Has the Larne juggernaut stalled?
Full-time football, promotion, winning a first senior trophy in 30-odd years and European football for the first time, the Co Antrim club has seen a steep upward trajectory post-Purple Brick, with Tiernan Lynch appointed to oversee on-field progress.
The Revolution always threatened to be a case of quantum leap progressions, tapering towards more gradual progress, but you’re left wondering if this season, momentum has ground to a halt.
Interest in the town remains high, and while Inver Park’s modern complexion is quite astonishing, success will always be gauged by what is achieved on the field.
Now established as one of the Big Four, the least demanded for Larne is a place in Europe each season. Anything else is failure. With 2022 just around the corner it all looks a little stale and you have to ask are they any better than merely top-six material?
Tiernan Lynch always likes his teams to play attractive, progressive football and there’s still an argument to back this up. Larne like to knock the ball around, but the debate asks questions of their ruthlessness at the business ends of the field.
It seems strange to suggest the league’s top-scorers going into the most recent weekend’s fixtures, lack cutting edge up front. But when I’ve seen Larne this season, that’s exactly how it looks. Of their 33 league goals, fifteen, almost half, came in the first five rounds. They’ve played 13 league games since, scoring 18 more.
Perhaps that’s not so bad if the wins keep coming, but only basement club Warrenpoint Town has been beaten in the last five. It’s not been a particularly difficult run either, Larne faced top-six opposition only twice.
Certainly Davy McDaid still looks the part but surely can be more effective with the right strike partner. Larne haven’t yet made that discovery.
The striker’s nicely-constructed strike at Ballymena on Friday underlines his team’s capability. It’s just not happening enough.
The Inver-men are far from sound at the back either. Defensively their record is worst in the top six, 21 goals conceded, including 10 in the last half-dozen games as the team struggles for form.
Ultimately they were flat at Ballymena after an opening period in which the Braidmen appeared second-best all over the pitch, the Sky-Blue strikers feeding on scraps. Yet Larne were never incisive or spirited enough, ironically having their worst spell later in the game after going in front.
What should have been the platform to secure victory was the catalyst for defeat, all the endeavour and creativity then coming from the rejuvenated home side which simply decided to have a go.
The ease with which Keeley out-jumped Bolger and Ferguson for the equalizer on Redman’s corner, highlighted Larne’s defensive short-comings. They never came close to seeing this one out.
You could sense the frustration, Mark Randall finding it more difficult than most to suppress his, encapsulated by a late lunge on Millar the Ballymena captain, which fortunately missed.
Randall a gifted player, strolled through this game, passing beautifully from deep, his performance a microcosm of Larne’s; pretty, predictable and punchless.
The next five games could define Larne’s season with a schedule involving Linfield, Glentoran, Cliftonville and a holiday derby at Carrick.
If he’s to carry-on moving the Larne project forward, Tiernan Lynch must be wise in the January window and provide different scope to a side looking increasingly one-dimensional as the season unravels.
Is Tiernan Lynch the right man to take Larne forward?
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