Rattled by the concession of a controversial ‘goal’ in the closing stages of the first half, Longford Town eventually recovered to snatch a vital victory in the League of Ireland First Division with defender Chris Deans scoring a bizarre winner in the third minute of stoppage time at wet and windy Flancare Park on Saturday night last.
AIRTRICITY LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION - LONGFORD TOWN 2, MERVUE UNITED 1
A couple of lucky breaks saved the home side from a surprise defeat as Mervue United were looking good for all three points, only to press the self destruct button. The Town were thrown a lifeline when the visitors conceded an own goal in the 77th minute, central defender Eric Browne directing a wayward header into the net in a frantic attempt to cut out a corner from Jacques Morley
That was a huge lift for Longford who completely dominated the remainder of this generally scrappy encounter played in difficult conditions and it took a terrific save by the Mervue keeper Ger Hanley to keep out a low drive from substitute Lee Roche that was heading for the corner of the net in the 88th minute.
Moments later, Mark Salmon had a shot blocked in his bid to hit the target but with time almost up the Mervue netminder Hanley turned from hero to villain when he completely misjudged the flight of the ball in failing to deal with a speculative long delivery from Deans that ended up in the back of the net much to the sheer delight of the home supporters among the 250 attendance who braved the adverse weather.
After also winning their previous two games against Athlone (EA Sports Cup) and Wexford Youths in the league, Longford Town have managed to make a great start to the new season despite the unlucky defeat against Shelbourne in the opening fixture and manager Tony Cousins will be hoping that the good run can continue away to Limerick this Friday night.
Injury prevented the first choice goalkeeper Alvin Rouse from featuring in the match against Mervue and he was replaced by Stephen Conlon who made a couple of crucial saves in the second half when the Galway side went close to scoring a killer second goal on the counter-attack.
While the Town made the better start with Deans knocking a header wide in the 9th minute, keeper Conlon and his defence were caught in a complete tangle following a Mervue corner that created a free header for Browne but he missed a clear-cut chance of breaking the deadlock in the 20th minute.
Longford almost took the lead in the 26th minute when a Mark Salmon shot was parried by the opposing keeper Hanley with the ball breaking into the path of Craig Walsh but he mis-kicked when a goal was there for the taking.
Mervue then began to enjoy a dominant spell and after Mark Ludden had a goal attempt blocked down by Town defender Graham Dowling who saved the home side from going behind in the 34th minute, that scenario materialised moments later when a Mike Tierney strike from outside the box caught out the completely stranded Conlon in hitting the underside of the crossbar and the official doing the line awarded a controversial goal, ruling that the ball had crossed the line.
The Longford supporters were furious with this decision, which clearly appeared to be a wrong call, and things almost went from bad to worse when the Mervue playmaker Tierney had a headed goal disallowed for offside in the 39th minute.
Another setback was suffered when Town defender Graham Dowling was forced to retire injured on the stroke of half-time and a great chance of the equaliser was squandered with eight minutes gone in the second half – substitute Aidan Roche shooting wide when put through by Mark Salmon.
Salmon was asserting his usual influence in the midfield sector and almost scored in the 65th minute after having a close range shot blocked down. But Mervue then had a couple of clear-cut opportunities of inflicting the knock out blow but the Town keeper Conlon done really well to save point-blank efforts from Jason Molloy (67 mins) and Mike Tierney (75 mins).
Longford looked in trouble at this stage but the own goal equaliser came to the rescue and the rousing recovery was complete with the last gasp winner from Chris Deans in a dramatic finish.
LONGFORD TOWN (4-5-1): Stephen Conlon; Graham Dowling, Chris Deans, Des Hope, Michael Lee; Cathal Brady, Craig Walsh, Thomas Hyland, Mark Salmon, Jacques Morley; Don Cowan.
Subs:- Niall O’Reilly for Dowling (injured, 45 mins); Aidan Roche for Brady (half-time); Lee Roche for Walsh (69 mins).
MERVUE UNITED (4-5-1): Ger Hanley; Nicky Curran, Eric Browne, Martin Connelly, James Casserly; David Goldbey, Kevin Crehan, Mike Tierney, Noel Varley, Mark Ludden; Jason Molloy.
Subs:- Barry McEntee for Tierney (90 mins); Peter Dravins for Molloy (92 mins).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald (Dublin).