“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game”

Conor Levingston in action against Chris Forrester of St Pat's last Friday. Photo: Stephen Burke

SLIGO ROVERS v BOHEMIANS
SSE Airtricity League
Saturday April 6 2019, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm

Conor Levingston believes determination and a strong team bond is behind Bohemians’ encouraging start to the season.

With four wins, two draws and a defeat from their opening seven games, Keith Long’s young guns sit third – eight points off the top but with two games on hand on leaders Shamrock Rovers.

Along the way, James Talbot has kept five clean sheets in the league and the Gypsies have fielded experimental line-ups in the Leinster Senior Cup and EA Sports Cup, progressing in both.

It all bodes well for the season ahead. Nobody is getting carried away but Levingston revealed that rather than patting themselves on the back for their encouraging start, this Bohs side are driven by points they have left behind and a determination to push on further.

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The Gorey man said: “We’ve had a really positive start. In the games we’ve played so far we’ve gelled quickly. But we’ve had bumps in the road too so we’re not getting carried away. We’re disappointed to lose down in Cork City and drop points against Waterford and Derry too.

“We’ve put a level of expectation on ourselves that we want to win every game. We’re disappointed when we lose and when we drop points.”

Much was made of the close-knit bond in the Bohs dressing room in recent seasons. With the loss of some senior pros and some strong characters, maintaining that atmosphere was going to be a challenge.

But leadership from the top and new recruits’ willingness to learn in pre-season has brought this squad even closer.

Levingston said: “There is great talent in the group. The togetherness within the squad is strong too.

“A lot of that comes down to the good pre-season we had and the work that Keith and Trevor Croly put in with us. The sessions were intense, we crammed a lot into them and we learned a lot.

“We weren’t ran into the ground as you might be at some clubs. Our focus was on our ball work.”

Like many of Bohs’ young guns, 21-year-old Levingston is a player looking to push on once more having returned to Ireland after four years learning his trade in England.

Many of his team-mates are in a similar position. Levingston joined from Wolves, Talbot returned to football after taking the guts of a year out having returned to Finglas after three years with Sunderland, James Finnerty returned to Skryne via Rochdale from Aston Villa, Danny Mandroiu to Ballymun from Brighton, Luke Wade-Slater to Dunshaughlin from Stevenage.

The difference in expectation and physicality between playing U23s development football in England compared to the demanding nature of League of Ireland football was a source of concern highlighted in pre-season.

Both Long and captain Derek Pender pleaded for patience as players would need time to adapt. But seven games in, it is a case of so far, so good.

Levingston said:”It’s my first experience of men’s football as it is for a lot of the lads. It is a big step up with a lot at stake. You have to be first to every ball and to every second ball.

“With so many young lads, it was a case or sink or swim for us all. Detser (Derek Pender) is our captain and he shows you tough love!

“He’s been around the block and knows the league inside out. If you’re not doing your job, he will let you know.

“I’ve learnt so much from him and so much from Bucko (Keith Buckley) too. It’s been a very welcoming dressing room.

“The lads already at the club said at the start that it was the best dressing room group they’ve ever had, so we were encouraged from the start.”
Bohs vice-captain Keith Buckley celebrates his winner v St Pat’s with team-mates Kevin Devaney and Rob Cornwall. Photo: Stephen Burke

Another factor in Bohs’ positive start has been the competition for places all over the pitch and with eight fixtures in April, the strength in depth of the squad is likely to be tested.

The first of those eight games took place on Monday as Bohs came from behind to beat Cabinteely 2-1 in the EA Sports Cup at Dalymount Park.

Bohs started sluggishly. But with 11 changes from the team that took to the field in last Friday’s 1-0 derby win against St Patrick’s Athletic, it was always going to take time to gel.

A much-improved second-half performance saw Bohs progress and Levingston admits players are looking over their shoulders with a queue of team-mates ready and willing to take their place in the starting line-up – especially in a congested month of fixtures where durability and tiredness will come into play more than ever.

Levingston added: “It’s important to have strength in depth. Training has been really competitive. The players not playing, none of them are sulking.

“They’re pushing everyone in training every night. Training is so competitive, which is a testament to the attitude of the players who are unlucky not to have been playing.

“There are lads bursting to play. You know if you’ve a bad game that there are lads who will jump at the chance to take your spot. You need that as a team if you want to be successful.”

Against Sligo, Bohs face a team eighth in the table who will be disappointed with their start to the season and determined to make amends.

Levingston added: “It’s a competitive league and there are no easy games. It’s my first time to play there obviously but the lads say it’s a hard place to go.

“But we’ll go down with a good attitude determined to get three points.”

TEAM NEWS

Scott Allardice is a doubt having suffered a facial injury against Cabinteely. Cristian Magerusan (cruciate) remains out.

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