Despite producing a fine display in the first instalment, Mervue United will bring only a one goal advantage to City Calling Stadium for tomorrow's second leg Airtricity League promotion play-off with Longford Town.
Johnny Glynn's side were dominant for vast chunks of the tie against Longford, but all they could muster was a Jason Molloy goal. That gorgeous 14th minute Molloy strike was sufficient to give Mervue an early lead, but the Galway outfit's prospects looked even brighter when Corie Treacy was red carded. Treacy's dismissal on 26 minutes for a foul on Michael Duffy gave Mervue a numerical superiority on the pitch, but from then on the midlanders' were defiant.
Mervue continued to dictate the pace until the interval, but Longford improved after the restart. Indeed Mervue survived a few serious scares late on as Tony Cousins' charges came within a whisker of grabbing a leveller.
The woodwork rescued Mervue as Gary Shaw's header, following a wicked free kick from on-loan midfielder Ryan Connolly, rebounded off the timber. Des Hope reacted promptly, but the centre half could not direct his header on target.
Considering Mervue had owned so much of the ball, they were relieved to come through unscathed. Mervue's stingy defensive record in the autumn is a source of encouragement, though, because they have only leaked one goal in seven matches. This solidity has helped guide Mervue to a club record seven victories on the spin.
Such industry must be shown once more at the Strokestown Road venue on the edge of Longford as they will be keen to attack from the outset.
The manner in which the central midfield duo Barry O'Mahony and Gary Curran dovetailed ensured Mervue's defence was protected. When O'Mahony and Curran were in possession, they used it wisely enough too despite Longford's attempts at clogging up the space.
The Mervue defence coped well throughout, but the pace of the free-scoring David O'Sullivan was evident and the Longford frontman must be policed effectively again. O'Sullivan is a sharp finisher so denying him chances is the best course of action, meaning full backs Tom King and Marc Ludden will carry out critical roles. King and Ludden both demonstrated a pleasing willingness to get forward at Fahy's Field which aided Mervue's passing style.
On the right Gary Shanahan was unfortunate not to cap a busy display with a goal, a feat achieved by the skilful Molloy on the opposite flank. Up top the exciting Ryan Manning remains a footballer of immense promise, adept at fashioning opportunities with his sweet left peg.
While Mervue undoubtedly deserve praise and plaudits for how they controlled the tempo last Friday, Longford are still very much in the reckoning. Chris Bennion is a capable custodian, while Des Hope, Keith Quinn, Shaw, and O'Sullivan are decent operators.
Having edged into healthy positions in the past two campaigns, Longford do not want another season to fizzle out, so the stakes are piled high for them. Mervue might be in unchartered territory, but they have coped with the stresses and strains of staying consistent. Mervue will make the short trip to the midlands aware that if they avoid defeat another two legged affair with the 11th place premier division team beckons.