Croke strikes for lucky 13

SSE Airtricity First Division: Wexford FC 1 Shelbourne 0

Alan Aherne in Ferrycarrig Park

Jack Tuite of Shelbourne closes in on Ricky Fox of Wexford FC
Jack Tuite of Shelbourne closes in on Ricky Fox of Wexford FC
Mark Slater of Wexford FC on the ball against Shelbourne

It was a long time coming - 83 days to be exact after the league started on February 25 - but Wexford F.C. finally claimed a first-ever competitive victory since the club's re-branding when they struck early before 346 spectators in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.

Their 13th outing proved to be a lucky one for the home side as midfielder Thomas Croke pounced for his first goal of the season as early as the third minute, giving a group low in confidence a tremendous lift.

And while the crossbar intervened to deny Shelbourne's Dayle Rooney an equaliser with eleven minutes left, that incident occurred after a good Wexford claim for a penalty was ignored earlier in the half.

On the whole then, the victory was thoroughly deserved, and hopefully it will be the catalyst for the group to push on and set about the next task of lifting themselves off the foot of the table.

Goalscoring has been a problem all season, with only six registered at this stage, and all by different players as Croke joined Lee Duffy, Ross Kenny, Ricky Fox, Adam Hanlon and Mark Slater on the list.

In that regard his strike was priceless, but in essence it was all about the sharp turn by front man Liam Donnelly that took him away from a defender and got him to the byline.

From there he pulled a low ball to the near post area where Croke had advanced to apply the finishing touch.

Wexford haven't done that nearly enough thus far in this campaign - pushing midfielders into the box to get on the end of crosses - so it was refreshing to see the Waterford native popping up in the right place at the right time.

And the assist marked the start of the best outing yet in a Wexford jersey for Curracloe's Liam Donnelly who joined the club from Drogheda United.

He came in up front as a replacement for young Danny Doyle who was the team's most consistent player in their last two outings, leaving him with big boots to fill.

And he was more than up to the task, putting in an admirable shift all round before injury got the better of him near the end.

Donnelly for Doyle was one of three changes from the side which lost to Waterford seven nights earlier, with veteran captain Graham Doyle returning from his only lay-off due to injury since joining the club in 2012 to replace Corey Chambers between the posts.

Craig Wall had recovered from a shoulder problem and started ahead of Eoin Porter who has been given time to concentrate on his forthcoming Leaving Cert in Good Counsel (New Ross). Adam Hanlon was also back after a thigh injury and came off the bench in the closing stages.

Shelbourne were missing two key men through suspension - veteran centre-half Alan Byrne and striker James English - and the latter loss no doubt contributed to the decision of manager Owen Heary to start Adam Evans in a central attacking role.

He had caused havoc down the left flank in Wexford's two previous meetings with the Dubliners in Tolka Park earlier in the season, firstly in the Leinster Senior Cup and later in the league, games which ended in 4-2 and 2-0 defeats respectively.

And Evans was duly restored to his strongest position for the second-half, swapping places with Dayle Rooney, from where he looked menacing at times but thankfully without any end product on this occasion.

There was a lively start as Lee Duffy fired in a weak early shot before Rooney drove a free-kick into the Wexford wall.

And the stopwatch only read two minutes and 15 seconds when Donnelly fed Croke for that all-important goal, only the fifth time that the net has rattled for the home side in Ferrycarrig Park thus far this season.

Aaron Ashe of Shelbourne was booked for a foul on Ricky Fox before Donnelly hacked high and wide after latching on to a hurried clearance by rival netminder Dean Delany.

Graham Doyle recovered quickly from a mis-kick as Ashe closed him down before advancing smartly to cut out a long ball from Mark Hughes aimed for Dayle Rooney.

Shels continued to press as Craig McCabe blocked a Rooney cross from the left before Doyle claimed the next one courtesy of Adam Evans from the right.

Ricky Fox turned sharply and saw his shot saved by Dean Delany who had punched away two McCabe throws in quick succession with just under 20 minutes gone.

The first Shels corner was dealt with before Liam Donnelly was outnumbered two to one as he tried to get on the end of a long ball by goalscorer Croke.

The visitors forced two more corners to no avail before Wexford's first proved fruitless, while Adam Evans didn't get hold of a shot after a Dayle Rooney free-kick posed some problems in the 36th minute.

Ross Kenny did well to hold off Evans as he chased David O'Leary's long delivery, allowing Graham Doyle to safely gather the ball.

