Article by Kieran Burke
Ahead of Saturday night's potentially season defining matchup between Longford Town FC and Shelbourne at the City Calling Stadium, LTFC.ie reporter, Kieran Burke looks back on "De Town's" 2018 campaign to date and how missed opportunities have led to a winner takes all tie between Longford and the "Reds" this weekend.
Longford Town 2-2 Cobh Ramblers
Rarely gifted an opening day home tie in recent years, Longford Town fans long winter wait to see their totally new look side in action finally came to an end at the end of February, as 2017 runners up, Cobh Ramblers made the long trip to the Midlands for an intriguing week one clash.
Two nil up after forty-three minutes and cruising, nobody could have envisaged Neale Fenn's side leaving the Strokestown Road with anything less than maximum points but a soft goal from a set-piece and a late defensive error from debutant, Mick McDonnell, who had been superb throughout his first ever League of Ireland game, meant the Rams got out of jail and headed back to the Island with a share of the spoils.
Longford Town 3-0 Wexford FC
The Longford faithful were truly spoiled by the FAI's fixtures machine at the start of this season with back to back home ties for Neale Fenn's men. Last season's second bottom side Wexford FC came to Town full of confidence after an opening day away victory over a highly fancied Cabinteely side and in truth Damien Locke's charges caused "De Town" far more issues than the hosts would have liked on the night.
Chris Mulhall finally broke the Wexford resistance after thirty-seven minutes but the south-east based side had a couple of opportunities on the break prior to Mulhall's opener as Neale Fenn's famous high line tactics gave the paying public a few heart palpitations throughout.
However, when Mulhall grabbed his and Longford's second with just ten minutes left on the clock, any thoughts of back to back home slipups were now firmly at the back of Town fans minds. In fact, it got even better five minutes later when the returning Dylan McGlade weaved his magic to put Longford three nil up, securing all three points in typical McGlade fashion.
Shelbourne 3-2 Longford Town
Having claimed a first win of the campaign just six days previous against a much-improved Wexford FC from last season, Longford Town fans headed to Tolka Park in confident mood as club legend, Davy O'Sullivan got set to reacquaint himself with the supporters he had served so well for five seasons. However, it would be that man O'Sullivan who quickly became the Longford Town villain as "Sully" bagged a hat-trick to down "De Town" in one of the games of the season in either division.
Miscontrol off a short Longford goal-kick allowed O'Sullivan to pounce on thirteen-minutes as Sam Verdon attempted to make up for his initial mistake with a last-gasp challenge inside the area and although the former St.Pat's man clearly won the ball, referee David Keeler pointed to the spot before O'Sullivan tucked it away to open the scoring on the night.
Verdon deservedly got Longford back on level terms just before the break as he linked up wonderfully with Mulhall on the edge of the area before curling a delicate effort past veteran goalkeeper, Dean Delaney. Just moments later, Verdon riffled a vicious strike off the Shels crossbar to leave the hosts delighted with parity at half-time.
Everyone expected Longford to kick on and start the second half like they ended the first but the fiery nature of the game seemed to affect Neale Fenn's players, who uncharacteristically started to play very long balls into the Shelbourne defence, which were easily defended in all honesty.
O'Sullivan put Owen Heary's team ahead again on seventy-two minutes as the former Irish amateur international found himself in between Town's two centre-halfs before placing a headed effort past the on-rushing Mick Kelly.
A twenty-two-man brawl was then to follow as Dylan McGlade let his emotions get the better of him, resulting in a straight red card but despite that Sam Verdon popped up YET AGAIN for De Town to rifle one through a packed penalty area and secure what everyone thought would be a deserved share of the spoils.
However, it was just one of those nights when nothing went Longford's way and deep into second-half stoppage time, Peter Hopkins made contact with a Shels opponent inside the eighteen-yard box and as a result David O'Sullivan stepped up to sink De Town and trigger wild celebrations with the home fans.
