Lyttle focused on final signings
Sligo Rovers 2 Finn Harps 1
Sligo Rovers manager Ger Lyttle is hoping to run his eye over a potential signing during tonight's penultimate pre-season friendly against Athlone Town. The Bit O'Red boss was left empty handed when deals for two UK based players fell through early last week. With eighteen players signed up ahead of the league kick-off on Saturday week including a handful of graduates from last year's under 19 squad, Lyttle is still confident of adding to his arsenal before the Limerick game and is hoping to have at least one trialist take part this evening.
Speaking after his side's 2-1 win over Finn Harps at the Sean Fallon Centre on Thursday last, the Belfast man said he remains calm in his efforts to find the right players. "It's hard to get them here", he admitted. "I believe that when I get them here, they'll sign when they see the club, the area and meet the supporters and what we have. It's just about getting them on that boat or plane and doing it.
"Unfortunately, a couple fell through on us (last) week but we're continuing to look so hopefully come the start of the season, we'll have a few new faces in. We have another target who's played on the continent who's out of contract and we'll see if we can get him over the line. We're hoping to have a look at him on Tuesday."
Rovers have until February 22nd to sign out of contract professionals with the loan window closing on the same day. Lyttle has previously voiced his unease with bringing players over on short-term loan deals. However, he has repeated his stance that if the player is the right fit, he will consider carefully, any possible move. He explains: "We're probably looking at going with one or two loan deals. But I don't want loans or to bring in players just to have bodies. I want these players to be good enough to play for Rovers.
"They need to be hungry and to be able to buy into what we want to achieve. I don't want players - and I don't want to be disrespectful - but I know players have come over here on loans previously and they haven't worked out. I want players who want to work hard for Sligo Rovers and make it back at their own clubs."
A goal a piece from both Adam Wixted and Rhys McCabe either side of Keith Cowan's strike saw Rovers pick up their fifth win in six pre-season outings. Wixted gave the home side the lead 18 minutes in when skipper Kyle Callan-McFadden glanced Seamus Sharkey's cross to the back post for the vigilant Wixted to bundle home.
Harps hit back six minutes later when Rovers net minder Micheál Schlingermann spilled Paddy McCourt's free-kick into the path of Cowan who was left with a simple tap in.
Rovers enjoyed the lion's share of possession in the second period against a physical Ballybofey outfit. McCabe's wickedly struck set piece looked like it had crossed the line after bouncing down off the crossbar before Caolan McAleer made sure of it on the follow up.
On the result and performance, Lyttle said he was pleased with another valuable ninety minutes for his charges: "You're trying to create momentum and a winning mentality as you go along pre-season and towards the regular season and we're doing that. I thought we played some really nice football at times. We looked more clinical around the box and you have to be happy to come away with no injuries."
One player who is still a regular visitor to the treatment table and is yet to feature for Rovers this year is Craig Roddan. The former Liverpool midfielder is struggling with an injury he picked up prior to signing on at the Showgrounds but Lyttle is eager to give see Roddan feature either tonight or on Saturday against Cabinteely.
"It'll be touch and go with Craig", he said. "We're hoping to have him back for the game in Athlone and try and get him a few minutes under his belt. He is fit and he's completed most of the training this week but we've had to lay back on him and we've told him to hit the gym rather than take part in some pitch sessions.
"He has a tear and some scar tissue around his thigh, it's been an ongoing thing from previous seasons. He's managed it before but this time it seems to be a bit of a problem. We'll see how he goes until Tuesday and hopefully he can play some part."
The Bit O'Red boss did take exception to the way Ollie Horgan and assistant Paul Hegarty set out their stall on Thursday last. Not known to shy away from a physical encounter, Rovers were subject to a number of over-zealous challenges from the Harps men, particularly in the second half.
"I thought it was coming from the sideline", Lyttle said. "I have to be careful about what I say as I don't want to be disrespectful but there was some stupidity involved from certain people. But we coped with it, we stood up and weren't bullied. I think tonight's game was a good test where they maybe tried to bully us but the boys coped."
Rovers gave another start to new signing Adam Morgan who at times, cut a discontented figure as he led the line. But Lyttle has further backed the young centre forward to prove his worth when it counts.
"He's frustrated because he hasn't scored in the last two games and maybe he's not getting enough ball up there, but that will come. We did say we wanted two up top when (Greg) Moorhouse came on and we spoke about having three in the middle.
"We probably played through the middle a little bit too much and we haven't been getting ball forward that bit quicker which would suit Adam but it's also only the second game that our front six have played together. They're still getting to know each other."
Lyttle also voiced his content over the performances of goalkeeper Schlingermann who was at fault for Harps' only goal on Tuesday. The Mayo man endured some difficult times during the 2017 season before missing out on the run-in due to a neck injury.
"It's pre-season and we need to make mistakes and get that rustiness out of our systems", Lyttle pointed out. "As a goalkeeper, your mistakes are easier punished than midfielder say. But no, I'm not concerned about him. Micheál is working extremely hard at the minute with our goalkeeping coach. We're trying to force him into doing some things he's not used to in terms of trying to play out of the back but he's a top keeper and a top pro. I'm sure he's big enough to admit he should have done better with their goal tonight but he will learn."
Harps' match day squad featured a number of new faces as they prepare to bounce straight back from the disappointment of last season's relegation. One such face was Mark Hannon, a second half substitute who was captain of last year's Rovers U19s. Lyttle says making the decision to do without Hannon's services shows the need for the FAI to re-think the underage structure.
"For me, Mark was borderline", he outlined. "He's over-age so we had to make a harsh decision. Is he going to play in the first team? If he is then we have to hand him a contract and that comes out of the budget. It was a hard decision to make because I've a lot of time for Mark. For me, something has to be done because we don't have those facilities to keep players on.
"It's the only league I think in the world where you're not allowed play overage players in your youth league. It's common sense to to bring it up to under 20s and the 19-year-olds have another year to develop and play with first team players. It would also make sense to allow a few first team players to get games too. I really cannot understand why this isn't the case. If this league wants to progress then something like this has to happen."
Tonight's game is scheduled to take place at Lissywollen with a 7.45pm kick-off and would only be Rovers' second this year to take place on a grass pitch. Lyttle says it would be ideal that both tonight's clash and Saturday's game take place on a grass surface.
"It's so frustrating for me, for the players and the supporters as well because they want to come and watch a game in a stadium. Unfortunately, nature's out of our hands. We've actually told the players that we're blessed in the way that we're able to jump onto the astro, but it's not ideal because the boys are on it every day and we do need to get a game on grass. Hopefully the rain stops for Tuesday and we get a game on grass in Athlone and again against Cabinteely."
Sligo Rovers: Micheál Schlingermann (Ed McGinty 79); Jack Keaney, Kyle Callan-McFadden (John Mahon 79), Seamus Sharkey, Regan Donelon (Liam White 83); Caolan McAleer (Raffaele Cretaro 71), David Cawley, Eduardo Pincelli (Greg Moorhouse 57), Rhys McCabe (Lewis Morrison 79), Adam Wixted; Adam Morgan (Liam Kerrigan 79).
Finn Harps: Peter Burke; Aidan Friel, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Ciaran Coll; Paddy McCourt, Mark Coyle, Lee Toland, Mark Timlin; Ciaran O'Connor, Michael O'Connor.