Decent show but no reward
There was a frustrating, and familiar, outcome before more than 2,000 fans in Tallaght Stadium on Friday when Wexford Youths went toe-to-toe with a much-vaunted Shamrock Rovers but came out on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreline for the second week running.
Shamrock Rovers 2 Wexford Youths 0
While the opposition represented a step up in quality from Longford Town, Youths rose to the challenge in turn and more than matched the home side for two-thirds of the game. Indeed, up to that point a neutral with no knowledge of the teams would have found it hard to distinguish the big guns from the new boys.
However, that solid work was undone on the 60-minute mark when netminder Graham Doyle struggled to control a testing Brandon Miele free-kick at the angle of post and crossbar, and the ball spilled loose to Danny North whose goal-poaching instinct saw him double his tally for the season from close range.
All wasn't lost for Youths despite that hammer blow, and their best chance was created in the 78th minute after a long ball by centre-half Lee Grace which Danny Furlong initially contested with David O'Connor before it broke to Paul Murphy after hesistancy from the defender.
He was in a one-on-one situation but hadn't much time to think before firing in a low shot which Hoops netminder Barry Murphy did superbly well to keep out with a vital save. It was a real let-off for the home side and the closest Youths came to battling their way back for a draw, although Danny Furlong had spurned a gilt-edged chance to give them the lead earlier.
Alas, for the second league game running, and third in seven days if one includes the Leinster Senior Cup tie with Athlone Town on Monday, Youths conceded again late on. Not surprisingly for a professional outfit, Rovers were still going strong entering the closing minutes and looked more threatening as the space began to open up.
And they pounced for goal number two from the penalty spot in the 89th minute, with team captain Gary McCabe planting his kick high into the corner of the net out of reach of Graham Doyle's left hand. Moments earlier Doyle had been seen at his best when he parried a powerful shot from Brandon Miele, but the spot kick was correctly awarded when Lee Grace mis-timed a follow-up lunge at the breaking ball in the box.
That learning curve everyone is talking about certainly isn't getting any gentler, and with holders Dundalk visiting Ferrycarrig Park last night (Monday), the unforgiving fixtures schedule certainly isn't helping.
Nonetheless, Youths looked comfortable for long stretches on the bigger stage in Tallaght, and the progress, and points, will surely come if they persist. There was an unchanged starting eleven from the side which debuted against Longford, with centre-half Gary Delaney the only regular to start four nights earlier versus Athlone when Aidan Friel plus goalscorers Eric Molloy and Danny Furlong came off the bench.
The presence of greater depth in the squad is another positive, especially with Peter Higgins, Shane Dunne and Aidan Keenan all set to push for places too once they recover from injuries.
Shamrock Rovers earned the first of six corners (Youths had three) inside the first minute after Brandon Miele whipped in a free from the left which Paul Murphy headed to safety, but it was dealt with.
Goalkeeper Barry Murphy advanced smartly at the feet of Eric Molloy to thwart Youths' first attack before Dean Clarke over-hit a through ball to Danny North at the other end, although Graham Doyle had it well covered.
A handball by Simon Madden cut out Molloy's attempted pass to Paul Murphy in the tenth minute and gave Jonny Bonner a chance to be creative from a free-kick. Ryan Delaney got a touch on it before Gary Delaney's header was safely gathered by netminder Barry Murphy.
Gary McCabe's speculative shot was deflected for a corner which was whipped in from the left by Brandon Miele, with Maxime Blanchard heading wide at the near post. An alert Lee Grace averted the danger from a Gavin Brennan cross with a glancing header clear before McCabe fired wide after linking up with Dean Clarke.
Graham Doyle dealt easily with a low Gavin Brennan cross before the latter's brother, Killian, was the first name entered into the referee's notebook in the 19th minute.
Another Bonner free saw Gary Delaney get a connection with his head at the far post, with a fruitless corner awarded. Good work by Chris Kenny in midfield, dispossessing Rovers captain McCabe, presented Danny Furlong with an opportunity to try his luck from distance in the 24th minute, but Barry Murphy was equal to the task.
Lee Grace then did well to cut out a Mikey Drennan through ball, and seconds later Furlong nearly played Paul Murphy in at the other end but the Rovers number one was quick off his line.