Longford Town 5-1 Athlone Town
Following the trauma of events in Tolka Park, Longford would have been delighted to return to home soil and face local rivals, Athlone Town in the first Midlands derby of the season. Unbeaten against the Westmeath club in 2017, Longford's chances were greatly increased given Athlone's horrendous start to the campaign, which included facing Cabinteely the week previous without a goalkeeper due to registration issues.
The now departed Athlone manager, Aaron Callaghan managed to draft in Shaun O'Donnell to play between the posts against Longford and in truth only for him it would have been a much heavier defeat for the leagues bottom side.
Goals from Chris Mulhall (x2), Dean Byrne (x2) and Evan Galvin put the gloss on an extremely comfortable Longford win, despite the fact Rory McCullough had given Athlone the lead thanks to a twenty-five-yard wondergoal just seconds into the first half!
Notably, this was Aodh Dervin's first start of the season for Longford Town and given the local midfielders incredible performances since then, this may be a game Town fans look back on with great pride in many years down the line.
Galway United 0-0 Longford Town
A first shut-out of the season for Neale Fenn's charges but a fantastic performance away from home against a Galway side that many had tipped for league title success this season.
Having been downed by David O'Sullivan just a fortnight ago, many Town fans feared the powers of another ex-Red & Black man as Ryan Connolly lined out with the captain's armband for the hosts. However, even Galway United supporters would leave Eamonn Deacy Park that night muttering the name of Aodh Dervin, who showed despite his small stature was more than capable of mixing it with full-time professionals.
Three glorious chances went a begging for Longford in the second-half, which meant a share of the spoils would have to do Neale Fenn's side, but the positives of the overall team performance proved invaluable in terms of restoring the team's confidence on the road.
Longford Town 3-0 Cabinteely
Similarly, to the three nil home win against Wexford FC, Longford Town were not at their free flowing best despite a compressive score line to suggest otherwise against Pat Devlin's Cabinteely.
Goals from Shane Elworthy, Dean Byrne and Peter Hopkins gave De Town yet another home win but had Cabinteely been sharper in front of goal on the night, it could have been a much more difficult night at the office for Fenn and co.
Drogheda United 1-1 Longford Town
Yet more late heartbreak for Longford on the road as Ciaran Kelly's ninety-fifth minute strike secured Drogheda United an unwarranted piece of the pie at United Park.
A master class midfield performance from Aodh Dervin helped Longford gain a stranglehold on proceedings at the County Louth venue and when Dean Byrne bagged a twenty-yard screamer on the hour mark, Longford looked likely to go and get a second as Drogheda left themselves exposed to the counter attack time after time.
However, the away side somehow failed to grab that killer goal and when United were awarded a free-kick with virtually the last attack of the match, Ciaran Kelly found himself on the end of a loose ball before hitting the sweetest of left-footed volleys into the bottom corner to send the small home crowd into raptures.
As disappointing as the result was, Neale Fenn's players again proved their ability to mix it with the very best in the division and will be eager to re-write this result when the sides meet next.
Longford Town 0-2 UCD
In virtually every league game this season, Longford Town have looked just as good if not better than the vast majority of opponents faced. However, not even the most die-hard Longfordian could have argued with the result on the night when UCD AFC came to the City Calling Stadium earlier this season.
A second half double from the division's top marksman, Georgie Kelly, gave Collie O'Neill's table toppers a totally deserved away win and for what it's worth, they did it in style. Dominating possession, interlinking even under a high press from the hosts and most importantly of all taking the chances when they eventually came their way, it's going to take a very good side to topple UCD in 2018.
Longford Town 1-2 Finn Harps
Back to back home defeats for the first time this season but unlike the UCD game a week previous, you would have found very few fans on either side saying Longford Town deserved to lose this one.
Despite falling behind early to a fine, yet far too easy, strike from Mark Coyle, the hosts soon regained their composure on the ball, despite some questionable Harps tackles, to create chance after chance at the City Calling Stadium.
