Mark O’Sullivan.
But that was a double-edged sword that Limerick, at that point meant to be protecting a one-goal lead, were unwise to draw. Against the entreaties of his manager, Duggan left Clifford stranded in front of his defence. Stokes, hesitant and poor of first-touch here, should have punished this looseness when set free by a Watts through ball. But, inevitably, Limerick eventually paid the price.
A price that could easily have gone up at the death when the hosts, playing with the freedom of the damned, irresponsibly went all out for victory. With Shane Tracy standing over an injury-time free-kick, just inside the Bohs half, Limerick left no-one back in their own.
From the clearance, the Gypsies won a throw-in down the left. Taken quickly, it resulted in a square pass to Ward, unmarked, who inexplicably missed from point-blank range.
Still, this point will be seen as a victory for Long’s resilient side, who have come from behind to win a whopping 13 points this year. Typified by the toughness of returning captain Derek Pender, whose last-ditch challenge on Mark O’Sullivan denied Limerick a certain second goal, Bohs surely have what it takes to avoid the drop.
As for Limerick, whose financial situation (detailed below) is growing increasingly parlous, this was an extremely creditable performance; to say the least. What a shame that the players, for all their commendable effort, lacked the game intelligence to secure what would have been a famous three points in exceedingly difficult circumstances.
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