Penalty Shootout Agony in Longford
Longford Town 3 (3) - 2 (3) Mervue Utd (First Division Playoff 2nd Leg)
3-3 on aggregate Longford Town advance 3-0 on penalties
25th October 2013, City Calling Stadium
A night of high drama at the City Calling Stadium ended in disappointment for a brave Mervue Utd side who eventually lost out on penalties to Longford Town after the First Division Playoff had finished 3-3 on aggregate following Friday nights dramatic and tense second leg.
In a rollercoaster of a game that had everything, cracking goals, smashing play, a sending off, comebacks, extra time, last minute goal and penalties, this was a great advert for League of Ireland football. Great credit must go to both sides as they provided great excitement and entertainment for both sets of supporters over the two legs along with some excellent football and no amount of passion from the players.
Johnny Glynn’s side took a one goal advantage into the game following last week’s win at Fahy’s Field and it was last week’s goal scorer, Jason Molloy, who provided another wonderful strike to open the scoring and hand the visitors an early lead and 2-0 aggregate advantage.
On seven minutes Ryan Manning was fouled by Chris Deans on the edge of the box and Molloy curled a real beauty over the Longford wall and into the top corner past Chris Bennion's despairing dive to match his excellent strike from the first leg. Gary Shanahan had fired just wide from Tom King’s ball into the box in the opening minute as Mervue showed they were not going to sit back on their first leg lead and were intent on putting the tie to bed.
Mervue keeper Conor O’Malley was lucky to only receive a yellow card from referee Kevin O’Regan when he needlessly handled outside the box two minutes later with the home support calling for a red. Shanahan missed a good chance to make it 2-0 when another Tom King cross found him in the box but the ball got stuck under his feet and the chance was lost.
The home side gradually began to get into the game and Dean Ebbe missed an opportunity to level on the night on 18 minutes before Conor O'Malley denied Ryan Connolly with an excellent save four minutes later. Manning set up Shanahan again a minute later but Bennion saved well before the home side levelled matters just before the half hour mark.
Connolly slipped a ball out wide to winger Daniel Purdy and he cut inside King and fired a cracking effort into the far corner past Conor O'Malley for 1-1 on 29 minutes. Ebbe cut a very dangerous ball across the face of the Mervue goal on 37 minutes but Gary Shaw couldn’t turn the ball home, while Bennion saved from Noel Varley at the other as the game swung from end to end.
Just before the break O’Malley palmed another well struck Purdy effort away for a corner, while at the other end Varley’s neat ball played in Stephen Walsh but he scuffed his shot wide of Bennion’s post as the half finished level.
Longford went close six minutes after the break when midfielder Ryan Connolly unleashed a cracking strike from 25 yards which just whistled past O'Malley's right hand post. Mervue then lost centre back Martin Conneely to injury as Michael Duffy replaced him with Stephen Walsh reverting to defence.
The game continued to swing from end to end with Paul Sinnott blocking an Ebbe effort in the box and Mervue countered with Molloy picking out an unmarked Gary Shanahan in the box but his header was far too weak and Bennion gathered easily.
The home side’s corners were causing Mervue plenty of problems all night and Purdy’s low strike, following a scramble in the box, skimmed the butt of O’Malley’s post and wide on 62 minutes before another delivery produced a second goal for Longford.
Four minutes later Connolly swung another great ball into the six yard box and David O’Sullivan managed to bundle the ball home for 2-1 and more importantly 2-2 on aggregate on the night. Mervue should have levelled matters on 77 minutes as O’Mahony slipped a lovely ball through for Manning who was offside but stood up and didn’t interfere with the play, the home defence stalled looking for the flag, and Shanahan sprinted onto the ball but Bennion advanced to push his effort away for a corner.
Manning then saw red with ten minutes remaining as he collected a second yellow, having been booked for kicking the ball away in first half, as Mervue faced an uphill task now down to ten men. Varley released King away down the right on another great run and the fullback cut the ball back to Shanahan who saw his shot blocked on the line by Chris Deans with O’Mahony heading the loose ball wide.
Another dangerous Longford corner from Connolly picked out Des Hope and his header crashed off the bar with six minutes remaining as both sides were still looking to win the game in normal time but extra time was required as it finished 2-1 to the hosts on 90 minutes.
Despite being down to ten Mervue continued to threaten and Bennion had to be alert to push away another Shanahan strike in the opening minute of extra time. But Longford extended their lead on 102 minutes as Connolly swung in another excellent delivery from a corner and O’Sullivan was on hand to head into the corner for 3-1 and a 3-2 aggregate lead.
Mervue pushed hard as they began to throw bodies forward in search of a way back. Bennion saved another Molloy free-kick and Tom King did brilliantly down the right once again before setting up sub Alex Lee but Deans blocked his effort in the box and Brendan Lavelle headed the corner over when unmarked.
Longford also had chances to extend their advantage further as Connolly picked out an unmarked Derek O’Brien but his shot was straight at O’Malley while a three on one breakaway was brilliantly defended by the outstanding Paul Sinnott.
And it was defender Sinnott who popped up in the box to cap a dramatic night with virtually the last kick of the game as he fired past Bennion into the corner and sent the tie to the dreaded penalty shootout as the game provided yet another late twist.
Penalties have been an achilles heel of this Mervue side all season and that proved to be once again in the shootout as Molloy struck the first off the post while Walsh and O’Mahony saw their efforts saved by Bennion. Longford’s O’Sullivan, O’Brien and Connolly all stroked their spot kicks past O’Malley as the home side celebrated a Promotion playoff with Bray Wanderers.
It just wasn’t to be in the end but great credit to the Mervue players and management team who gave it everything and have had a fantastic season and have been a credit to the club on the national stage and their brand of football has been a joy to watch by all who have witness games this season. The Longford Town supporters appreciated this by giving the Mervue players a standing ovation after the game following two cracking play-off games.
Mervue Utd: Conor O’Malley; Tom King, Marc Ludden, Martin Conneely (Mike Duffy 52 (Brendan Lavelle 105), Paul Sinnott; Gary Shanahan, Barry O’Mahony, Noel Varley (Alex Lee 86), Jason Molloy; Stephen Walsh, Ryan Manning.
Subs not used: Joe Woods, Ross Kenny, Mike Elwood, Connor Gleeson (GK)
Bookings: Conor O’Malley ‘8, Ryan Manning ’21, Stephen Walsh ‘50
Sent Off: Ryan Manning 80
Longford Town: Chris Bennion; Noel Haverty, Des Hope, Chris Deans, Keith Quinn; Daniel Purdy, Ryan Connolly, Rhys Gorman (Gavin Doyle 93), Dean Ebbe (Derek O’Brien 63); Gary Shaw (Josh O’Hanlon 67), David O’Sullivan.
Subs not Used: Glen O’Connor, Brian McCarthy, David O’Neill, Paul Hunt (GK).
Bookings: Chris Deans ‘6, Keith Quinn ’45, Derek O’Brien 90, Josh O’Hanlon 95, Gavin Doyle 107
Referee: Kevin O’Regan (Kerry)