Monday 23 October 2017

Sligo hang on in a tense finish against Longford

Sligo's Mark Breheny in a race for possession with Longford's Kevin Diffley at Markievicz Park
Sligo's Mark Breheny in a race for possession with Longford's Kevin Diffley at Markievicz Park

SLIGO secured their Division Three status after surviving a spirited second half revival by Longford in this gripping encounter at Markievicz Park on Sunday.

The Yeats County stormed to a 0-10 to 1-1 interval lead and looked to be on course for a comfortable victory.

But what a transformation in a dramatic second half as Longford took control.

A goal by Mark Hughes in the 49th minute cut the gap to the minimum and it was nailbiting stuff from there to the finish.

To their credit, Sligo responded with renewed conviction and managed to stretch their lead to three points at one stage.

But the Midlanders just wouldn't go away.

They were in desperate need of survival points themselves and their predicament was reflected in their play as they threw everything at Sligo in the closing stages.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff but somehow Sligo hung on for two priceless points which means they will be playing Division Three football again next season.

That's not a bad start for new manager, Pat Flanagan, but he will know they cannot afford to lose their concentration in big games as they did against Longford if they are to make further progress.

They were superb in the first half.

It was probably the best they played all year.

Brian Curran was inspirational at centre-back, James Kilcullen dominated possession in the middle of the field and Adrian Marren, David Kelly and Niall Murphy were proving quite a handful for the Longford rearguard.

Longford, who had the tonic of a goal in the very first minute, opted for a mission of containment when playing against the wind in the opening half.

They got plenty of men behind the ball when they weren't in possession but Sligo's approach play was so effective that they created a hatful of scoring chances.

They outscored the visitors by 0-10 to 0-1 for 33 minutes of the opening half and, in truth, they really should have been out of sight by half-time.

They registered eight wides in the first period, many of them from good positions, but still there was little to suggest that theses misses would come back to haunt them.

But nothing is ever guaranteed in football and the pattern of the contest changed completely after the break.

Things began to go wrong for Sligo when Brendan Egan, making his first apperance of the season for the county, was shown a black card within two minutes of the restart.

Then, Adrian Marren and Eoin McHugh, missed clear cut goal chances and suddenly it didn't look so easy.

Sensing that there was still something in the game for them, Longford began to impose their authority and Hughes' goal put them right back into contention.

Sligo sent on Conor O'Mahoney, Luke Bree and Johnny Martyn in an effort to stem the tide.

And the changes were effective - Martyn landed a valuable point near the end.

But the Yeats County were still hanging on in the last few minutes and were relieved when referee, Shaun McLoughlin, gave them a free out deep into injury time when Longford felt the decision should have gone the other way.

These are the breaks which can define a season and, thankfully, Sligo go the rub of the green on this occasion.

After their disappointing effort in Wexford in the last round, Sligo boss, Flanagan, was looking for a positive response from his team and he certainly got that in the opening stages.

Despite conceding a soft goal in the first minute when Sean McCormack finished to the net after Aidan Devaney parried Brian Farrell's speculative shot, Sligo were vibrant and inventive in their early play.

Frees by Marren and Mark Breheny and an excellent score from play by James Kilcullen had them level by the 10th minute and then Breheny landed a 40m free to edge them in front for the first time.

Sligo never looked back for the remainder of the half, playing some good construtive football and picking off a string of top class scores.

Murphy delivered a beauty from play and Keelan and Marren followed up before Kelly did very well to lay the ball off for Breheny to kick Sligo 0-8 to 1-0 ahead.

Shane Mulligan had Longford's first score in 25 minutes but it was only a temporary blip for Sligo.

They finished the half strongly with Murphy and Marren adding on scores to give them a six point advantage at the break.

Egan's dismissal disrupted Sligo's flow and when Marren and McHugh blazed over when goal chances were on, there was a feeling that Longford could creep back in the the game.

They hit four points in row from McCormack, Farrell and Aidan Rowan before Hughes finished Michael Quinn's pass to the net to cut the gap to the minimum, 0-12 to 2-5.

Breheny responded with a brilliantly worked point from way out on the left and it looked as if Sligo had regained the initiative when Kelly and Martyn stretched the lead to four.

But Martyn's point proved to be Sligo's last score of the game.

It meant that their fans had to endure an anxius finish as points by McCormack (2) and Paul Barden from play left just a score between the sides.

Time ran out on the visitors, howevever, and it was Sligo who escaped next week's relegation dogfight.

SLIGO: A Devaney, R Donavan, G Ryan, N Ewing; K Cawley (0-1), B Curran, B Egan; J Kilcullen (0-1), P Hughes; E McHugh (0-1), M Breheny (0-4, 2f), C Griffin; D Kelly, N Murphy (0-2), A Marren (0-5,2f). Subs: L Bree for Egan (black card 37), B O'Mahoney for Griffin (40), J Martyn (0-1) for Hughes (57), J Hynes for Breheny (70)

LONGFORD: E Sheridan, D Brady, D Keogh, P Brady; F Battrim, J Keegan, S Mulligan (0-1); K Diffley, M Brady; B Farrell (0-1), M Hughes (1-0), M Quinn; C Mimnagh, A Rowan (0-1), S McCormack (1-4, 4f). Subs: B Devine for Keogh (20), E Williams for M Brady (28), P Barden (0-1) for B Devine (52), P Gill for Diffley (65), P McKeon for Mimnagh (66)

Ref: S McLaughlin, Donegal.

Sligo Champion