Conan Byrne’s second half goal inflicted a first defeat in five games on Longford Town as leaders Shelbourne were lucky to collect all three points in the First Division clash at Tolka Park on Friday night last.
Airtricity League - Shelbourne 1, Longford Town 0
Byrne converted a cross from substitute Chris Mulhall in the 72nd minute and although there was time for the Town to get something out of the game they just couldn’t get the equaliser their display deserved. Their cause was certainly not helped by some dubious decisions by the match officials with a few tight offside calls going against the visitors.
It could have been so different for Longford if referee Sean Grant awarded them a penalty in the 62nd minute which was the main talking point. But the Wexford official was that far away from play that he couldn’t see what happened and booked Town striker Don Cowan for diving. Even the Shelbourne players after the game were amazed that a spot-kick wasn’t given.
Too often referees favour the so-called ‘bigger’ teams and that was the case for Shels at Tolka Park last weekend. The Town have been so unlucky in recent games against Alan Matthews side; in the first game of the season at Flancare Park Shels keeper Dean Delaney should have walked for a foul on Cowan and then this incident in Tolka. Town manager Tony Cousins and his players will hold their hands up after defeats and admit when they don’t deserve something out of a game but when you don’t get ‘fair play’ that’s another issue.
The penalty incident was a big decision in the game. At that stage it was 0-0 and although they had enjoyed the greater share of the possession Shels actually didn’t look like scoring with the best chances falling to the Town. Cowan and his strike partner Austin Skelly weren’t able to train ahead of the game due to injuries but you wouldn’t know that from their performances.
This was always going to be a tight contest as in recent meetings very little had separated the sides. On their last two visits to Tolka the Town had come away with positive results. In 2009 they emerged 5-4 winners in a thrilling encounter and last season they grabbed a dramatic last minute equaliser.
With injuries and a suspension Cousins had to re-shuffle his starting line-up from the side that drew 1-1 with Cork City in their last outing. A bad blow for the Town is that central defender Chris Deans will be out for a while with a back injury but there is some good news in that full-back Graham Dowling should be fit to return in a few weeks.
Cathal Brady made a rare start for the Town. The winger has been unsettled since the arrival of Keith Gillespie. Although he’s getting his games Gillespie has yet to really impress the Town faithful and it must be tough on both Brady and Craig Walsh who have had to make way for the former Northern Ireland International.
It was all Shelbourne in the opening quarter as the visitors found it hard to get any rhythm going with keeper Paul Hunt forced to make a smart save. In the 17th minute the Town had their first effort on goal; Jack Morley whipped in a corner but Austin Skelly headed over.
Then Shels keeper Delaney was called into action twice in quick succession. After saving well from Don Cowan, the breaking ball came back out to Cowan and he laid it off for Mark Salmon who really should have done better with his effort as Delaney was able to deny the Town again.
The Town started the second half brightly and after two minutes were unlucky not to break the deadlock. Morley played the ball into Cowan who slotted his shot past the advancing Delaney but unfortunately for the striker his effort just went wide.
Shels decided to make changes and substitute Chris Mulhall made a difference when he came on in the 59th minute. Three minutes after his introduction Mulhall forced a fantastic save out of Paul Hunt.
The action moved swiftly up the other end and Cowan went to ground under a challenge but the referee, who was a good bit away, was quick to run into the box and flash a yellow card at the Town striker. It was a turning point and 10 minutes later Shels opened the scoring when Conan Byrne found the back of the Longford net.
Two minutes from time Byrne had a chance to wrap up the points but he put his effort wide when it was easier to score. As the clock ticked into additional time the Town almost snatched a last gasp equaliser - Keith Gillespie’s free-kick found defender Des Hope but he headed the ball over the bar.
SHELBOURNE: Dean Delaney, Gareth Matthews, Andy Boyle, Ian Ryan, Lorcan Fitzgerald, Conan Byrne, David McGill, David Cassidy, Barry Clancy, Philip Hughes, Karl Bermingham.
Subs:- Chris Mulhall for Clancy (59 mins); Kevin Dawson for McGill (65 mins); Ray Scully for Hughes (83 mins).
LONGFORD TOWN: Paul Hunt, Thomas Hyland, Paddy Collins, Des Hope, Gary Cronin, Cathal Brady, Keith Gillespie, Mark Salmon, Jack Morley, Don Cowan, Austin Skelly.
Subs:- Lee Roche for Skelly (69 mins); Craig Walsh for Brady (75 mins); Aidan Roche for Morley (83 mins).
Referee: Sean Grant (Wexford).