However, Wexford suffered a blow in the 38th minute when one of their most experienced players, Shane Dunne, was forced off through injury, leading to the introduction of Blackwater's Conor Sutton.

Still, they came close to doubling their lead in first-half stoppage time when Mark Slater played a one-two with Liam Donnelly before firing into the side-netting at the Ferrycarrig end.

A couple of Wexford corners on the re-start were followed by three for their rivals, with the last one from Dayle Rooney headed over by Aaron Ashe in the 55th minute.

Ross Kenny made a couple of vital interventions in a solid display at the back, while Lee Duffy did well to get to the byline before directing a low ball towards strike partner Liam Donnelly who struck his shot into the side-netting on the left.

Then came that big penalty shout for Wexford in the 64th minute as Liam Donnelly got a touch on a long ball from Thomas Croke which appeared to strike a defender on the hand in the box, but neither referee Paula Brady nor her closest assistant were interested.

It was the second such incident in the space of a week at the venue, but thankfully this time it didn't come back to haunt them as Shelbourne couldn't strike back.

The visiting supporters' bus hadn't arrived until just before half-time but they quickly made their voices heard, while they also kept the stewards busy as flares were unfortunately seen at the venue for the first time this season.

After that brief sideshow midway through the half, the focus switched back to the field as Lee Duffy controlled a Graham Doyle kick and struck a shot to the right and wide in the 73rd minute.

Referee Brady, who blew for 32 free-kicks (21 for Shels), was kept on her toes as yellow cards were dished out to Mark Slater, Ross Kenny and Aidan Collins in quick succession.

A Slater corner was cleared before Graham Doyle plucked Dayle Rooney's cross-cum-shot from the air, but he was a relieved man in the 79th minute when the same player's header from a left-wing cross came back off the crossbar with the netminder stranded.

Perhaps that was the stroke of luck that Wexford hadn't got in previous outings, and it drove them on although Doyle had to be alert to save Mark Hughes' downward header from a Lorcan Shannon cross in the 86th minute.

Another minor flashpoint saw Thomas Croke and Shannon booked before Jack Tuite's long delivery evaded Doyle and fortunately went wide.

Wexford created a couple of decent chances in the four added minutes, with Adam Hanlon setting up fellow substitute Danny Doyle for a shot that was saved by Dean Delany.

Then Doyle won a 50-50 ball that led to an attempt by Hanlon whose effort was beaten away into the path of Conor Sutton, and his thumping drive made captain Delany earn his keep.

Graham Doyle claimed a Reece McEnteer ball into his box before Hanlon won a vital free which helped in winding down the clock.

A final whistle has rarely sounded so sweet in Ferrycarrig Park, certainly not this season for sure, and the team won't be back there now until June 16 when they entertain the club in the news for all the wrong reasons, Athlone Town.

Before that they will be on the road twice prior to the short summer break, starting with a visit to Longford Town next Saturday at 7.30 p.m. in a game that will mark the end of the second segment of four seven-game blocks against all league opponents.

Section three will start in St. Colman's Park against Cobh Ramblers on the following weekend before no games take place between June 2 and 16.

And now that a giant-sized monkey is off their backs, Wexford will be looking to get a few more three-pointers on the board in those next two outings.

Wexford F.C.: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Ross Kenny, Owen McCormack; Ricky Fox, Shane Dunne, Craig Wall, Thomas Croke, Mark Slater; Liam Donnelly, Lee Duffy. Subs. - Conor Sutton for Dunne, inj. (38), Danny Doyle for Duffy (75), Adam Hanlon for Donnelly, inj. (83), also Dean George, Andrew O'Connor, Corey Chambers.

Shelbourne: Dean Delany (capt.); Jack Tuite, Derek Prendergast, Aidan Collins, Reece McEnteer; Lorcan Shannon, Mark Hughes, David O'Leary, Dayle Rooney; Aaron Ashe, Adam Evans. Subs. - James Brown for Shannon (86), also Adam O'Connor, Niall Lanigan, James O'Brien, Dylan Grimes, Michael Murphy, Ryan O'Neill.

Referee: Paula Brady (Dublin).

First Divison Table

                          P  W  D   L     F    A   Pt

Waterford FC   13   8   4   1   17   6   28

Cobh Rblers      13  8   2   3    22  13  26

UCD                 13  7   3   3   19    9   24

Cabinteely FC   13  4   5   4   16   14   17

Shelbourne       13  4  3    6   13  16   15

Longford Tn      13  3  4    6    9   12  13

Athlone Town    13  4  1    8    15  29  13

Wexford FC       13  1  4    8     6   17    7

Wexford People