Limerick FC face tough trip to Sligo in Airtricity League opener

Limerick FC make the long trip to the north-west on Saturday night as they face Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds in the opening weekend of the 2018 Airtricity League Premier Division season(kick-off 7.45 pm). Both clubs have had contrasting preparations for the new campaign. Sligo Rovers undertook a pre-season trip to the Netherlands and played six friendlies in Ireland.

On the other hand, Limerick FC have changed their manager after returning pre-season training and have played four friendly games with a rush in acquiring players for the new season. Since last season’s opening day encounter between these two clubs at the Markets Field, only five of the 18 players on the Limerick match card that night remain at the club. Sligo have retained the services of eight players from the embarrassing 5-1 defeat a year ago.

The Shannonsiders have had mixed fortunes against Sligo Rovers in the past three visits to the Showgrounds. In 2017, Gerard Lyttle’s Sligo dismantled Limerick and emerged with a 3-0 victory. In 2015, the club’s supporters enjoyed a memorable 2-3 victory on the final night of the regular season to avoid automatic relegation which sparked wild scenes in the away section between players and supporters.

In May of the same year, the sides drew 1-1. As Shaun Kelly alluded to in his interview with Sporting Limerick last week, the Showgrounds is always a particularly tough place to visit;

“No matter when you go there it’s tough. I’ve been in the league eight years and I can’t remember winning too many times. Last year, It was our toughest match when I was with Limerick. They (Sligo) didn’t give us a second. We’ll be prepared for that knowing what is going to come at us.”

Limerick will be without striker Conor Ellis who was absent from the majority of pre-season through injury. Captain Shane Duggan has recovered from a dead leg received in the final friendly against Longford Town.

There appears to be a huge sense of optimism at the Showgrounds ahead of the new season. Football is an important sport in Sligo and for that reason alone, it was positive to see the club avoid relegation last season. The potential of the club is evident from the recent past when the Bit O’Red were winning leagues and attracting superb attendances.

Gerard Lyttle will be hoping to inspire that incredible support to return to the home ground this season. Similarly to Kenny Shields at Derry City, Lyttle has broadened his recruitment policy to Scotland and England in a bid to strengthen his squad.

Seven new players arrived at the Showgrounds. Dave Cawley returns to the club after three years away at St. Patricks Athletic and Galway United. Wingers Caolan McAleer and Adam Wixted are two exciting players who have signed from relegated clubs Finn Harps and Drogheda United. McAleer in particular has greatly impressed in pre-season, contributing four goals in six games. Lyttle cited wide areas as one of the weakest positions in the squad last year.

The most eye catching signing is arguably the signing of former Liverpool player Adam Morgan. The striker made appearances in the league cup for the Merseysiders but his career has suffered since. Morgan will look to resurrect his form and reputation. It is vital that Morgan makes a fast start as the club are expectant and relying on the Englishman for goals.

Eduardo Pincelli is a cultured midfielder who came into contact with Sligo through former player Vinny Faherty in Cyprus. It is believed the 34 year-old will produce high quality performances on a weekly basis. If highlights are anything to go by and generally they are misleading, Pincelli could be a great addition. Ally Roy joined the club last week and scored on his debut against Cabinteely. Roy can play on the wing or as a striker.

Rovers enjoyed a largely successful pre-season campaign. They played six friendlies in Ireland and three in the Netherlands. In that respect, they are more prepared than their visitors. Lyttle’s side defeated Galway, Mayo League, Ballisadore and Finn Harps as well as earning a draw against Cabinteely. Finding the back of the net has not been an issue but the concession of 13 goals may slightly concern Lyttle despite how early it is.

They look short on defensive cover with only five recognised senior defenders on the books who are covered by under-19 graduates. Former Limerick defender Seamus Sharkey and Kyle Callan-McFadden struck up a good partnership last season which resulted in Mick Leahy leaving the club.

With the squad at his disposal, it would hardly be surprising if Lyttle opted for a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-2-3 formation on the opening night. It is highly probable that, fitness provided, the back four will consist of Gary Boylan, Seamus Sharkey, Kyle Callan-McFadden and Regan Donelan. Rhys McCabe was a revelation after joining in the summer and he will most likely feature next to two of three from Dave Cawley, Craig Roddan and Eduardo Pincelli.

New wingers Adam Wixted and Caolan McAleer were the preferred options on the wing for the majority of pre-season and given the hype surrounding the pair, Limerick can expect both to feature heavily on Saturday evening. Sligo veteran Raffael Cretaro lauded the ability of new striker Adam Morgan at the Airtricity League launch on Wednesday and the Liverpool native will almost certainly be chosen up front.

Last three meetings:
22 July 2017: Limerick FC 0-0 Sligo Rovers
6 May 2017: Sligo Rovers 3-0 Limerick FC
24 February 2017: Limerick FC 5-1 Sligo Rovers

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