I’ll borrow a phrase from the footballer’s twitter parlance when describing last night’s game in four words.
Three points. Move on.
Certainly moving on is what all of those 3,217 who endured City’s 1-0 win over Sligo Rovers intend to do - last night’s game is one of the few occasions when the Twitter character limit would have left ample room for the match report.
If not for Jimmy Keohane’s winner a quarter-hour from time - making his seventh appearance of 10 from the bench this season - it would have been a disastrous evening, but for a City side whose sole objective was to keep pace with league leaders, and with John Caulfield in the stands, it was a case of getting the job done heading into a trickier test at Dalymount Park this coming Friday.
The City manager – who’s back in the dugout this Friday, before returning to the venue where he earned his touchline ban the following Monday, as City face Waterford in the League Cup - spoke beforehand about his new players not quite gelling thus far, but promised they would get better.
Improvement didn’t materialise last night, as a disjointed City performance saw a late flurry get them over the line, though with Cummins’ early effort brilliantly turned away by Mitchell Beeney, and Barry McNamee somehow contriving to miss the target from a few steps out, there were genuine fears that City would drop further points to Dundalk at the top.
In amongst those flashes of good play, we saw the Rebel Army struggle to lay out a definitive gameplan, caught between trying to feed anonymous wingers Kieran Sadlier and Karl Sheppard, and being forced to again play long to Graham Cummins, who will wake up this morning with a crick in his neck from tracking the ball floating across the sky.
Sligo, for their part, weren’t much better going forward, but Ger Lyttle’s decision to start Adam Morgan on the bench was a signal of their intentions, as they sought to earn a bonus point on Leeside following last Saturday’s crucial victory over relegation rivals Limerick at Market’s Field.
To the Bit o Red’s credit, they defended compactly, with centre-back pairing of Kyle Callan-McFadden and Patrick McClean doing an excellent job of marshalling Cummins, the City front man increasingly having to push wide to get himself on the ball.
Neither Sadlier nor Sheppard were able to find any space to put a delivery into the box - that both City wingers were hauled off before the end is a glowing testament to Regan Donelon and Callum Waters’ exceptional performances at full-back for the visitors, who felt after the final whistle that they had done more than enough to earn a point at the home of the double-champions.
Whatever rare gaps appeared were being closed down by David Cawley and Rhys McCabe, who sat in front of their defensive line for the entirety of the game, even when Lyttle brought on Adam Morgan, Alaistar Roy, and Raffaele Cretaro, and played four up front in a bid to snatch a late equaliser. Cawley in particular put in some fabulous last-ditch tackles, and would have comfortably won man-of-the-match if only for the small caveat that it has to be given to a home player.
That honour was bestowed on Colm Horgan, and on the balance of things it was a fair call. The former Galway man has had a rocky start with the Rebel Army, but strong performances last Friday against St Patrick’s Athletic and again tonight against Sligo means at least the Rebel Army can count on a genuine right-back to fulfil the role.
Horgan kept a dangerous Caolán McAleer quiet for the entirety of the evening, as well as providing a genuine option for Sheppard when he ran into trouble down the right flank, supplying a few crosses that could have been turned home by a frontline with more confidence.
Sean McLoughlin was outstanding as ever, further solidifying his place in the centre of the Rebel Army defence, and building on the beginnings of what could be an bright partnership between himself and McCarthy, who barely put a foot wrong all evening as the Rebel Army have yet to concede a home league goal this season.
However, a clean sheet against a side battling relegation without any recognised strikers in their starting eleven, while appreciated, isn’t going to distract City supporters from the difficulties that lie further up the pitch.
Josh O’Hanlon came on for a bit late on but still looks a long way off challenging for Graham Cummins’ attacking spot, and while Conor McCormack’s captaincy style can be generously described as merciless, throwing your hands in the air and punching the turf with your fist will do little to motivate a team that’s clearly lacking confidence.
City should still limp over the line against Bohs on Friday, but with so much yet to click, the visit of a Dundalk side in flying form next week means the promised improvement is needed soon if they want to avoid losing further ground at the top of the table.