Longford Town left Shannonside with all three points as Limerick failed to live up to expectations once more at their home venue. Goals from Noel Haverty and Colm James ensured that Shane Tracy’s penalty was merely academic on the night as the Town won by a scoreline of two goals to one.
In what seems to have become a trend, Pat Scully changed his formation and personnel once more for Limerick’s bigger games. Bringing in young Steven McGann for a game of such importance seemed a strange choice. That action was overshadowed by his selection of Shaun Kelly in midfield. Kelly, who is a full back by trade, set out as a winger for the tie. Limerick lined out in a 4-2-3-1 formation; isolating Denis Behan up front.
Longford made the brave decision of switching to a 4-4-2 with Karl Bermingham and Gary Shaw given the responsibility of providing the attacking threat for the away side.
It was Longford who took control of the game from the off. The swift passing of Mark Salmon and Keith Gillespie ensured Limerick had to really press Longford to try and win the ball back.
We had to wait almost half an hour for the first real chance of the game. Paudie Quinn was played clean through on the inside right position. Before the youngster could even begin to strike the ball, the impeccable Craig Hyland had blocked the effort and cleared for a throw.
It was Quinn again moments later who almost put the home side ahead. Shane Tracy worked his creative magic on the left wing by producing an accurate cross for the head of Quinn. The headed effort seemed to be destined for the net, but just looped over the crossbar, much to the despair of the 1,200 strong crowd.
It was the turn of Hyland to show, once more, what he was made of as he produced a double save worthy of any football highlights show in the world. Two successive headers were acrobatically parried away from the face of goal by the young stopper. The first save arrived when Hyland blocked Behan’s header from close range, while the second was even more impressive. Having been grounded as a result of the first stop, Hyland leaped into the air to claw away a second headed effort from Shaun Kelly.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, with Longford dominating the ball in the middle of the park. The away side only had to wait eight minutes to break the deadlock in this half however. From what looked a rather unthreatening throw in, Thomas Crawley produced a Superman-like heave into the box. The unmarked Noel Haverty met the looping throw at the back post with a header that flashed past Barry Ryan in the Limerick goal.
Pat Scully reacted by introducing Rory Gaffney and Shaun Brosnan shortly afterwards, but again, very little end product was on display to the bumper crowd.
The best chance of the game for either side arrived just shy of the hour mark. A perfectly placed Shane Tracy corned found Shane Guthrie at the near post. His flick diverted the ball’s path toward Paudie Quinn at the back post. His outstretched leg somehow managed to launch the ball over the bar from no more than three yards out.
Longford could easily have doubled their lead after seventy minutes as Daniel Purdy beat the offside trap in behind the Limerick back four. He dinked an effort over the head of Barry Ryan, but the tireless Shaun Kelly rushed back to clear off the line.
Denis Behan should have equalised for the home side with twenty minutes remaining but his header couldn’t find the net.
Limerick were denied was seemed a clear penalty shortly afterwards for a blatant handball, but ironically, karma produced a spot kick for the same offence no more than sixty seconds later. Haverty handled inside his own box following a measured cross from Corie Treacy. Shane Tracy stepped up confidently and slotted down the middle to even the game.
Just as the home crowd believed their side would go on to win the game; they were hit with the ultimate sucker punch. Gary Shaw chased what looked a lost cause on the left flank, but after Pat Purcell failed to shepherd the ball out of play, Shaw managed to get his cross into the danger zone. His persistence was rewarded when the drilled cross was headed home by Colm James from all of six yards.
Longford defended resolutely for the remainder of the tie and secured their first win on Shannonside since August 2009. Pat Scully will feel the pressure while Tony Cousins will be more than happy to capitalise on tactical errors.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Corie Treacy, Pat Purcell, Shane Guthrie, Andrew Bhandarkar (Rory Gaffney 56); Steven McGann (Stephen Bradley 69), Joe Gamble, Paudie Quinn (Sean Brosnan 62), Shane Tracy, Shaun Kelly; Denis Behan.
Subs not used: Dave Ryan, David O’Leary, Brian O’Callaghan, Garbhan Coughlan.
Booked: Shaun Kelly (3).
Longford Town: Craig Hyland; Noel Haverty, Des Hope, Chris Deans, Thomas Crawley; Colm James, Keith Gillespie, Mark Salmon, Alan Kirby (Michael Lee 91); Gary Shaw, Karl Bermingham (Austin Skelly 56 (Daniel Purdy 64)).
Subs not Used: Paul Hunt, Sean Skelly, Gary Cronin, Graham Dowling.
Booked: Deans (26).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Craig Hyland (Longford Town).