New long-term thinking required at Longford Town FC

IMG_8206
The RSC ahead of kick-off last night. Image via Between the Stripes on Instagram (click here to view account)

Having started the season as joint bookies favorites for promotion alongside free-spending Waterford FC, defeat to the ”Blues” at the RSC last night effectively ended the already slim remaining hopes of seeing Longford Town return to the Premier Division at the first attempt. A Thirteenth minute long-range strike from Derek Daly condemned ”De Town” to a sixth league defeat of the season, only the two sides below them have lost more, Athlone Town with seven losses and Wexford with eight. The questions that must now be asked by followers of the Midlands club is why the total non event of a season to date and where do ”De Town” go from here? Are there any quick-fixes available or is a long-term remedy the only solution? 

Tackling the first of those two questions, Longford’s problems this season are clear. Unfortunately for manager Alan Mathews, his side have found themselves stuck in the lethal combination of not conceding soft goals at one end while failing to convert glorious opportunities at the other side of the pitch. With a record of conceding a goal a game so far this season, the importance of been ruthless in front of goals is massive for Longford, but with only nine goals on the charts after thirteen games the results are only ever going to go one way sadly. 

Perhaps fingers can be pointed at the backroom staff for not signing enough cover in forward areas should injuries occur, as they have done this season. However, when you look at the pedigree of players such as David O’Sullivan and Enda Curran and consider the fact that wide men Don Cowan, Cody Mulhall and Jake Kelly can all play up front too, it was hard for anyone to envisage such a lack of goals.  

As mentioned, injuries have taken their toll yet again this season at the City Calling Stadium, where attendances have hit desperate lows, with attacking units O’Sullivan, Curran, Cowan, Kelly, Boyne and Mulhall all spending time of the treatment table this season. Other new arrivals such as Dylan McGlade, who so much was expected of have totally failed to perform and that has led to calls from the fanbase for local players such as Dan Beya and Aodh Dervin to be given their chance, especially now that any hopes of promotion are seemingly dead in the water. 

lngfrdg2
Attendances are plummeting at City Calling Stadium.

While chances have been spurned on a regular basis this season by the likes of Curran and O’Sullivan, overall the lack of creativity in this Longford team is startling. Alan Mathews has opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout the 2017 campaign, with an emphasis on possession football. However, while Longford undoubtedly have one of the higher possession rates in the First Division, the majority of their play is coming in their own half and as a result they are inviting pressure on themselves. When the ball eventually does reach the final third the move more often that not breaks down in an aimless lofted ball over the top and it is easy to see why the likes of Enda Curran in particular, who appears more and more isolated at the top of the pitch each week, are becoming visibility animated by the week. 

Tony Cousins was often lambasted for his direct style of play, particularly when he had a target man in Gary Shaw at his disposal but at least there was a clear style of play (or lack of it as his critics argued). However, when you watch Alan Mathews current side it all appears just too nice, with pointless passing across the back four and no needle where it is needed in the centre of the park and further on. While new signing Dean Zambra has grown into a holding role stronger and stronger by the game, his midfield partner Kevin O’Connor just can’t seem to rediscover his 2014 form. 

With O’Connor reaching the latter stage of his career and Zambra more of a destructor than creator, there is a clear lack of mobility in the Longford midfield, which has been overrun on multiple occasions by opposition sides this season.  

So can these issues be fixed by a couple of simple tweaks in the upcoming transfer window? A young box to box midfielder similar in style to when Mark Salmon signed from Athlone would certainly add some much needed mobility to a robotic looking Longford midfield. In wide areas ”De Town” are crying out for some much needed quality but unless the club are willing to let go of some of the current squad already at their disposal, it is unlikely the board would be willing to spend any more on a wage bill that is already the second highest in the league.  

salmon and rice
Mark Salmon (number 8) has never been replaced in the Longford midfield.

Despite Longford’s troubles this season, the back four has looked a lot more solid than it did at the start of the campaign with Langtry, O’Reilly, Walsh and particularly Hofmann impressing greatly. With Noel Haverty out injured at present and Rhys Gorman and Aidan Friel ready made options on the Longford bench, that part of the squad needs no real adjustment. In fact, If the coaching staff can find a way to just cut out the needless unforced errors at the back, it would be among one of the more solid back-fours in the division. 

At the far end of the pitch, O’Sullivan has failed to rediscover the First Division form that brought him to prominence in 2013 and 2014, while Enda Curran has been a real disappointment since arriving from Galway United in the off-season. With free scoring strikers at a premium, Mathews may be forced to look outside of the League of Ireland if he is to consider a new front man and that constitutes a gamble in itself, although David O’Sullivan is a prime example of the talent that can be found in the non-leagues, having signed from Wayside Celtic in 2013 prior to becoming Longford Town’s all-time leading goalscorer by the mid-way point of the 2014 season! 

However, even if Longford were to make adjustments in the transfer window it is unlikely they will ever claw back the fifteen-point gap that now separates themselves and Waterford, who occupy the only promotion place on offer this season. That begs the question, with nothing of note to play for, attendances on a dramatic slide and sponsors unlikely to get involved between now and the end of the season, would a more dramatic approach make sense? 

