Following last weekend’s positive showing against league leaders Waterford FC and Tuesday night’s thrilling EA Sports Cup victory over local rivals Athlone, Longford Town will travel to Ferrycarrig Park this Friday night hopeful of well and truly kick-starting their 2017 First Division campaign.
With only one league win to their credit to date, Alan Mathews Longford have been surprise slow starters in a year in which the Midlands club are expected to battle for the title.
Shock back to back defeats against South-Dublin sides Cabinteely and UCD combined with the fact Mathews has been unable to resolve “De Town’s” wretched home form, which has seen the club go without a win at the City Calling Stadium since October 2015, had seen early pressure mount on Longford’s most successful ever manager within a highly divided fan-base.
However, as mentioned the highly spirited and solid display against title favourites Waterford coupled with a second “El Classico” hat-trick of the season for all-time leading goalscorer David O’Sullivan will have settled nerves around the Midlands club in the build-up to this week’s game in the South-East against crisis club Wexford FC.
Despite operating under a new title this season, Wexford FC seem to have carried on the issues experienced towards the end of the Wexford Youths entity into 2017 with a lack of support locally and poor on pitch performances leading to civil unrest.
A simple search on certain social media platforms this week will unearth the levels of discontent from supporters of Wexford football with the new club, but manager Damien Locke’s initial concern will be bouncing back from a midweek 5-0 hammering against local foes Waterford in the EA Sport’s cup.
Even with all the turmoil that went with the switch over from “Youths” to “FC”, Locke was still able to bring in no less than nine new players for pre-season. With Locke opting for young talent with past League of Ireland experience such as former Longford men Lee Duffy and John McKeown, some had tipped Wexford to perhaps be a surprise package in this season’s First Division.
However, defeats to Athlone Town, Cabinteely, Waterford United and Shelbourne inside the opening six league games has seen any notion of a Wexford FC title challenge all but wrote off with Locke’s men rock-bottom of the eight-team league at present.
Scoring goals has been a major issue for Wexford, who have only registered three strikes in those six outings, conceding ten.
Locke is sure to point out to his players that Friday’s opponents Longford have only scored one more goal in the league but it must be said “De Town” have missed some real sitters so far this season, with David O’Sullivan in particular not at his lethal best just yet.
Tuesday’s hat-trick against Athlone is sure to have “Sully’s” confidence brimming and should the former Wayside Celtic man arrive to Ferrycarrig Park in the form which saw him earn the division’s golden boot in 2013 and 2014, Wexford’s back four will be shaking in their boots.
Cody Mulhall’s performance mid-week certainly surprised many and with O’Sullivan likely to play on the last man’s shoulder and drag the opposition defenders around, there may be space for the former “Hibs” striker to operate in and give his Wexford markers another headache to deal with.
In terms of team news for the meeting of the leagues bottom two, Wexford effectively fielded a “B” team for Tuesday’s league cup tie so expect the side that started in defeat against Shelbourne last weekend to be closer to the starting eleven with the exception of goalkeeper Graham Doyle who misses out through injury.
Corey Chambers made his debut for the “Youths” last season in a 5-0 defeat at home to Sligo Rovers and that scoreline was replicated mid-week when the former Bray under-19 shot-stopper lined out against Waterford. Chambers will have a full strength side ahead of him and will be hoping to keep his first-clean sheet for Wexford.
As for the visitors, Noel Haverty remains out with suspected ligament damage with a lengthy absence expected for the full-back. Mark Langtry was forced off against Waterford thanks to a horrific tackle from the now suspended Davy McDaid and with no word on the severity of his injury as of yet, Tristan Noak Hoffmann has made an instant impact at left-back. Striker Enda Curran was also forced off due to cramp at the “CCS” but made his return off the bench in Lissywoolen mid-week.
Recently recovered centre-half Rhys Gorman was one of many to impress against the old enemy on Tuesday but it’s likely the former Shamrock Rovers man will have to settle for a spot on the bench given the impressive form of nineteen-year old Daniel O’Reilly.
Dropped for the visit of Pat Fenlon’s Waterford, tricky wide-man Dylan McGlade showed his skills against Athlone but again he is likely to sit on the bench with Don Cowan appearing to be first-choice on the right and Cody Mulhall on a high given his mid-week winner.
Gavin Boyne returned from injury in that game and slotted back into the number ten position, and many now see the former “Shels” man as a key creative clog in the Longford wheel for this season. The main striker’s role in Mathews 4-2-3-1 formation will be no secret with O’Sullivan looking to add to his six competitive strikes this season, which in fact leaves the County Wicklow man just twenty-five goals shy of the one-hundred mark at Longford.
Given the tight surrounds of the Ferrycarrig venue, expect Wexford to try and stifle Longford’s possession game from the get go. Width will be at a premium for Town’s pacey wingers and that should see Gavin Boyne’s contribution to this game playing a key role. While captain Kevin O’Connor hasn’t been at his best this season, the experienced play-maker is likely to look to control the game from deep.
With Alan Mathews encouraging his defenders to pass the ball around the back-four it will be crucial that Damien Locke asks his front players to press the ball with intensity throughout.
With the likes of Stephen Walsh always looking to leak the ball into midfield and take chances, there is always a chance for opposition forwards to nick one against the run of play and the likes of Lee Duffy will need to be alert and clinical should Walsh and co slip up on Friday night.
Fitness may play a big part in the outcome of this encounter given the respective styles of play on display and looking at the benches you would have to say the Midlands side have the upper hand. From the pace and skill set of McGlade to the hold-up play of Enda Curran, Alan Mathews can always change his tactics, formation and approach at any time during a game if required and as a result it wouldn’t be surprising to see Friday’s game decided by a player off the bench as Longford look to build a run of form that will help them lay-down a marker ahead of series two in the SSE Airtricity League First Division.
PREDICTION: Wexford Youths 1-2 Longford Town (Enda Curran to finally get off the mark for his new club from the bench).