FRIDAY: SSE Airtricity League First Division: Athlone Town v Cork City, Athlone Town Stadium, 7.45pm.
CORK CITY will be looking to keep their slim hopes of reaching the play-offs alive when they face Athlone Town tonight.
The Rebel Army sit second bottom in the league, seven points adrift of their opponents, who occupy the final play-off position. City manager Colin Healy will expect a reaction from his players after their disappointing 2-0 defeat against Cabinteely last weekend.
It’s not just the result that would have upset the City manager but the performance as well.
At times this season City have been unlucky in games, but they can have no complaints about their result against Pat Devlin’s side, in what must be described as their worst performance of the season. City’s biggest issue this season has been scoring goals.
They have just found the back of the net just once in their last four matches and have only registered 10 goals this season — five of those were in one game against Wexford Youths.
Healy’s side have improved defensively and do have a lot of possession in games but lack quality in the final third of the pitch. Although I do believe that the City strikers have not done enough to trouble defences, they have had very little quality supply.
Most of the balls that the strikers have had played to them are ‘fight balls’, where they are just having a wrestling match against defenders or passes that the strikers are second-favourites to get to.
The defeat against Cabinteely wasn’t the only blow for City on the night.
Cian Bargary suffered a shoulder injury against the Dubliners and won’t be available for a few weeks. Bargary had been the one player for City this season that looked like he could unlock opposition defences and he will be a huge loss to City.
Because City are unable to break down defences by trying to play through them, I would like to see them go back to playing 4-4-2, with Jack Walsh back in the team, and get more crosses into the box.
As a former striker, I will always be a little bit biased of strikers that remind me a little bit of myself.
Walsh’s game isn’t about running behind defenders. He holds the ball up and brings others into the game.
He works tirelessly for the team and is a physical presence upfront. He’s a completely different player to Cian Murphy and Beinoin O’Brien Whitmarsh.
I haven’t seen what he is like at attacking crosses in the box because there haven’t been many quality crosses into the penalty area during Walsh’s limited time on the field.
City need experience and some maturity on the pitch, and although Walsh hasn’t had many minutes in League of Ireland football, he has been playing men’s football for a long time and should know all the tricks of the game.
Also, the last time these sides met — a game City lost 1-0 — Walsh caused the Athlone defence a lot of problems and that sticks in a player’s mind. There would be certain teams and players I would love playing against because I’ve had a good game against them in the past and there would be players, I wouldn’t look forward to facing.
Walsh will not have fond memories of the result in Turner’s Cross that evening but will of his own individual performance and he will be confident coming up against the Athlone defence.
Although City have been in poor form of late, they can take comfort in knowing that their hosts have been in even worse form.
Athlone led the league early in the season, but five defeats in their last six games has seen them slip to fifth in the table. Athlone have some very experienced players in their squad such as James Doona and Kurtis Byrne.
Doona was excellent when the sides met earlier in the season — scoring the only goal of the game — and if City can keep him quiet, it will nullify a lot of Athlone’s threat. The game will be on artificial grass, which should give Athlone a slight advantage.
They will be used to the playing surface at the Athlone Town Stadium, whereas the City players are used to playing on grass.
City would have the opportunity to train on an artificial pitch this week but in my experience, all artificial pitches are different, and it will take the City players time to get used to the surface.