16298646_1236818426409696_3711805104516654406_n
Dan Beya and Aodh Dervin are just two of four local players in the first-team squad this season.

The issue of local players, more so the lack of them within the senior set-up at the club has been a talking point ever since Longford Town joined the League of Ireland in the mid-eightees. While Darragh Doherty, Aodh Dervin and Dan Beya have all represented the club in pre-season and in a Leinster Senior cup tie away to Firhouse Clover, they have yet to feature in the league. 

Bar Tristan Noack Hofmann, no local player has represented the club at senior LOI level since Michael Lee. The fact that four local players saw action against the likes of champions Dundalk in pre-season garnered great attention on both social media and local press so you would have to imagine that would be amplified if they were to play a number of First Division games in the second half of the season. With only 245 people turning out for the last home game at City Calling Stadium versus UCD, it is possible that figure could fall even lower when bottom side Wexford visit on Saturday. Prior to the UCD clash there was still a faint hope Longford could mount a title challenge this season but following that defeat to UCD and now to Waterford, those hopes are now long gone and with no relegation from the second tier, Saturday’s tie is now effectively a dead rubber. 

As already mentioned, only Waterford spent more on their playing squad than Longford for the 2017 season. With attendances as low as they are, the end of season prize money not even worth mentioning and a lack of match day/pub sponsors now likely given the lack of interest in the club locally, one would have to question if the wages been paid out are worth it going forward? Sitting third from bottom in an eight-team division and level on points with a side who are currently subject of an FAI investigation into irregular betting patterns, it does raise the question if a predominantly locally based side could do much worse? 

Sadly senior local league football in Longford is a far cry from the strength it experienced decades ago, with a lack of suitable playing surfaces available within the county and the standard suffering greatly as a result. However, with the under 17’s and under 19’s LOI now in place, there is finally a proper pathway on offer to talented youngsters with an ambition of playing LOI football. However, even those young players will admit the gap between under-age and First Division football is a large one to bridge so the club would have to explore other options. 

Nearby counties such as Westmeath and this season in particular Roscommon have grabbed attention with their local sides performing well on a national level. Boyle Celtic’s FAI junior cup run saw them surpass any local media coverage Longford Town have gained this season and the fact that a huge crowd came to show their support at their semi-final at the Showgrounds in Sligo shows the feel good factor that can be generated by a local team. Recently, Boyle had two of their players selected to represent the Republic of Ireland’s amateur international side, a team that David O’Sullivan was a key player for during his non league days. Perhaps these are the sort of players Longford could look to add in around young local lads such as Doherty, Beya, Dervin and Hofmann? 

These suggestions are of course just that, they would require a hell of a lot more thinking and analysing by the powers that be at Longford Town Football club, however we all saw the consequences of a lack of action at the top last season, when though decisions clearly had to be made but in-action followed. While there are no sporting consequences for finishing towards the bottom of the First Division, it would be a dangerous move for the club to just allow this season to drift away without some sort of plan for the future in place, other than just tossing money at another new manager and squad of players next season. Now is the time for a long term plan at Longford Town and perhaps a local emphasis is the way to go both on and off the pitch? 

 

 

Advertisements

Rival views – Cobh Ramblers

Longford Town v Cobh Ramblers

The View from the Opposition – By Thomas Stafford (@Thomas_Stafford)

jwh7qihh

Cobh make the trip to Longford for the first time since 2014 on Saturday following the conclusion of “De Town’s” two year spell in the Premier Division. There have been huge changes at Ramblers in that time, with the club now in a far better position both on and off the field.

Cobh are no longer a side merely existing in the First Division and now aim to compete for promotion on a yearly basis. Continue reading

Fans entry – Local support can help Longford achieve their goals

12_10_2014_ocean-n-harps-12-10-14_9999_261
Town fans celebrate 2014 title win on the Market square. Will these supporters return in 2017? (Image via ltfc.ie)

Local support can help Longford achieve their goals

By Shane Maguire (@betweenstripes)

After two very different seasons in the League of Ireland Premier Division, Longford Town FC are now faced with their first season back in what some call “The Graveyard” officially known as the First Division, which they won as recently as 2014. That season “De Town” finished in first place on 60 points, eight points ahead of then title rivals Shelbourne. In that title winning season Longford Town only lost on four occasions, in the season that followed Town lost a total of fourteen games. Pre-2015, many thought Town would struggle to stay up and fears were heightened after consecutive defeats at the hands of reigning champions Dundalk on the opening day and Shamrock Rovers the following week, as Premier Division football graced the City Calling Stadium for the first time in seven years. However, Town did go four games unbeaten after their shaky start, including wins away at Galway and at home to Bray. Results fluctuated in that 2015 season with uncertainty as to whether Town would finish in saftey until October when a surprise 3-2 away win at Turners Cross and a comprehensive 3-0 hammering of Drogheda United in United Park meant the club would retain its Premier Division status for 2016. Town eventually finished 6th and this was complimented further by an FAI Cup run which ended in a 2-0 semi-final defeat to eventual winners Dundalk.

