Alan Mathews will take control of his first home game as Longford Town manager since being appointed to the job for the second time. The former Cork City boss was in charge for the first time away to his former employers last Friday night and despite conceding five goals in a 5-2 defeat, there were some positives to take from the RTE live game at Turners Cross.
The opposition this Saturday night are yet another former employer of Mathews as a resurgent Bray Wanderers roll into town under the stewardship of Harry Kenny. With so many off field issues at the club last season, Mick Cooke was charged with the task of signing a number of big name players on two year contracts in order to end Bray’s almost annual battle with relegation. However, for one reason or another the experienced Cooke seemed unable to get the best out of what is undoubtably a talented squad headlined by former Ipswich Town winger Dylan Connolly, and as a result Cooke stepped away in order to allow a new man time to turn things around. After much deliberation Kenny finally found his way into the hot seat and prior to the midweek defeat to a rampant Cork City, the Seagulls had been on an impressive eight game unbeaten run. Thanks to that run of form Bray now find themselves in the steady position of ninth in the league table with a six point gap between themselves and relegation play-off position holders Wexford. A win at City Calling Stadium on Saturday night would all but secure their status as a Premier Division side for 2017 with eight games to go.
As for the hosts, Longford Town remain without a win since the opening day of the season. Eight points adrift at the bottom and with games running out fast, this would truly be a miracle turn around by Alan Mathews but that turnaround can’t happen without an immediate win against Bray on Saturday night. The signs are good for Longford too as Bray Wanderers are currently the only side in the top flight not to earn a victory over the Midlands outfit this season, a real sign of how poor Tony Cousins charges were up until his resignation a few weeks ago.
The introduction of a number of new signings in recent games has certainly been one of few positives for Town fans to take heart in with striker Eddie Dsane in particular proving his worth to the CCS faithful. Midfielder Gauis Makouta looks to add some much needed drive and pace to the central part of the field while at the back big Yann Mvita is already a fans favourite thanks to his relaxed style of play and demeanour in what has been a stressful season for all concerned.
The goalkeeping situation is one that has haunted ”De Town” all season and Alan Mathews may be tempted to drop new signing Ryan Coluter after a horror show in the live game last time out. The former Sligo Rovers and Athlone Town shot stopper seemed to struggled under any physical pressure from lofted corners into his six yard box while his reluctance to come off the line was clear to be seen for anyone watching. Paul Skinner can rightly feel aggrieved for being dropped under the management of Tony Cousins when he was in truth probably Longford’s best player for a number of weeks and he may now be knocking on Alan Mathews door asking for another chance.
It’s the midfield area where Longford have lacked any physical presence this season with the experienced Kevin O’Connor looking a shadow of what went before while Phillip Gannon and Mark Hughes have both had their chances and failed to put their stamp on a holding role in the team. Alan Mathews has seemed to put faith in Kealon Dillon since taking over in the hot seat and don’t be surprised if the former Bohs man starts again against Bray Wanderers. Dillon seems to posses that drive to not only get on the ball and make things happen but to push the team forward when in possession and that is going to be key if Longford are to score enough goals between now and the end of the season to survive.
What might help that situation would be the return to fitness of the clubs all-time leading goalscorer David O’Sullivan, who has been out of action since picking up a knock in Wexford. With Lee Duffy’s injury status still unknown and mid-season signing Cody Mulhall out for the season, despite only playing 15 minutes since arriving, the return to fitness of both O’Sullivan and Cowan is key to Alan Mathews as he has had little to work with from the bench since taking over. O’Sullivan and Cowan have trained this week and are looking likely to be available for selection against Bray Wanderers.
In other team news, talented teenage defender Tristan Noak Hoffmann has been training with AFC Bournemouth of the Premier League for the past number of days so it is unknown if he will be available for selection this weekend. Hoffmann, who earned an underage international call up earlier this season was amazingly not in the squad for a number of months under Tony Cousins and that decision now looks even more mind boggling given the clear talents of the under-19’s defender, who only got his chance this year due to an injury crisis in the senior ranks…..A real fairytale story for the Arva resident. Elsewhere, full-back Noel Haverty remains out of action due to injury.
With a trip to County Donegal to face Finn Harps after this game, ”De Town” have a real opportunity to cut the gap to just two points on a stalling Wexford Youths side as the conclusion to this season reaches closer. Given Bray’s form of late it won’t be easy but it’s now or never for Longford Town and you just know that’s the message Alan Mathews will deliver to his players in the dressing room pre-match.
Prediction: Longford Town win.