MATCH PREVIEW: Longford Town V Bohemians

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Expectations are growing in the Midlands thanks to a strong pre-season campaign to date.

Longford Town will be looking for a hat-trick of pre-season wins on Thursday as they head to the Capital to face the “culture club” Bohemians (kick-off 7-45PM). Originally scheduled to take place at Longford’s City Calling Stadium, poor pitch conditions at the Midlands venue saw the club take the decision to switch tomorrow’s game to the AUL complex. Despite an opening pre-season match defeat to Bray Wanderers at the same venue a couple of weeks ago, the performance shown against the County Wicklow club was enough to get Town fans excited for the season ahead, but many will have been surprised with the subsequent victories over Premier Division sides Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps in recent days. While the old cliché of “friendlies don’t matter” are always thrown around after such games the results have acted as strong morale boosts for this newly formed Town squad, who enjoyed a team night out in Longford after their 2-0 win over Finn Harps at the weekend.

Bohemians boss Keith Long has been installed as one of the bookmakers favourites to finish first in the dreaded LOI sack race this season and with almost a quarter of the top flight ending up relegated at the end of this term, former Athlone manager Long will have a battle on his hands to keep one of Ireland’s most famous clubs in the Premier Division for 2018. With the Dalymount Park project very much the clubs main priority for the immediate future, Long does not enjoy the luxury of a massive budget that the likes of Pat Fenlon would have enjoyed at the Phibsborough club during the so called “glory years”.  At present, the eleven-times LOI winners have twenty-one first-team players on the books with former Longford duo Phillip Gannon and Kaleem Simon among them. Having been a part of last season’s disastrous 2016 season, Gannon and Simon will be keen to avoid back to back relegations in the very early stages of their careers. The fact that Bohemians are been forced to shop for players that did not necessarily stand out in what was one of the worst Longford Town teams in history goes to show the resources Keith Long is currently working with and the challenge he faces this season. Meanwhile, Long has also had to dip his fingers into the second tier for playing talent with Oscar Brennan arriving from the leagues baby club Cabinteely, while Greg Murray arrived from Dublin rivals Shelbourne. Perhaps the most high profile addition to what is an extremely youthful looking “Bohs” side is that of Keith Ward from Derry City. The return of Ward to Dalymount Park, following a four-year spell away, should be viewed as somewhat of a coup for the “Gypsies” given the fact Ward was offered a new deal by high-flying City at the end of last year. Should Ward be able to get his fitness levels back up to a higher standard, the former Sligo Rovers and Dundalk winger possesses the natural ability that could drag Bohemians out of some deep holes this season, a key attribute for any club.

Bohemians are undefeated in pre-season to date thanks to wins over non-league St.Mochta’s and First Division promotion hopefuls Cobh Ramblers. Both fixtures were tightly-fought affairs with a one goal margin deciding both so it would be no surprise to see a similar pattern play-out on Thursday night against Alan Mathews Longford. One advantage Bohemians may hold over their Red and Black wearing counterparts is the fact they have played a competitive match during the course of pre-season. Again a tight encounter ended in “Bohs” favour as a 2-1 away win over Malahide sent the “Gypsies” through to the next round of the Leinster Senior Cup. Following tomorrow night’s game at the AUL, Keith Long will take his side to former club Athlone for one final friendly match ahead of the opening league encounter of the season at home to Derry City. As for Longford, they will find out their next round opponent in the LSC on Sunday when Firhouse Clover and Evergreen face off at IT Tallaght, but in the meantime a valentine’s day date with Champions Dundalk and a final pre-season encounter with St.Pat’s will keep “De Town” focused ahead of their league opener away to Shelbourne on Friday, February 24th.

Expect plenty of rotation from Town boss Alan Mathews on Thursday night as he continues to mull over key positional choices ahead of that league opener against his former club. At present the main selection dilemmas for Longford Town’s most successful ever manager seems to revolve around the goalkeeping and centre forward positions. Impressing upon his arrival from none other than “Shels” in pre-season has been twenty-year-old shotstopper Jack Brady, who has illustrated a figure of calmness between the posts despite his tender age, while up top new signing Enda Curran is the only one not to have got on the scoresheet among the forward trio of Curran, O’Sullivan and Mulhall. In fact it has been the performances of former Hibernian FC striker Mulhall that has shocked many on-lookers in pre-season with the underage Irish international battling back from another injury horror show last season to bag the winner against Sligo Rovers last week, as well as registering an assist for Kevin O’Connor’s goal against Harps. The clubs all-time leading goalscorer David O’Sullivan on the other hand converted a fine assist from Karl Chambers in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Donegal side and his boss will now be hoping that kicks O’Sullivan on to help recapture his previous First Division form for the club.

With Mathews operating a 4-2-3-1 formation for large periods of the pre-season campaign so far, there may only be room for one out and out centre-forward at times this season, although both Don Cowan and O’Sullivan led the line from the beginning against Ollie Horgan’s Harps. Mathews will be keen to keep his opponents guessing as to how he may line his team out this season but the fact he has used a one striker system in pre-season is sure to keep his attackers on their toes in the build up to the Tolka Park opener. With so much competition for places all across the squad it is easy to see why many are tipping “De Town” for the title this season.

PREDICTION: Longford Town 2-1 Bohemians.

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