Only a couple of months after stating that he had no doubt in turning around the current situation at the club and finishing well up the table, Town boss Tony Cousins finally made the admission on this weeks Soccer Republic program that anything but six points from the next two home games and realistically his side can forget about staying up. Optimism was rife off the back of a stunning display away to the champions at Oriel Park, however that defeat was soon to be followed up by another crushing blow as Derry City hit “De Town” for four at the weekend, with Kevin O’Connor the latest Longford player to see red this season. Why the sudden change of heart from the manager? After all the Midlands club only lie four points behind 11th placed Wexford, albeit the Youths have a game in hand. Well the simple fact is that the stats do not make for pleasant reading for LTFC followers. Should Longford Town FC manage to double their points total, currently eight, between now and the end of the campaign it would leave them on a tally that has failed to keep all but one side up in the top fight over the course of the decade. Even at that Waterford United only survived in 2006, on eleven points, thanks to the FAI’s structural changes of the League of Ireland so the prognosis is far from healthy for Longford at present.
So what are the chances of a first home win of the season for Longford as we get ready to roll into the eighth month of the year. History certainly isn’t on the hosts side as they have only beaten Sligo Rovers five times in all competitions since the 1984/85 season from twenty-eight encounters, exactly 50% of those ending in defeat. More recent encounters also point to Sligo dominance in the game labelled as the “N4 Derby”, with Longford failing to beat Rovers since returning to the Premier Division last season. In the sides most recent meeting at City Calling Stadium at the tail-end of last season, a late blunder by Town ‘keeper Paul Skinner saw Kaleem Simon’s goal off the bench cancelled out in a frustrating 1-1 tie for Tony Cousins troops. In the only match-up between the two this season Sligo Rovers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners as Tony Cousins and his players were booed off the pitch in the first real show off unrest among the Longford faithful. Since then the outcry for Cousins head as manager has continued and intensified with a “Cousins” out banner on display in the recent 1-0 home defeat against a desperately poor Bohemians side.
As for the visitors, Dave Robertson’s “Bit O’Red” team come into this meeting with the leagues bottom side off the back of an important 1-0 home triupmh over Liam Buckley’s St.Pats. Having only taken one point from their previous two league games prior to the Pats match, this was an important three points for the side now occupying seventh in the league standings, a big improvement on last years campaign already for the new boss. Enjoying something of a renaissance, Raf Cretaro was the match winner last time out and the Rovers top scorer this season will be looking to add to his tally in front of a group of home fans who have had it in for the Tubbercurry man in recent encounters.
In terms of team news, no one can be sure of Town boss Tony Cousins next move after he sensationally dropped long-term number one Paul Skinner for the trip to the Brandywell in favor of new signing and former Sligo pro Ryan Coulter. However, Coulter looked extremely nervous and uncertain on his debut and Cousins may not want to risk that again against his former club. At the back, in a defense which has leaked an incredible forty-four goals this term, new man Yann Mvita Nkelu also failed to impress on his first outing but is more than likely to start again on Saturday given the lack of options in that area of the field, a real statement of the clubs poor recruitment policy this season it must be said. Up front, “De Town” aren’t scoring goals either, a real bad combination and the ideal recipe for relegation not being able to defend at one end or put the ball in the net at the other. Former Fleetwood Town development squad striker Eddie Dsane has already been criticsed on fans message boards for his lack of application on his debut but given the game was already over early in the second half he must be given more time to find his feet at this level. However, given that time is not a commodity Longford Town have on their side, it really is astonishing to not see the clubs all-time leading goalscorer David O’Sullivan as one of the first names on Tony Cousins team-sheet. Rumors of unrest within the camp have been circling around for months now and with speculation emerging that now former player John McKeown was informed of his departure from the club through Twitter, it has only gone further to add to the discontent at City Calling Stadium. To put it into context, Raf Cretaro has been receiving the highest of plaudits on Soccer Republic and from other media outlets for his performances in recent weeks yet David O’Sullivan has managed to score the same amount of league goals (4) in what is currently by far the worst team in the top flight. So for a man who has scored shy of 100 goals in just four-and-a-half years with “De Town” to be reduced to nothing more than a bit-part player is quite frankly astonishing.
Should Lee Duffy not return from yet another ankle injury in time for Saturday’s match, O’Sullivan will battle it out with the little to be seen Cody Mulhall for a starting position alongside Dsane. Meanwhile in midfield, Kevin O’Connors suspension throws up huge question marks over his replacement with John McKeown being shown the door by a manager who never seemed to give the former Cabinteely player of the year a fair crack of the whip with Longford. This central area has caused huge issues for the “Red and Black” all season following the release of both Mark Salmon and Stephen Rice by the under-fire Town boss and with only over a week remaining in the transfer window there appears to be no remedy in sight for this ailing Town side.
Sligo new boy Daniel Kearns impressed on his debut after signing from the Irish league following a successful spell in England, most notably with Peterborough United and the former Dundalk man could really terrorise Longford’s full-backs on the night should he get going early on. Another former Irish League player, Liam Martin has been in fine form for the “Bit O’Red” this season and he is sure to push for a starting place having come off the bench against St.Patrick’s Athletic to impress yet again.
Overall, while this is far from anything like the Sligo Rovers squad who won the league under Ian Baraclough a couple of years ago, it is a Rovers team playing with confidence under another English manager in Dave Robertson and that will prove to be key against a Longford side who many on-lookers feel may have already thrown in the towel.
PREDICTION: Longford Town 0-4 Sligo Rovers.