Furlong double regains top spot
Youths leap-frog over Donegal rivals in table as promotion dreams prosper
Wexford Youths players, backroom staff and loyal supporters awoke Saturday morning to a beautiful vista, and it wasn't just the summer sun beaming through their windows.
Wexford Youths 2 Finn Harps 0
It was the warm after-glow brought about by the team's return to the top of the SSE Airtricity Division 1 league table following a composed and comprehensive 2-0 victory over pre-game leaders Finn Harps in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.
If, as everyone hopes, Youths manage to gain promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in October/November, this win will be viewed in hindsight as a key stepping stone along the way.
And while a lot of twists and turns may occur in the eight games remaining, Shane Keegan's charges are certainly going about their business in the right way.
The goalscoring exploits of Danny Furlong are synonymous with the club at this stage, and once again he displayed his finest predatory instincts as two deadly finishes in the space of five first-half minutes powered Youths to an accomplished victory.
The season-high crowd of 715, tempted to Newcastle by a combination of the clash of front runners and the fine weather, saw precious little to entertain them in a tentative opening from both sides.
More than the mere three points were on offer, as it was a game where one of the top two was likely to make a major statement in direct competition against a very keen rival. In that regard the cagey opening was understandable, but the game exploded to life near the end of the opening quarter.
Prior to that the visitors had looked the more threatening side although new signing Willie Tyrrell, making his home debut, dealt capably with a corner in the first minute.
Matthew Crossan's shot in the 14th minute was well over and didn't trouble Graham Doyle, while the netminder was off his line quickly when Robert Waters attempted to play a through ball to striker Wilfried Tagbo.
Youths hadn't threatened up to that point, but they availed of a goalkeeping error to gain the lead in the 18th minute.
Ciarán Gallagher completely misjudged the flight of Shane Dunne's delivery, and Danny Furlong was lurking with menace and applied a cool finish to the delight of home supporters.
The confidence surged through the Youths ranks, with Furlong testing netminder Gallagher from a free-kick on the right just outside the box two minutes later after the scorer was fouled.
A couple of corners were dealt with by the Harps defence, but Youths availed of this purple patch even further in the 23rd minute when Furlong doubled their lead. It was a carbon copy of the consolation goal scored in the 3-1 away loss to Athlone Town a fortnight earlier as Andy Mulligan whipped in a sweet cross from the left and Furlong rose gracefully and unopposed to cushion a header past Gallagher. Incredibly, it was his 19th goal of the season which is now 20 games old.
Finn Harps did attempt an immediate response but Graham Doyle got down low to save from Robert Waters, while he also knocked a Matthew Crossan effort around the post for a corner which Tommy McMonagle headed over the bar.
Eric Molloy, who worked like a Trojan in midfield all evening, didn't get a decent connection on an effort which was scuffed over in the 31st minute after a trademark long throw from the right by Craig McCabe posed problems.
Andy Mulligan was then fouled on the edge of the box on the left and Furlong tested netminder Gallagher once again, while Tommy McMonagle struck the side-netting at the other end after a knock-on by Robert Waters.
Gary Delaney, a commanding presence in the heart of the defence, averted the danger from a Finn Harps corner in the 39th minute, and Youths retired with a healthy 2-0 interval lead.
Danny Furlong sought his hat-trick on the first attack when play resumed, firing over from a Gary Delaney delivery into space.
Delaney then dealt capably with another corner before Robert Waters - the most threatening Harps player - shot wide from a long-range effort.
An injury to defender Lee Grace led to the introduction of Ryan Delaney in the 53rd minute, with Youths remaining comfortable although Raymond Foy struck a free from distance wide before Graham Doyle did well to save at Nathan Boyle's feet.
Andy Mulligan had a corner cleared before Foy shot over, while Mulligan was just inches away from getting a touch on Eric Molloy's low cross in the 63rd minute.
Ciarán Gallagher advanced smartly to ensure Mulligan didn't get to a Craig Wall delivery before Finn Harps introduced the experienced and skilful Kevin McHugh in a bid to bolster their attacking options.
A good tackle by Tommy McMonagle ensured that Danny Furlong didn't avail of a Peter Higgins pass in the 69th minute, while Willie Tyrrell whipped a free-kick into the box which was cleared.
The offside trap denied Furlong when he was put clean through by an Andy Mulligan pass, while a knock-on by the latter to the former was intercepted by a Finn Harps defender in the74th minute.
Graham Doyle did well to grab Tony McNamee's throw which may have taken a slight deflection en route and, given the quality of his play all evening, it was appropriate that the outstretched leg of big Gary Delaney should cut out a chance for Finn Harps close to the end of the five added minutes played.
Five of the remaining eight matches will be in Ferrycarrig Park, starting on Friday when lowly Cabinteely pay their second visit of the season, albeit energised by an unexpected 1-0 win away to Athlone Town.
Wexford Youths have also learned that their postponed fixture against U.C.D. has been re-fixed for Ferrycarrig on Friday, September 11, just seven days before the sides clash again in the Belfield Bowl.
Many still regard the students as the team most likely to clinch the title outright and avoid the play-offs, but a much clearer picture will emerge after those two showdowns next month.
In the meantime, Youths need to keep the concentration levels up and take each game on its own merits, starting Friday when another three points against the league's newest side would keep them ahead of chasing trio Finn Harps, U.C.D. and Shelbourne, who were held by Cobh Ramblers last weekend.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.), Craig McCabe, Willie Tyrrell, Gary Delaney, Lee Grace, Shane Dunne, Eric Molloy, Craig Wall, Danny Furlong, Peter Higgins, Andy Mulligan. Subs. - Ryan Delaney for Grace, inj. (53), Chris Kenny for Dunne (77), John Peare for Molloy (86), also Conor Whittle, Conor English, Jimmy Dermody, Gavin Dowling.
Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher, Matthew Crossan, Ciarán Coll (capt.), Keith Cowan, Tommy McMonagle, Michael Funston, Nathan Boyle, Raymond Foy, Wilfried Tagbo, Robert Waters, Gareth Harkin. Subs. - Tony McNamee for Tagbo (62), Kevin McHugh for Harkin (65), Kieran McDaid for Funston (79), also Tommy Lee McCarron, Oisín Hassett, Conor Keddy, Ata Ozbay.
Referee: David Keeler.