Chris Kenny had a weak shot blocked and cleared after good work by Eric Molloy in the box before the impressive Grace again showed his quality with a fine tackle on Brandon Miele, leading to another corner which came to nothing.
A Jonny Bonner pass to Danny Furlong was intercepted prior to a heavy touch from Miele which fortunately made it easy for Graham Doyle to gather the ball.
Chris Kenny was yellow-carded for a challenge on Gary McCabe but Killian Brennan's free-kick posed no problems for netminder Doyle. Another Bonner free-kick to the far post was headed clear before Rovers created a decent opening down the left, with Gavin Brennan teeing up Mikey Drennan whose cross was headed over by Danny North.
Paul Murphy almost picked out Danny Furlong twice in quick succession, with no free awarded for the second incident although Furlong's run appeared to have been blocked.
Still, the half ended brightly as, after Lee Grace cleared following a long Killian Brennan run, Paul Murphy found Aidan Friel on the right and his cross to the far post was turned over the bar by a stretching Danny Furlong.
Youths came agonisingly close to taking the lead less than two minutes into the second-half when Furlong connected first-time in the box with a Friel cross, but Barry Murphy made a stunning save. The subsequent corner from Jonny Bonner was headed over by Furlong, but it was a most impressive statement of intent and a clear sign that the newcomers were buoyed by their first-half performance when they looked completely at home on the big stage.
A Killian Brennan corner took a wicked bounce and Mikey Drennan fired over in the box before Youths earned the last of their three corners, but Bonner over-hit this one and it went out tamely for a goal kick.
The spirit shown by the visitors was epitomised in the 53rd minute by Eric Molloy when he chased a seemingly lost cause and briefly won back possession in the left corner. It didn't lead to anything but it certainly highlighted the willingness for hard work that Youths brought to the game.
Dean Clarke was well off target for Rovers before they were somewhat fortunate to take the lead after Chris Kenny fouled Mikey Drennan on the left edge of the box.
Gavin Brennan and Brandon Miele stood over the free-kick, with the latter's effort catching Graham Doyle out as it evaded him at the angle of post and crossbar, with Danny North on hand to tap the break home.
A long-range shot from Kenny which lacked power was comfortably saved before Paul Murphy, a most effective targetman after the break, headed wide under pressure after a good cross by Ryan Delaney.
A speculative Murphy shot didn't test his namesake, Barry, while Jonny Bonner saw his effort easily saved after two throw-ins on the trot down the left by Craig McCabe.
Youths were enjoying a very bright spell but when that gilt-edged opening fell to Paul Murphy after Lee Grace's long ball, the Rovers netminder earned his bacon with the best save of the match.
Fresh legs were introduced as a triple substitution saw Danny Ledwith return to face one of his former clubs while Andy Mulligan and Craig Wall also entered the fray.
Paul Murphy was unfortunate to be yellow-carded for the second week running after catching David O'Connor when he stretched in an effort to get on the end of a Mulligan cross.
Another cross, from Murphy, was gathered by the goalie before Rovers added that second goal from the penalty spot, with Gary McCabe finishing expertly even though Graham Doyle went the right way.
Doyle was out smartly to clear his lines in added time after Ryan Delaney under-hit a back pass, while moments later he made a decent save to deny substitute Gary Shaw. The action ended with another replacement, Pat Cregg, collecting a yellow card after thundering into the back of Danny Furlong, leaving Youths still searching for that elusive first good result after two outings.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Lee Grace, Ryan Delaney; Aidan Friel, Chris Kenny, Jonny Bonner, Eric Molloy; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Andy Mulligan for Bonner (79), Craig Wall for McCabe (79), Danny Ledwith for Kenny (79), also John Peare, Conor English, Stephen Last, Matt Connor.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, Maxime Blanchard, David O'Connor, Gavin Brennan; Brandon Miele, Gary McCabe (capt.), Killian Brennan, Dean Clarke; Mikey Drennan, Danny North. Subs. - Gary Shaw for North (63), Pat Cregg for K. Brennan, inj. (80), Trevor Clarke for Clarke, inj. (90), also Craig Hyland, David Webster, Rob Cornwall, Richie Purdy.
Referee: Ben Connolly (Dublin).