Devout followers of Longford Town eagerly awaited the 2016 season, a season that promised the chance for something special to happen, perhaps a finish higher than the season before? The optimists even allowed themselves to dream of a 4th place finish which would give the club an outside chance at European football and why not? The club had a very good 2015 come the end of the season, poor results littered throughout and some questionable team selections and tactics from then manager Tony Cousins aside the club looked to be on the up with endless possibilities. This optimism was slowly killed by news during the off-season of the departure of big names. Captain Mark Salmon was let go to Bray, Gary Shaw joined Shamrock Rovers, Stephen Rice whose power and engine drove the team on in midfield swapped League of Ireland for the Irish League with a move to Glentoran, while Ayman Ben Mohammed the tricky winger with lots of pace joined Bohemians. Dean Kelly, Pat Sullivan and Mark Rossiter also departed the club. In the opinion of many Town supporters, no big effort was made to replace these names, most of whom were pivotal to the team both in 2014 and 2015. The players brought in did not have the desired impact and the Town suffered a humiliating 23 losses in 2016 winning only twice. In August Tony Cousins resigned and Longford Town’s most successful manager Alan Matthews was given the reigns. Matthews was unable to save the club from relegation, with what looked like a Tony Cousins budget squad, so 2017 is his chance to put his own stamp on the team and try to add a First Division title to the two FAI Cups and League Cup he won at his first spell with the club.

In 2017, I believe Matthews is key to Longford Town winning the First Division. It seemed the lack of planning and poor decisions were the team’s downfall in 2016 and that lies with the then manager. Matthews is experienced in the league and has bought well, exciting prospects include Dylan McGlade, Jake Kelly, Enda Curran and Stephen Walsh. The signing of two wingers and a striker to partner the clubs all-time leading goal-scorer Davy O’Sullivan shows Matthews intent to play an exciting attacking style of football. Stephen Walsh is brought in to replace the now retired Pat Flynn and has proved solid in his time with Galway. Being strong at the back is crucial in the First Division where goals are plentiful. In 2014 the team had 16 clean sheets, a number like this will be vital if “De Town” are serious about winning the title. The squad looks to be stronger in every position compared to 2016 and fans of Longford hope to see results similar to the title winning season of 2014.

In terms of rivalries, I can see only one threat in the form of Waterford F.C, formally Waterford United. Money talks in the First Division and Waterford seem to have it in spades, no sign of the club that nearly went bust under the guidance of Roddy Collins. Waterford have made a few impressive signings, local lad Kenny McEvoy, labelled “Baby Bale” the stand out signing has already scored in a pre-season game against Tranmore. The two squads of Longford Town and Waterford are evenly matched in terms of talent and they will undoubtedly be the top two. However, it is the dugouts that may play a large role in the destination of the title this season with Pat Fenlon and Alan Reynolds steering the “Blues” ship, while Alan Mathews has brought in familiar faces to him in the form of Kevin Doherty and Gary Cronin to work alongside. Both Doherty and Cronin are former LTFC players and new Longford striker Enda Curran spoke highly of the training sessions under the backroom staff to date in a recent interview on Between the Stripes. While Mathews has had a difficult few years since leaving Longford back in 2007, he is once again working at a financially stable club with people around him he can trust. These factors should help to galvanise the Midlands club and if the locals are to return in their droves to the City Calling Stadium and back the team vocally there is no reason “De Town” can’t achieve their goals this season.

Why Ryan Coulter can improve the Longford Town squad

As Longford Town FC continue to fight for their status as a Premier Division club, the Midlanders made their first signing of the July transfer earlier today with goalkeeper Ryan Coulter putting pen to paper at the City Calling Stadium. Continue reading

Where do we go from here?

Another week and another home defeat for Longford Town FC, who are yet to taste success at the City Calling Stadium in 2016 after a 1-0 defeat to Bohemians on Saturday night. A crowd of just over 200 people, which included at least 50 Bohemains supporters, watched on as Tony Cousins side remained rooted to the boot of the Premier Division table with little sight of escape from their current predicament. Once again it was an individual error that cost Town dear with defender Rhys Gorman failing to cut out a simple through ball, which eventually found its way to the feet of Kurtis Byrne who’s tame effort somehow managed to squeeze in past goalkeeper Paul Skinner at the near post. That was to be the signal for a small number of Longford Town FC fans to display a banner with two simple words on it which were ”cousins out” as frustration and disillusionment continue to grow within the dwindling fan base. Continue reading

The Longford story so far – A fresh face needed

Let’s not sugarcoat it, the 2016 season has been disastrous to date for Longford Town FC both on and off the pitch, with the clubs only saving grace and silver-lining the fact that Bray Wanderers have been equally as dreadful in the battle for survival. Continue reading

OPPOSITION WATCH: Derry City’s star players

In a new piece on ‘Between the Stripes, we will aim to bring you even more comprehensive match build up to go alongside our match previews with the introduction of ‘opposition watch’. This article will examine our next opponents key players and more importantly what Longford may need to do to stop them. First up is this weekends surprise package in the league to date, Derry City. Continue reading