Prior to the start of the 2017 season, not too many would have envisaged this meeting of Longford Town and Wexford FC as being a bottom-of the table encounter, however after respective poor runs of form nothing more than pride is realistically on the line in the Midlands on Saturday night (kick-off 7:30PM).
Alan Mathews Longford Town team come into this home-tie off the back of a horrendous couple of weeks which has saw “De Town” go not only four games in all competitions without a win but also without scoring a single goal. The last time the “Red and Black” of Longford successfully found the back of the opposition net was on April 29th, in the now infamous Midlands derby against Athlone Town as Enda Curran bagged a hat-trick. That result had saw the Midlands outfit claim back to back home wins for the first-time in 2017, however hopes of a treble failed dramatically when UCD left with all three points and 1-0 win just a fortnight ago.
Last Friday’s defeat away to league leaders Waterford FC, also a 1-0 scoreline, sees “De Town” enter this weekends round of fixtures an astonishing fifteen-points off the pace, with manager Alan Mathews admitting it is now extremely unlikely his side will play Premier Division football next season. Continue reading →
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.
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.
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?
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?
Having previously gone almost eighteen long months without a home win, Longford Town will be looking for a third consecutive home triumph on the bounce when they host surprise title contenders UCD on Saturday.
Despite being among the youngest squads in the league, Collie O’Neills UCD have proven a number of doubters wrong by climbing to within a point of heavy title favourites and big spenders Waterford FC at the top of the table. With six wins from their opening eleven league matches, UCD have double the amount of W’s on the board compared to a Longford side who also got the cheque book out quite regularly during the off-season, in the hope of an instant return to the top flight.
However, it’s been a slow start for Alan Mathews side, who failed to break down a well organised Cabinteely side at the weekend, a result which saw Longford Town’s wait for consecutive league continue. Incredibly, the tail end of the 2015 season is the last time the Midlands club managed to claim back to back league wins, that is a record that must change immediately if ”De Town” are to show the kind of constancy required to mount a title challenge.
Injuries have played a role in Longford’s inconsistency this season and the news that record goal-scorer David O’Sullivan is to be sidelined for a prolonged spell certainly comes as unwelcome to Town followers. A lack of ruthlessness in front of goals has been Longford’s biggest issue this season, with Enda Curran the latest Town striker to miss an absolute sitter in the recent meeting with ”CABO”, so for O’Sullivan to now be unavailable is a major headache for boss Alan Mathews to contend with. Perhaps the option of deploying strikers turned wingers Cody Mulhall and Don Cowan in a more central position will be a route Mathews decides to go down at some stage, but with Jake Kelly and Dylan McGlade struggling for form it would certainly leave Longford lacking in wide areas.
On the bright side for the Longford coaching staff, the teams defensive shape has certainly come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks with the back four of Mark Langtry, Stephen Walsh, Daniel O’Reilly and Tristan Noack Hofmann (Click hereto read an exclusive interview with the young Town star) now picking itself every week, while Dean Zambra is growing into his role as midfield protector with every passing game.
The only previous meeting between Longford and UCD this season came at the UCD Bowl, where a fine first half showing by the ”Students” blew a lacklustre Longford away. Despite putting in one of their worst performances of the season, Longford could have still left Dublin with a point to their credit as a youthful UCD tired dramatically in the second period and again only for poor finishing ”De Town” could have gone home with a different result. It will be interesting to see if O’Neill’s side are still struggling with their stamina now that we are into the second series of games, as this would certainly be a hindrance to his side in sustaining their early title challenge.
Poor playing surfaces have been a constant talking point throughout the 2017 League of Ireland season, particularly in the First Division but the crucible like surface at City Calling Stadium should see both sides encouraged to get the ball down and play some attractive football.
With a trip to rivals Waterford next on the cards for Longford Town, this game certainly falls into the must win category, with the gap to the ”Blues” already standing at nine-points ahead of this upcoming round of games. With a real injury crisis currently taking place at the RSC, plus the loss of key players who’s loan deals with Swindon Town have now expired, this may be Longford’s only realistic opportunity to catch Waterford FC napping and they will have to take that chance starting Saturday night against UCD!
Prediction: Longford Town 1-0 UCD– With Longford showing a lot more steel at the back in recent weeks the onus will he on their attacking players to find the key to winning this game. Expect a big performance from lone striker Enda Curran who has scored 5 goals in his last two home appearances.
Prior to the start of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League season, very few would have predicted the meetings between local rivals Longford Town and Athlone Town would carry such significance, at least not in the lower reaches of the First Division standings. While Athlone’s off season sagas led to predictions of a wooden spoon finish for the year ahead, Alan Mathews Longford set off as joint favorites among the bookmakers for promotion back to the Premier League, which the “Red and Black” were of course relegated from in 2016. However, nine games into the new campaign and it is the “Blue and Black” of Athlone who lead the way in the battle of the Midlands clubs, as the currently managerless side sit seventh, one point above their arch rivals
Travelling all of the 137.8 miles to be at the City Calling Stadium this week will be fans of a rejuvenated Waterford FC. It’s a long way to play “De Town” – but we live in hope the journey is worth the trip.
Longford have a few things in common with us. We both had long spells in a greyhound stadium, both won the FAI Cup twice, Alan Kirby remains a favourite of both sides and Longford Town’s biggest league defeat is 8-1…courtesy of us! We also share a particular cup final in October of 2004 which gives me more nightmares then when I first saw The Shining! Continue reading →
Longford Town will not only be looking to end a two-game losing streak on Saturday evening when they host Waterford FC at the City Calling Stadium, but the Midlanders will also be hoping to gain a first home win since the tail-end of the 2015 season! Under the stewardship of Tony Cousins, Gary Cronin and then Alan Mathews during the disastrous 2016 season, “De Town” failed to win a single league or cup match (excluding Leinster Senior Cup) on home soil Continue reading →