A brilliant long-range effort from Dylan McGlade gave Longford the impetuous going into the second half but a combination of poor finishing and just sheer bad luck meant "De Town" went into stoppage time still desperately searching for a late winner.
However, a last-action of the game mistake from goalkeeper, Mick Kelly meant it was in fact the Donegal outfit who grabbed a late triumph over the Town, to the sheer amazement of everyone in the ground.
Given the nature of Kelly's error, the reaction shown since by the former Cabinteely 'keeper must be commended as the giant between the posts has not only continued to look a good shot-stopper but his distribution is right up there with any goalkeeper in either division.
Cobh Ramblers 0-1 Longford Town
The pressure was now well and truly on Neale Fenn and his players to make the long journey to Cobh and pick up a much needed three points off the back of two home defeats on the bounce. With the sides at the top showing no sign of letting up, it was crucial for the Midlands outfit to keep in touch with the promotion places.
And that's exactly what Longford did thanks to an early Sam Verdon strike at a difficult St.Colman's Park venue. With chances at a premium, there was always a fear one goal would never be enough but perhaps this was exactly the test Longford needed after some game management issues in the weeks previous as Mick Kelly and his back four held out for a crucial clean sheet on the road.
Wexford FC 0-2 Longford Town
Having made two grueling trips to Cobh in the space of three days, due to League Cup commitments, there were some concerns among the Town faithful as to the possible effects it may have on Neale Fenn's playing staff ahead of another difficult trip to Wexford in the First Division.
Despite a far from ideal playing surface, something this possession obsessed Longford Town team have had to contend with in the second tier this season, it was a comfortable night's work for the promotion hopefuls as goals either side of the break by Jamie Hollywood and Chris Mulhall gained the Midlanders all three points.
Hollywood's first-half strike will surely be a goal of the season contender and the fact the former Drogheda man has made such an impact in place of the injured Aodh Dervin in recent weeks shows the strength and depth in this Longford Town squad.
The general feeling around the Town at present is with just one or two quality summer additions, this Longford squad have a real chance of gaining promotion back to the Premier Division, while most pleasing off all is the fact Neale Fenn and his coaching staff are demanding that goal is achieved in the right fashion with huge importance placed on the team's style of play, fitness levels and ultimate professionalism both on and off the pitch.
If you are yet to take in a Town game this season, this Saturday's home league tie with Owen Heary's Shelbourne is the perfect opportunity to do so. Sharing five goals, two red cards and tones of controversy last time out, Saturday's match up has the potential to be one of the games of the season, while sunshine is also promised. Here's hoping lady luck will be shinning on the Red & Black this time around.
TOP SCORER: Chris Mulhall (6)
TOP PERFORMER: Aodh Dervin – Local lad Dervin has shown leadership and battling qualities years beyond his youthfulness and it's no surprise to hear his name being mentioned as a potential Ireland star of the future, following Graham Burke's call up by Martin O'Neill earlier this week.
On the verge of returning from a nasty ankle injury sustained at home to Finn Harps recently, Dervin is sure to make up for lost time given the explosive nature of his play and will be a key asset to Neale Fenn for the remainder of the campaign.
BEST NEWCOMER: Mick McDonnell – This has been McDonnell's first ever season in League of Ireland football, having arrived from Newbridge Town in pre-season and quite simply the towering centre-half has been a revelation.
Quickly forming a rock-solid partnership alongside the excellent Daniel O'Reilly, McDonnell has shown superb character to bounce back from a desperately unlucky mistake on his debut at home to Cobh Ramblers. In fact, a number of Fenn's charges have reacted similarly to errors of their own this season, such as goalkeeper Mick Kelly, whose mistake against Finn Harps proved costly and Sam Verdon, who's poor touch against Shelbourne allowed Davy O'Sullivan to open his account on the night, and that must be hugely pleasing for the rookie Town boss, who is clearly getting 110% effort and commitment from his players each and every week.