Back-to-back home defeats for Longford Town have taken some of the shine off what had otherwise been an encouraging return to the Premier Division as goals from Chris Lyons, Hugh Douglas and a double from Mark Doyle saw fellow promotees Drogheda United record the biggest win of any side in either division so far this season.
Despite a mildly encouraging opening ten minutes or so at a bitterly cold Bishopsgate on Saturday evening, it was last season’s First Division winners who hit the front thanks to the scrappiest of tap-ins from the in-form Mark Doyle who has scored three goals in his last two games.
Falling behind is not something “De Town” are unaccustomed to having done so in their previous two games against Bohemians and Sligo before staging brave late rallies but on this occasion, Longford boss Daire Doyle admitted his team did not respond well to falling behind.
“No, we didn’t (react to falling behind) and you mention it, we did start the game quite well, we caused them (Drogheda) a number of problems with the midfield with Dylan Grimes, in particular, causing them all sorts of problem and we had a couple of opportunities before they scored and had one of them went in…..” pondered Doyle after the full-time whistle. Going on further to analyse the chances in the game Doyle highlighted the contrast in composure shown by the Drogheda goalscorers compared to the chances he feels his team wasted on the night. “Rob (Manley) probably has a free header and he probably rushes it and again there’s a chance at the back-post where he pokes at it with the right foot when he probably has a bit of time to take it down and finish it and it’s that bit of composure we probably lacked when you look at their goals in the second half they picked us off and done a very professional job on us” concluded a disappointed Town manager.
Given the familiarity both Longford and Drogheda share with one another from their multiple First Division battles in years gone by it was certainly surprising to see Longford suckered in time after time by Tim Clancy’s team on the counter-attack with three of the four goals coming on the break while man-mountain Hugh Douglas was left totally unmarked to power home a header off a Drogs set-piece. Asked why his team had not learned from previous mistakes in such areas Doyle declared the result as something of a “wakeup call” for his players.
“We know what Drogheda are all about, we played them enough times over the last number of years and we had the upper hand in those games so we’ve managed ourselves quite well in those games but tonight we haven’t. We had three at the back tonight and had to change it to a four because we were a bit open and they were causing us problems so we’ve gone back to the four and they’ve scored another goal or two which is disappointing as well. Individually we’ve had the best player on the pitch in Dylan Grimes but they’ve picked us off and punished us, it’s a disappointing night for us after some encouraging performances up to this point and it’s probably a little wake-up call for us with a big reaction needed in the week and what we can’t do is let that affect our mentality within the group, we’ve got a strong group here and we’ve a big game next week against Shamrock Rovers” said Doyle.
A trip to the Champions is always a daunting prospect but for Longford Town the next week could be a major moment in their season even this early on with the game in Tallaght followed just seventy-two hours later by the visit of league leaders Finn Harps to Longford. A heavy defeat in the capital followed by a third consecutive home loss would really shake the confidence of what is a very young and inexperienced group of players at this level with the task being made even tougher by the loss of captain Dean Zambra to injury while promising talents such as Dean Byrne, Callum Warfield and Aaron McNally all face spells out through injury at present.
Despite all of that, Doyle is adamant fixtures like Shamrock Rovers are exactly why Longford Town fought so hard for promotion via the play-offs in 2020. “These are the games that we wanted to get into this league to play so we need to go into that and be ready and we need a reaction and a strong performance” commented Doyle.
Expanding further on the rapidly growing injury list at Longford Town, Doyle agreed that veteran Dean Zambra is a bigger loss than many critics often give the midfielder credit for but that there are positives on the fitness front with the return of Rob Manley who albeit looked slightly off the pace in Saturday’s defeat to Drogheda will be a key player for De Town over the coming weeks and months.
“We’ve had a couple of injuries but we were thankful we had Rob Manley back and that was a big plus as we weren’t expecting him back so soon. On Dean Zambra, yes, that was a big one and it happened on Tuesday evening as he saw someone yesterday (Friday) and then we knew he’d miss this evening and you mention yourself the job he does, sometimes it’s unseen in there but he gets in all those positions which block holes, cover passes, matches runs which stop the opposition getting chances so of course, we miss someone of his experience in there” replied the Longford boss.
However, while his options for upcoming games are now depleted Doyle is not using that as an excuse and issued his squad players something of a challenge by saying this was now an opportunity for someone to step up to the plate and fill such voids in De Town’s starting XI.”It’s still not an excuse, we fully back the players we have on the pitch, we’ve got done 4-0 out there tonight but I’ve mentioned enough times the quality we have in the squad so it’s always a chance for someone to step up to it, tonight maybe we didn’t do that all over the pitch or do ourselves justice to some of the players that came in” concluded Doyle.