A respectable crowd of 177 turned out for this pre-season encounter at the City Calling Stadium on Tuesday night as Alan Mathews Longford grabbed their first victory ahead of the 2017 campaign. Given the mammoth mid-week fixtures in the English Premier League, those involved with the Midlands club will be encouraged by last night’s turn out and hopefully it is a sign of things to come for the year ahead. Also encouraged will be “De Town” supporters who witnessed an exciting game, which provided five goals as Noel Haverty, Stephen Walsh and almost forgotten man Cody Mulhall earned Longford a morale boosting win.
The hosts got off to a flyer, on what was a difficult surface, and really should have been ahead inside the opening few minutes as a Daniel O’Reilly’s cross was somehow missed by Noel Haverty just yards out from a gaping Rovers net. That trend of attacking runs from wide areas allowing Longford’s centre-backs to push forward was evident throughout and it was no surprise when the team in Yellow opened the scoring thanks to a member of the back four. Again it was Haverty who found himself in the right place at the right time as Don Cowan left his marker for dead on the bye-line before powering in a low cross which Haverty duly converted. Jake Kelly must also take credit for the opener as he kept the ball alive from a well defended free-kick before opening up the pitch with a clever disguised pass into the feet of Cowan who took the move from there. Alan Mathews will be delighted with the number of set-piece specialists apparently at his disposal this season and that quality from dead ball situations would pay off twice more for the hosts inside the ninety-minutes.
Despite the early lead off the back of a strong start, Sligo Rovers responded quickly to the set-back as Dave Robertson’s men began to dominate the football. Kieran Sadlier in particular was causing Longford all kinds of problems down the left as he terrorised Cowan and Friel. Some good crosses and subsequent blocks side, Sligo created little despite their strong possession stats and Town boss Alan Mathews would have been delighted with his teams efficiency after they took a 2-0 lead. A free-kick from deep on the left-hand side was taken by Kelly who easily picked out an unmarked Stephen Walsh who showed brilliant awareness to back-head the ball over an on-rushing Michael Schlingermann and claim his first goal for his new club. Dave Robertson will have been horrified by Sligo’s lack of organisation from the set-piece, while time and time again on Tuesday night his defensive line was opened up by simple balls over the top….A worrying sign ahead of the “Bit O’Red’s” Premier Division campaign.
Longford looked comfortable as the half-wore on, but the coaching staff are sure to stress the importance of concentration throughout after this game as Sligo Rovers were allowed back into the game just seconds before the half-time whistle. A high yet aimless ball was hooked into “De Town” box but with defender Aidan Friel appearing to get caught under the flight of the cross it allowed Daniel Kearns the space to put Rovers back in the game.
Half-time saw the introduction of four outfield changes as Kealon Dillon, David O’Sullivan, Dan Beya and Gavin Boyne replaced Enda Curran, Kevin O’Connor, Dean Zambra and Don Cowan, while Paul Skinner came on for a confident looking Jack Brady. Despite those changes the pattern of the game remained the same as the Premier outfit bossed possession with Longford struggling to get out of their own half for long periods. Some last ditch defending kept Longford ahead, however, a number of missed tackles in midfield opened up some space for Rovers and it was no surprise when Daniel Kearns was played in on goal to equalise for the boys from the “Showgrounds”. With Aodh Dervin, Ian Fletcher and Tristan Noak Hoffmann all introduced as the half wore on, you could have been forgiven for thinking any chance of a Longford win was now gone as Alan Mathews looked to give as many of his large squad a run out as possible. However, with just eight minutes left on the clock Longford took the lead for the final time as a wonderfully whipped free-kick from Dillon was headed home by fit-again Cody Mulhall. The Former Hibernians man was clearly ecstatic following the goal having only played fifteen-minutes of football for the club last season due to yet another injury so it is easy to see why the Dubliner was so thrilled to get on the scoresheet. With Mulhall now back in the fold it gives Alan Mathews fantastic options up top this season with David O’Sullivan and Enda Curran battling each other for what appears to be only one strikers position this season.
