Big two battle ends in draw
Peamount United 2 Wexford Youths 2
The battle of the top two in Greenogue on Saturday in the Continental Tyres Women's National League ended in a draw, a result that left Wexford Youths sitting pretty on top of the table with a game in hand with eight left to play.
This match had a bit of almost everything. The first-half was a spectator's dream but a manager's nightmare. The game was so open, too open really, and that told in Laura Heffernan's substitutions in the second-half.
What will surely annoy the Wexford boss the most was the sloppy start. Her side came out half a yard slower than their hosts and they paid a heavy price when Amber Barrett raced away onto Megan Smyth-Lynch's through ball to net within four minutes.
It's no exaggeration to say that Peamount would not be league contenders without the Donegal native. Wexford were hugely fortunate that she was unavailable for the side's first meeting earlier in the season, owing to Gaelic football commitments with her native county.
She is a handful, as Barrett boasts the perfect balance of speed and power that will frighten any defence.
The opening Barrett goal set in motion a crazy half of football. Wexford made just the one change to the starting line-up, with Aoibhín Webb coming into the team for Katrina Parrock, but the Carlow native was asked to play way too deep for her to be effective.
Wexford struggled in the middle of the park in the first-half, and Peamount won the battles in there with Niamh Farrelly in particular putting in a fantastic half of football. In fairness they often looked long for Barrett and didn't necessarily pass their way through, but they were still crisper with their passing.
The return of Hansberry could help in there and bringing her on was the obvious change at the start of the second-half. However, Edel Kennedy looks to be the real difference-maker, someone capable of wrestling back control in midfield. Wexford don't necessarily need to win the battle in the centre, they just need to hold their own.
On the other hand, Aisling Frawley was almost unplayable on the wing. She kept wide a lot, she switched from left to right and created havoc. She scored a goal and could have had a few assists too if others had made the most of her good work.
Linda Douglas, on the other wing, is most effective when she gets to positions between the edge of the 18-yard box and the byline. However, more often than not she cuts in or flings the ball from deep. That's not her playing to her strengths and it's making it easy for defenders.
While it was a big surprise to see Peamount fall so heavily to Galway a week earlier, they definitely have a weakness at the back and it was first exposed by Jess Gleeson's long free-kick that an unmarked Kylie Murphy fired onto the foot of the post in the seventh minute.
Youths equalised four minutes later. Frawley robbed possession on the left, cut in ten yards and put her laces through a shot that arced over Naoisha McAloon and into the roof of the Peamount net.
It was a simple punt forward by Sophie Lenehan that created the second goal. Two Peamount players coming from different directions went for the ball and O'Riordan, cleverly sensing the carnage about to occur, left them at it. She latched onto a terrible back-header and calmly slotted past McAloon to give Wexford the lead.
Barrett's volley that flashed wide in the 21st minute was followed by Nicola Sinnott's effort that went harmlessly past the post from Webb's corner. No goalkeeper wants to be beaten with a shot that airmails them, but Eleanor Ryan-Doyle was given way too much time and space 25 yards from goal when she equalised with a pot-shot in the 26th minute.
Peamount probably should have taken the lead in the 31st minute when nobody picked up Barrett in the box, but she drilled wide from ten yards out. McAloon made a stunning save at the other end a minute later when Kylie Murphy's volley from Frawley's cross looked certain to hit the net.
Frawley was again causing problems on the right in the 44th minute. She crossed to the centre where O'Riordan got it under control and flipped a shot onto the crossbar with McAloon well beaten between the sticks.
The ideal situation at half-time for Wexford would have been to fix the soft core in midfield but maintain their threat on the wing. However, they didn't work the ball wide well at all in the second-half.
Emma Hansberry came on just after the break, in an obvious switch with Webb. It did help shore up the middle of the field. The hosts enjoyed more of the football but they just don't look that dangerous when they have to dictate play, rather than counter-attack.
The more controlled approach made the third quarter by far the quietest of the game. Frawley got away on Murphy's pass in the 53rd minute but her shot was weak. Barrett volleyed wide when stretching and her side had a couple of corners that Wexford comfortably dealt with.
Heffernan's decision to replace Douglas with Parrock, rather than Jarrett, said a lot about her mindset. If you want to win the game more than you don't want to lose it, Jarrett was the change to make at that point in proceedings.
As Peamount tired Wexford began to prosper. Parrock should have scored when O'Riordan found her in the box. She sliced her shot, Murphy controlled it and netted but she was adjudged to be in an offside position when the initial shot was taken.
Gleeson landed the ball on the roof of the net with a strike from the halfway line but, moments later, the centre-back should have hit the target when Hansberry's corner dropped to her eight yards out and she blazed over the crossbar.
Murphy saw a header cleared off the line by Lauren O'Callaghan from another excellent Hansberry corner. O'Riordan didn't quite get enough power on the next one to trouble McAloon. The hosts 'keeper booted long, Barrett got away on the right and forced Sophie Lenehan to tip onto the joining of crossbar and post.
A frenetic added-time period saw Murphy shoot at McAloon and Lenehan make a fantastic finger-tip save from Barrett. Wexford broke and O'Riordan got away on the left, squared to Kennedy but her shot was a little tardy and blocked by the last, desperate covering defender.
When O'Riordan's header from the resulting corner was saved, the game was up for Wexford and they took a creditable point home. Seven wins in eight games will secure the title for Youths but in reality they might need a lot less than that.
They will probably only have two games before September, with the Kilkenny clash at the end of August unlikely to go ahead because of the World University Games. They are two massive, very winnable matches at home to Cork and Galway.
The first of those is on Saturday in Ferrycarrig Park against the Leesiders (7.30 p.m.). With Peamount away to UCD the following day, this is a big chance for Wexford to move a little further away from the chasing pack.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon, Lauren Dwyer; Becky Cassin; Linda Douglas, Aoibhín Webb, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Aisling Frawley; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Emma Hansberry for Webb (48), Katrina Parrock for Douglas (64), Edel Kennedy for Frawley (80), also Orla Casey, Rianna Jarrett, Tamara Furlong, Jenny O'Keeffe.
Peamount United: Naoisha McAloon; Lauryn O'Callaghan, Emma Byrne, Chloe Maloney, Lauren Kealy; Lucy McCartan, Niamh Farrelly; Heather Payne, Eleanor Ryan-Doyle, Megan Smyth-Lynch; Amber Barrett (capt.). Subs. - Niamh Barnes for Byrne, inj. (67), Carla McManus for Smyth-Lynch (78), also Vanessa Hullon, Monica McGuirk, Doireann Fahey, Hayley Nolan, Louise Corrigan.
Referee: Paula Brady (Dublin).