Odds stacked against Longford as Kenny’s champions come to Town

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Scenes ahead of last seasons FAI Cup semi-final between Dundalk and Longford. 

With Paddy Power offering 10/1 on a home win tomorrow night, it’s clear even to those who may not follow the League of Ireland closely, that the odds are well and truly stacked against Tony Cousins charges for this league encounter. Legendary Longford Town manager Stephen Kenny will lead his back to back defending champions into battle at City Calling Stadium off the back of a slightly disappointing 1-1 home tie against Derry City last Friday night.

League standings aside, which sees Dundalk top the table while Longford sit in relegation peril, these two clubs as a whole couldn’t be any further apart with the “Lillywhites” packing out Oriel Park on a regular basis, while “De Town” are struggling to get even the hardcore in through the gates. Despite the loss of the leagues star man in Richie Towell, Dundalk have been able to bring in top names such as Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson. Meanwhile, Longford lost a host of key players including Aymen Ben Mohamed, Gary Shaw and Pat Sullivan. The first of those names came back to haunt his former club at Dalymount Park seven days ago as the tricky winger managed an assist and goal to sink Cousins men 2-0. Tony Cousins stated his desire to reduce the overall age of his squad for 2016 but with many supporters feeling let down by the impact of the eight new signings, that decision may yet come back to bite the former Galway United boss.

However, not even the harshest of critics can deny the Longford boss has had absolutely zero luck with injuries so far this campaign and with news today emerging that Kaleem Simon is the latest player to suffer a hamstring strain, Town fans and the coaching staff will be left wondering who they may have left to select from over the coming weeks. However, with long term absentees Rhys Gorman and Lee Duffy slowly edging back towards  a full recovery, and the return of fans favorite Don Cowan, Tony Cousins luck may soon start to change.

Speaking of a change of luck, Longford’s front two of David O’Sullivan and Josh O’Hanlon will be hoping their fortunes are set to swing after missing a number of guilt edged chances in recent games. Captain on the night, O’Sullivan was on the scoresheet in Monday’s Leinster Senior Cup defeat to Wexford, so hopefully that will be a starting point for the clubs all-time leading scorer to recapture the form of 2013 and ’14.

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Photo credit http://www.ltfc.ie

As for the visitors, the champions will be without the services of midfield linchpin Chris Shields, following his harsh dismissal in last week’s live game. Meanwhile, new signing Patrick McEleney is out, as is  John Mountney, both with groin injuries while Shane Grimes is a doubt with a shoulder injury. However, given the vast array of options available to Kenny, he is unlikely to have a sleepless night. Proof of this is Kenny’s current rotation policy regarding his strikers. With both Dave McMillan and Ciaran Kilduff available, Kenny has opted to split playing time equally among the pair and should this plan continue for tomorrow’s game, Longford’s centre-half pair should expect to face Kilduff as McMillan started and scored against the “Candystripes”.

Tony Cousins can only dream of such options at present, with his team only registering three league goals to date. However, as already mentioned, there is a feeling among fans that the fortunes of O’Sullivan and O’Hanlon in particular are about to change.

There were four meetings between the sides last season, as Longford were matched against the eventual winners in the FAI Cup semi-finals. Goals from Paddy Barrett and Ronan Finn settled what was a largely dull tie at Oriel Park. In perhaps one of “De Town’s” finest moments of 2015, the newly promoted side held the champions to a scoreless draw in the league at Oriel Park…..The only team in the entire country to do so last season. The remaining two league ties split between Oriel and “CCS” went in favor of the champs, 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.

With a clean copybook of form away from home this season, Stephen Kenny spoke to his clubs official website on his determination to maintain that 100% record ahead of Saturday’s game:

“We have a 100% record away from home this season. We have had three straight away wins in Bray, Wexford and Inchicore. Three great away wins and we have to take that into this weekend.

“We want to keep our record going away from home and return to winning ways. Longford always give us a tough game that’s for sure and we are expecting no different tomorrow evening. “

Kenny, who collected the RTE manager of the year award at the end of 2015, often speaks of the immense character within his squad of champions and that can clearly be seen in goalkeeper Gary Rogers comments to dundalkfc.com as the former Sligo player stated his disgust at dropping two points at home to Derry:

“We were disappointed to drop the two points last week. We were in a winning position and we were looking comfortable I thought. We weren’t at our best but we were in control. We didn’t look like we were in danger of the game but we weren’t able to get the winning goal which was frustrating and we created a few chances but that’s the way things go some nights.

“It’s a good game to bounce back into against Longford Town because they are a good side and it’s a difficult place to go to at any stage and Saturday will be no different. We have to go and bounce back ourselves. We want to win every week, we want to get three points on the board and we’ll go there in a positive mindset to try win the game.”

In another stat that favors the visitors, it is eight long years since Longford defeated the “Lillywhites”, with a 2-1 away win back in the First Division days. Given the trials and tribulations the County Louth club have faced in the last decade, their current success really is somewhat of a fairy-tale and should they pick up another three points on Saturday night, many may be heading to the bookies to back Dundalk for a third league title in a row. Cork City, who face Monday’s winners over Longford, Wexford Youths, will be hoping Tony Cousins side can do them a favor in what is fast turning into potentially one of the most exciting title races of recent years, even at this early stage. A shock victory for Longford would see the “Red and Black” potentially leapfrog Bohemians and Wexford Youths, ahead of crunch league encounters at home to Derry and away to slow starting Sligo Rovers.

PREDICTION: Dundalk win – All the stats point to an away win, and when you consider Longford’s injury issues, even the most staunch of Town followers will find it difficult to follow their heart for this one.

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