The drama wasn’t quite finished at that as Paul Skinner spilled a long range shot on what was a slippery surface, but to his relief the ball eventually ended up back in his grateful clutch. Skinner looked nervy throughout the second-half for the hosts and having been at fault for Friday’s only goal against Bray he is now a man under real pressure from twenty-year-old Jack Brady, who will be desperate to earn a starting role against his former club Shelbourne on the opening day.
The full-time whistle sounded to the response of appreciation from the home faithful, who will have felt they got value for money on the night. The same may yet be said about Longford’s new signings as the season rolls on with Aidan Friel, Stephen Walsh and Dylan McGlade standing out in particular for their new employers. Reports from Friday’s defeat to Bray had highlighted the talents of McGlade especially and the former St.Pat’s man had Town fans buzzing with excitement throughout the first-half last night. The tricky wingers raw pace and unique skills set is sure to provide Longford with a real attacking outlet in the First Division this season.
Next up on the cards for Alan Mathews charges is another home friendly against Sligo’s Premier Division rivals Finn Harps. The Donegal outfit enjoyed a 2-1 win over a local league side last night also and the strong physical condition of Ollie Horgan’s men is sure to offer Longford a true pre-season test.
Between the Stripes man of the match: Kieran Sadlier (Sligo Rovers) – Caused Longford constant terror down the left and looks to be the “Bit O’Reds” go to guy this season.
Longford player ratings:
Jack Brady – 7/10 – Looked confident throughout and used the ball well at his feet.
Aidan Friel 6/10 – An impressive home debut, although showed a tendency to switch off at times.
Noel Haverty 8/10 – Immense on the night, grabbed one goal but should have had another.
Stephen Walsh 7/10 – Showed his strength as a ball playing centre-half. Gave the odd pass away but solid as a rock defensively. Great in the air. Scored his first LTFC goal.
Dean Zambra 6/10 – A busy midfield who always tried to close down Sligo and hassle the ball.
Kevin O’Connor 5/10 – Quiet on the night, perhaps not yet up to speed being one of the older members of the squad.
Don Cowan 5/10 – Got a great assist but struggled with his positioning on the night. Sadlier had a field day down that side.
Jake Kelly 6/10 – Played in the ten and struggled to get involved. However, showed his quality as a dead ball specialist. One assist and played a hand in the opener.
Dylan McGlade 7/10 – Tore Sligo apart early doors but drifted out of the game as it wore on (mainly due to Town’s lack of possession). Will score plenty of goals this season from wide areas.
Enda Curran 5/10 – Very quiet evening for Curran.
Paul Skinner 4/10 – Spilled a couple of balls and was almost caught out badly rushing out of his goals at one point.
Gavin Boyne 5/10 – Worked hard and made some nice passes but difficult to get on the ball with lack of possession.
David O’Sullivan 5/10 – Like Curran struggled to get involved but did show potential to link up with Mulhall.
Kealon Dillon 6/10 – Got on the ball plenty and provided a wonderful assist for the winner. Tendency to get caught in possession in dangerous areas though.
Dan Beya 6/10 – Local lad worked his socks off, invaluable experience playing in these pre-season games against strong pros.
Cody Mulhall 7/10 – Showed some nice touches and scored a great goal. If he can get his fitness back to previous levels Mathews may have a surprise gem on his hands.
Rhys Gorman 7/10 – Nothing flashy while defending, safety first. Solid.
Tristan Noak Hoffmann – 6/10 – Made a couple of positional mistakes you’d expect from a young player. Will continue to grow and learn under defensive tactician Mathews.
Ian Fletcher 5/10 – Missed a great chance to put Town 3-2 ahead. Lacking pace and perhaps a bit of confidence.
Aodh Dervin 7/10 – For a young player making his home debut, Dervin showed great calmness and composure just to do the simple things, never gave the ball away. Bags of potential.