Stunning strike earns crucial win over promotion rivals
While points dictate the remainder of the season, Shane Dunne still delivered what could be the most crucial goal of the season as his superb 82nd minute strike helped Wexford Youths to all three points over fellow promotion hopefuls, UCD, after what was an excellent SSE Airtricity Division 1 league clash played in torrential rain at Ferrycarrig Park on Friday night last.
Wexford youths 1 UCD 0
Despite the incessant downpour some 600 odd supporters braved the elements, but over the course of the 90 minutes they urged their young side on towards victory, with the stadium erupting when Dunne exploded a tremendous 30-metre shot to the right hand corner of the net past a startled Niall Corbet in the visitors goal, leaving the college side not just shattered but their hopes of automatic promotion in tatters.
The one question hanging over the heads of the Youths going into this game, along with their remaining four ties, was - could they cope with the pressure as leaders and on the cusp of making history by becoming the first Wexford side to enter premier soccer for next season.
The Youths have been subject to much scrutiny over recent weeks.
Having taken over at the top from Finn Harps even the lowest of sides have had a real go at the new-found leaders but they have responded positively, and this latest victory over a UCD side who performed such heroics even in Europe, answered all questions as they offered a huge response showing they are now ready to push on towards eventual glory.
Over the course of the season the Youths have been in the top four, but having produced more goals, particularly through quality striker Danny Furlong, they have confounded the critics.
With each passing game there has been raised eyebrows, the Youths have strengthened their resolve, and this was evident in spades in rain-lashed Ferrycarrig Park last Friday evening, as they remained composed even at the height of UCD dominance, to bounce back with that all important goal, while they also managed to keep their own net intact.
Both sides squared off against each other during the opening exchanges with home keeper Graham Doyle called upon to deal with a dangerous cross from Tomas Boyle inside 30 seconds.
Given the conditions, driving rain and greasy ball, it led to nightmare handling conditions for the respective keepers but both went on to cope admirably.
The respective midfielders were driving their sides on with Danny Furlong having a tenth minute free-kick over the top, while minutes later Andy Mulligan having made considerable ground down the left got over a hard low cross, which the visitors back four managed to clear with some difficulty.
On the evidence of the opening 20 minutes the visitors seemed content to soak up the pressure while also playing into the elements.
Furlong had an effort rebound to safety off a defender in a packed goalmouth, while Aidan Keenan having cut in from the left blazed his shot high and wide after 39 minutes.
For the remaining six minutes it was the home side who continued to press forward, with Furlong having an effort fly just wide after Mulligan had played a dangerous free-kick off the left into the area, while Peter Higgins saw his 20-metre shot fly straight at the keeper, but with the college players continuing to soak up the pressure, they were restricted to mainly counter-attacking, which was capably dealt with by the home side's back four, leaving the sides to go in 0-0 at the interval.
One expected a change on the resumption.
This was how it turned out as UCD attacked the home side down the flanks, getting over some excellent ball into the danger zone, but both Gary Delaney, a player growing in stature, and Lee Grace, both proved outstanding central defenders, restricting the visitors to a couple of long-range attempts which either flew wide, or into the capable hands of keeper Doyle.
But as the half progressed one became more convinced that the Youths could produce their own piece of magic.
Having wrested the initiative back following that opening 15-minute flurry from the visitors, the midfield trio of Peter Higgins, Andy Mulligan and Shane Dunne, now began to impose themselves once again on the game.
They were playing with lots of quality in the trying conditions.
After 70 minutes Mulligan pulled a great ball across the face of the goal but there was no one to get the vital touch, while nine minutes from the end there was an anxious moment in the home goalmouth.
The college visitors having forced a corner saw Daire O'Connor's high kick float into the goalmouth, but as the ball broke off the hands of keeper Doyle, to the relief of everyone the referee blew for an infringement awarding a free-kick to a much relieved home side.
Having introduced Eric Molloy as a sub for the injured Mulligan, he was quick into the action, providing the run and cut back for Shane Dunne who powered home a superb goal, that even sent the home bench into celebrations.
During the remaining eight minutes plus five additional minutes, the Youths had to work hard to protect their lead, and this they did, but there was an anxious moment in the 89th minute when keeper Graham Doyle spilled a Jamie Doyle shot behind him but recovered just in time to denty the inrushing forwards.
Then three minutes into additional time there was further drama when Aidan Keenan received a second yellow followed by a red for a heavy tackle, but once the final whistle sounded the home celebrations began as they took another giant step towards ultimate glory.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (captain), Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Lee Grace, Ryan Delaney, Peter Higgins (Chris Kenny 88), Andy Mulligan (Paul Cahillane 70), Shane Dunne, Conor Whittle (Eric Molloy 61); Danny Furlong, Aidan Keenan.
UCD: Niall Corbett, Michael Leady, Gary O'Neill, Conor Cannon, Robbie Benson (captain), Chris Mulhall, Ryan McLaughlin, Daire O'Connor, Jamie Doyle, Tomas Boyle, Maxi Kovogun.
Referee: John McLoughlin. Assistant 1: Michelle O'Neill. Assistant 2: Declan Toland. Fourth Official: Sean Grant.