“We are young. We have – and will continue to – make mistakes”

St Patrick's Athletic v Bohemians - SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

BOHEMIANS v SLIGO ROVERS
SSE Airtricity League
Friday May 24 2019, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

Keith Long has not been afraid to give young players a chance this season but hopes they learn quickly to rediscover the early-season form that has eluded them somewhat in recent weeks.

Of the starting XI on Monday against Dundalk, only captain on the night Aaron Barry, 26, keeper James Talbot, 22, and striker Ryan Swan, 23, were over the age of 21.

The remaining eight starters were aged between 18 and 21 with substitutes Ryan Graydon, Ali Reghba and Scott Allardice aged 19, 19 and 21 respectively.

Bohs’ young guns earned plaudits for how quickly they adapted this season to the demands of League of Ireland football.

The positive start to the season was built on a sturdy defence, with James Talbot keeping 11 clean sheets so far. But disappointingly Bohs have now conceded in each of their last four games, albeit against some of the league’s top sides.

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Talbot’s form in April earned him the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month Award but he himself would admit that those in front of him in defence had also contributed hugely to his clean sheet tally. He will need that support again if Bohs are to get back to winning ways.

That said, with 18 games of the 36 now played, nobody predicted the Gypsies would still be occupying third place at the halfway point of the season. They have slipped to nine points off pacesetters Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk, but remain four points ahead of Derry City who occupy fourth spot.

But to maintain or improve on their position in third place, Long believes his side need to develop a ‘cuteness’ that complements their undoubted talent and youthful enthusiasm.

His side have lost five league games this season. You could argue that there is no great shame in that – all five defeats have come against last season’s first and second-placed teams.

But Long wants better than that, acknowledging that the manner of the most recent defeat has highlighted the sometimes ruthless nature of the step-up from underage football to the senior game.

On Monday, Bohs came out of the traps quickly with the ever-impressive 19-year-old Danny Grant putting them ahead after only two minutes.

But that good work was undone as he was forced off with a hamstring injury – set to rule him out for a least a month – while his replacement Graydon was sent off for two bookable offences in what was a turning point in the game, with Dundalk making their extra man count and equalising 12 minutes later through Georgie Kelly.

Bohs looked to have enough to claim a draw, however. But, for the second time this season, instead lost out in Oriel Park because of a last-minute penalty conceded by a full-back who had otherwise not put a foot wrong all game.

Indeed, Andy Lyons had cleared the ball off the line only minutes previously in what until stoppage time was yet another performance delivered with a maturity and confidence way beyond his 18 years.

It was a cruel lesson and one almost identical to when the sides last met at the same venue in April as Paddy Kirk’s foul on the edge of the box saw Bohs lose a game they should have won thanks to a last-minute penalty.

But there were other examples of youthful naivety: Graydon’s two bookings were avoidable, while fellow sub Reghba was taken off by Long to avoid him suffering the same fate.

And, perhaps most agonisingly, had Danny Mandroiu – the free-kick hero in the 1-1 draw away to St Pat’s last Friday – stayed on his feet in the Dundalk penalty area when he looked to have been fouled in the moments prior to the home side being awarded a spot-kick at the opposite end.

It was a frustrating night for the young guns but one Long says they can learn and bounce back from.

Long said: “It was a gut-wrenching injury-time defeat away, which consigned us to our second reversal to Dundalk in 10 days and a third defeat in just over a month against them.

“Having gone ahead in the game with an expertly taken goal from Danny Grant, things started to unravel for us just before half-time when Danny pulled up.

“Ryan, who replaced Danny, was shown two yellows in the space of 12 second-half minutes. The first looked a little soft and the second one, although it was a booking, was exaggerated by Daniel Cleary who quickly got to his feet to take the resulting free-kick.

“Ryan realised immediately. I’m not blaming the ref as we gave him a decision to make and we need to be better in those moments.

“Being a man down proved difficult. We had no real outlet but we defended resolutely with the occasional counter-attack.

“James made a couple of fantastic saves after the equaliser, which kept the game alive for us until injury-time when we broke and should have scored a winner with Robbie McCourt failing to make enough contact with Danny Mandroiu cross.

“But that highlighted one of the significant differences between us and Dundalk at this time. Danny was actually fouled in the penalty area before crossing to Robbie, but Danny stayed on his feet trying to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

“If that was a Dundalk player, they would have hit the ground and would have given the ref a decision to make. We need to be cuter in these moments and learn from this horrible feeling.

“The concession of another late penalty to decide the game was a dagger to the heart but, again, we have to do better.

“We are young. We have – and will continue to – make mistakes. But we must learn quickly how to manage moments in games better if we are to progress and continue to move forward. ”

That will be easier said than done as they welcome Liam Buckley’s Sligo Rovers to Dalymount.

The Bit O’Red have lost just once in the nine games since Bohs beat them 2-0 at the Showgrounds at the beginning of last month.

But Long expects a reaction from his side, adding: “This is an opportunity for us to bounce back from Monday’s disappointment.

“We need to show our mettle now and put in a performance at home after a couple of disappointing results.”

TEAM NEWS

Danny Grant (hamstring) is set to miss out for at least a month. Rob Cornwall (Achilles), Kevin Devaney (groin) and Keith Ward (ankle) are all doubts. Ryan Graydon is suspended. Cristian Magerusan remains out.

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