When the fixtures were announced ahead of the 2017 season many saw this Friday’s game at the RSC as being a potential promotion six-pointer. With both Waterford and Longford spending freely during the off-season, the bookmakers made the two joint favorites for the First Division title. However, while Lee Power’s “Blues” have won seven of their opening twelve league games, Longford Town already find themselves twelve-points behind the early leaders with just three wins to their credit this season. Considering two of those wins came against crisis club Athlone Town, it really doesn’t make for pretty reading for Town fans, who have already begun to voice their displeasure at the current set-up across message boards and social media. Despite manager Alan Mathews past glories with the Midlands club it appears Town fans are far from nostalgic and want to see success in the present day and they want to see it sooner rather than later. With the potential for three ‘big’ clubs coming down from the current top-flight for next season, Longford were targeting an instant return to the Premier Division this season but three games before the mid-season break and their promotion hopes already looked doomed!
So why the total non-start from pre-season favorites Longford? Eleven new signings were made following “De Town’s” relegation from the Premier Division last season and in all truth bar the returning Daniel O’Reilly, who was released during the 2016 season before returning in pre-season after a spell in the English non-leagues, the majority of the new signings have failed to live up to the hype. Of the better performers among the new arrivals, Dean Zambra seems to have grown into a midfield holding role quite well but lacks the legs to get forward as does his central partner Kevin O’Connor, who has failed to rediscover his 2014 form. Daniel O’Reilly’s central defensive partner Stephen Walsh has also improved as the season has progressed but having gone off with a nasty blow to the head during last Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to UCD, it may take him a few games to get settled again, while former UCD man Mark Langtry has been excellent since switching to right-back. That has seen former Athlone and Wexford man Aidan Friel lose his place in the team, but on a brighter note Tristan Noack Hofmann continues to excel down the left-hand-side.
One of the big talking points around Longford all season has been the lack of league game opportunities for talented young ‘keeper Jack Brady, who despite impressing in his few cup outings remains number two behind Paul Skinner. Longford’s biggest problem this season has been converting clear cut chances at with both Enda Curran and David O’Sullivan suffering from injuries at different stages this season, both strikers have failed to find a flow of form, while wide-men Jake Kelly and Dylan McGlade are already being labeled as ‘flops’ by supporters. Injury has once again blighted winger Don Cowan, who’s latest injury crisis came when he limped off agianst UCD at a deserted City Calling Stadium. Just 245 people turned out to watch the “Students” visit to “CCS”, the lowest recorded crowd at the Midlands ground this season.
Such attendances are now a thing of the past for re-branded Waterford FC, who are currently averaging well over 1,500 people per game so far this season and with captain Patrick McClean appealing for the people of Waterford to come out on-mass for Friday’s visit of Longford, they very well could see their highest attendance of the season to date at the RSC. Current unbeaten in their last eleven league outings, Waterford will come into this game full of confidence despite a crippling injury crisis. Kenny Browne, Ian McLoughlin, Sandir Puri and Dean O’Halloran all sat out last Friday’s 1-0 win over local rivals Wexford, while main man Mark O’Sullivan went off with a suspected fracture. The “Blues” have also lost the services of two players who were on loan from Lee Power’s other club, Swindon Town, leaving Waterford stretched but perhaps just at the right time prior to the mid-season break where more large squad investment is expected. In saying that, the next three games, including Friday’s visit of Longford, could play a major role in the outcome of the 2017 First Division season. Waterford’s only defeat in the league this season came on the opening weekend against Athlone and the “Blues” will revisit Lissywollen in the final game before the break on Friday, June 2nd. Prior to that however, Waterford will make the short trip to Munster rivals Cobh, who sit just two points behind Alan Reynolds side at present. Should Waterford come out of this period unscathed and manage to make more big name signings in the upcoming transfer window you would have to say anything other than a “Blues” title win would be unthinkable even with the good starts made by Cobh and UCD.
All the talk of Waterford’s style of play this season has been about their attacking threats and the formidable front two of O’Sullivan and Davy McDaid. However, Waterford in fact have the best defensive record in the league, having only conceded six times. Compare that to Longford’s twelve and the fact that Waterford almost have double the amount of goals at the other end, then it really is hard to imagine a 4/1 Longford upset on Friday even with the home sides injury crisis at present. The only meeting between the two sides so far this season was an exciting and heated scoreless draw at “CCS” on April fools day. While McDaid missed a penalty on the day, it was Longford who left feeling as they had wasted a real opportunity to slow down the early league leaders, who finished the game with ten-men as McDaid completed a bad day at the office with a dangerous two-footed challenge resulting in a straight-red card.
The time for hard luck stories has now well and truly passed a Longford side, who are currently on a three-match winless run, and if they are to prove their growing cast of critics wrong they will need to start with a real statement of intent and a win over an injury ravaged Waterford.
PREDICTION: Waterford FC 0-0 Longford Town – The first meeting in April was an even contest even if Longford finished the stronger, and despite a poor run of late “De Town” will fancy themselves given Waterford’s injury crisis. However, a lack of creativity and ruthlessness in front of goal has killed Alan Mathews side so far this season and given the “Blues” incredible defensive record we very well could see a repeat result on Friday.