With Athlone Town’s evening game against Wexford Youths in the Leinster Senior Cup called off early Saturday morning, it was all eyes and focus on the City Calling Stadium for the Midlands derby as the hosts ran out deserved 3-1 winners. The earlier than usual 3pm kick-off, combined with the prior confusion over whether or not this fixture was to go ahead, saw a small crowd of around fifty plus people turn out on a dreary Saturday afternoon but the ‘LTFC’ fans who did attend will have been impressed with Tony Cousins charges and the stylish passing football the home team played.
Longford lined out with a strong starting eleven against an extremely youthful looking Athlone side and this helped the hosts settle into proceedings right from the get go. With the highly experienced Kevin O’Connor linking the play and looking to get the pacey trio of O’Hanlon, O’Sullivan and Simon involved at every opportunity, this lead to some strong early possession stats for the boys in ‘Red and ‘Black’. Despite a strong hold of the ball in the opening twenty-five minutes, chances were at a premium early on with Longford’s moves breaking down in the final third while Athlone seemed to struggle to get to grips with the tempo of the game.
Despite the low key feel of this friendly match at “CCS”, it was a big day for one local lad as Daryl Carrigy lined out for Athlone against his former club. Carrigy, who only made the Midlands move a couple of weeks ago, struggled like most of his team-mates to get a foothold in the game but on 35 minutes the Ardagh native almost gave his new team a shock lead against the run of play. A break away down the right-hand-side by Alan Mathews side resulted in a decent cross towards the Longford penalty-spot where Carrigy somehow found the space to turn a good headed effort towards goal, only for Paul Skinner to clutch the ball in mid-air and deny the striker.
That scare was to fire the Premier Division outfit into action and they finally found the breakthrough just four minutes before the half-time whistle sounded. Josh O’Hanlon starred for “De Town” in their 4-0 win away to Cobh last weekend and the on loan Bournemouth striker looked to take the game to Athlone throughout on Saturday afternoon. A long and jinking run from Longford’s number ten saw him win his way to the byeline before cutting the ball back to Conor Powell whose low drive was blocked, resulting in the ball landing at the feet of Kevin O’Connor who duly obliged by sending the ball to the back of the Athlone net.
Carrigy departed the game for the start of the second half as Longford remained the same and as a result the game immediately returned to a similar pattern with the hosts dominating the possession and now the chances. A couple of close off-side calls denied Tony Cousins side but Kaleem Simon was determined to take his chance and on the fifty-minute mark he found himself bearing down on goal thanks to a genius through-ball by David O’Sullivan. With plenty still to do the number nineteen did extremely well to avoid the desperate challenges of a couple of Athlone defenders before calmly rounded the ‘keeper and sticking the ball in the back of the net to double Longford’s lead.
That cushion on the scoreboard signalled an emptying of the Longford bench as the likes of “Sully”, O’Hanlon and Rossiter were all replaced with youngsters such as Phillip Gannon and Karl Chambers looking to impress the home faithful yet again. The ease of Longford’s lead led to a dull period in the game and manager Tony Cousins is sure to preach the importance of concentration to his troops ahead of Tuesday’s next challenge against Galway after Jamie Mulhall’s moment of madness allowed Athlone back into the game. A harmless long ball was initially well dealt with by the Longford centre-backs who headed the ball down to Mulhall, however, the full-back then made a mess of his attempted back-pass with the opposition only too happy to capitalise as Emeka Onwubiko turned home a pin-point cross from six-yards out.
Despite that gift from the Longford full-back, Athlone failed to kick on and the scoreline of 3-1 was not to flatter Longford on the day. Cousins side saved their best till last with around five minutes left on the clock as substitute Dan O’Reilly linked up with Phillip Gannon on the edge of the eighteen-yard box and set up Kevin O’Connor who grabbed his second goal in a man of the match display from the former Bray Wanderers midfielder. The form of O’Connor is sure to fill Longford fans with great promise for the new campaign with his short and long passing skills a great chance creator for “De Town’s” pacey attacking trio.
It is evident from Longford’s four pre-season games so far that Tony Cousins is set on using a 4-3-3 formation this year with ball retention and forward rotation key elements of his sides play. With a blend of experience in the likes of O’Connor, Rossiter and Powell combined with the raw talent and pace of players like O’Hanlon, Kealon Dillon and Phillip Gannon, 2016 could prove to be a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining one for followers of the ‘Red and Black’.
BETWEEN THE STRIPES MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin O’Connor – While “Kev’s” short passing wasn’t to its usual immaculate standard on a difficult home pitch today, the former Bray man’s long range assists were a joy to behold and he was duly rewarded with two good goals.
Longford Town: (4-3-3) Skinner, Mulhall, Rossiter, Haverty, Powell, O’Connor, Hughes, McKeon, O’Sullivan, O’Hanlon, Simon.
LONGFORD’S NEXT FIXTURE: Galway United (friendly), Tuesday 7:30pm @City Calling Stadium.