Holders grab galling winner
First Youths goal of campaign not enough to earn draw
The sheer ecstasy last experienced at Ferrycarrig Park on the night when the First Division title was secured returned for three fleeting minutes before a disappointing crowd of 709 on Monday of last week.
Wexford Youths 1 Dundalk 2
Unfortunately, that was the length of time that transpired between Stephen Last's expertly-finished equaliser and a giveaway winning goal for reigning champions and three-in-a-row seeking Dundalk who were pushed all the way by the home side in another encouraging display.
Youths emerged an undoubted second best in the possession stakes for long spells, in contrast to the Longford Town and Shamrock Rovers outings when they held their own. Despite that handicap, they seemed well placed to collect a morale-boosting draw against the best team in the land when a short period of prolonged pressure ended in triumph in the 81st minute.
Chasing a 1-0 deficit, Youths struck gold and claimed their first-ever goal in the Premier Division when the excellent Paul Murphy whipped in a teasing corner from the left to the far post where Stephen Last was on hand to guide it to the net.
It was a special time for the centre-half to break his scoring duck for the club, and a great way to mark his first league start of the season after an injury-plagued 2015.
Alas, the good vibes among the locals only lasted for a paltry 180 seconds. Disaster struck when the influential Daryl Horgan picked out Dane Massey on the left flank, and his cross was met by substitute centre-forward Ciarán Kilduff whose downward header squirmed under Graham Doyle's body and ended up in the net.
It was a killer blow for Youths to absorb so soon after the high of equalising, and they ended up trooping dejectedly off the field for the third game running with nothing to show for their efforts.
Rival goalkeeper Gary Rogers wasn't tested in the closing minutes although Shane Keegan's men had plenty of the ball in the opposition half. Paul Murphy hit the wall from a free-kick before a Craig McCabe throw, and a follow-up cross, were both cleared. A Danny Ledwith set-piece was also safely gathered by the veteran netminder before Dundalk played out the three additional minutes with all the composure that one would expect from such an honours-laden team.
Wholesale changes had been made to the Youths line-up from the trip to Tallaght three nights earlier, with Stephen Last, Craig Wall, Danny Ledwith and Andy Mulligan all handed first starts of the campaign, while Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Jonny Bonner and Chris Kenny were kept on the bench as the squad rotation policy was implemented. Aidan Friel moved from midfield to right-back in the shake-up while Eric Molloy swapped wings, starting on the right rather than the left.
Dundalk earned their first corner inside four minutes, and by the break that count stood at 7-0 which was a fair reflection of their monopoly of possession. They took the lead in the 34th minute, but not before Graham Doyle had brought off two tremendous saves - a fact that shouldn't be forgotten in the wake of that late winner which unfortunately eluded him.
Neither netminder was tested for a long stretch at the outset, with a Dane Massey effort in the eighth minute carrying no threat. The second corner arose when Ryan Delaney got his head to a Daryl Horgan free-kick from the right, but Horgan's subsequent cross from a short Patrick McEleney pass was too long for Massey to make the most of.
The first really clearcut chance didn't arrive until the 18th minute when Dundalk captain Andy Boyle floated a long ball into space on the right. David McMillan beat Stephen Last in the chase for possession but shot wide at Graham Doyle's near post.
Dundalk played a very comfortable passing game, with Chris Shields sitting deep just in front of his back four while John Mountney's pace was used constantly as an outlet down the right wing. And with Daryl Horgan looking to create openings at every opportunity, the Youths midfielders and back four were constantly on high alert.
A third corner, after a block on Horgan, proved fruitless before Danny Ledwith scuffed a shot wide in the 21st minute when an Eric Molloy cross was cleared into his path.
Graham Doyle had been deceived by the flight of a free-kick in Tallaght on the previous Friday, but he followed John Mountney's teaser from distance all the way in the 25th minute and directed it past the post for a corner which was headed out of the danger zone by Paul Murphy.
Danny Ledwith didn't test goalkeeper Gary Rogers from a free-kick before Doyle was seen at his very best again, diving to his left to make a first-rate one-handed stop from a Daryl Horgan drive.
Paul Murphy posed a constant threat to the champions with his strength on the ball and eye for a pass, and he laid one off to strike partner Danny Furlong whose effort went high and wide in the 33rd minute.
The lead goal for Dundalk was just around the corner, and it came after John Mountney showed a clean pair of heels to Ryan Delaney as he raced down the right flank. The run was followed by a pinpoint cross to the far post, with centre-forward David McMillan saying 'thank you very much' and heading Dundalk into the lead.
The champions tried to hammer home their advantage but three more corners came to nothing before the interval, with the score a fair reflection of the general run of play.
Youths improved immeasurably in the second period though, edging the corner count 4-3 which reflected the greater share of possession and chances they enjoyed.
Danny Furlong headed a Danny Ledwith free-kick over the bar early on before Stephen Last and Paul Murphy defended successive corners at the other end.
Jonny Bonner replaced Andy Mulligan and his first involvement was to direct a shot at the Dundalk goal which Gary Rogers comfortably saved. Ronan Finn made a mess of a chance for the visitors before a Danny Ledwith corner was cleared after Paul Murphy's free-kick posed some problems for Rogers.
The injured Ryan Delaney was replaced by Craig McCabe whose long throwing ability quickly forced two corners as Youths started to press the leaders. Indeed, the second led to a decent opening for Eric Molloy whose low shot was deflected behind by a defender.
Ledwith's in-swinger was headed away for another McCabe throw which in turn led to a fourth corner on the trot, and that persistence eventually paid off in spades. Paul Murphy's inch-perfect strike from the left was in the worst possible area for the goalkeeper to deal with, and he could only look as it arrived at the far post where the unlikely figure of Stephen Last was on hand to rattle the net and grab Youths' first goal in the top flight.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to secure a draw, but that in itself was another costly lesson for the newcomers to take on board as they ended up with that same empty, frustrated feeling. Happily, it didn't result in the collective dropping of heads, a point borne out by the manner in which the team bounced back in Dalymount Park four nights later.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Aidan Friel, Lee Grace, Stephen Last, Ryan Delaney; Eric Molloy, Craig Wall, Danny Ledwith, Andy Mulligan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Jonny Bonner for Mulligan (63), Craig McCabe for Delaney, inj. (76), also Gary Delaney, Chris Kenny, John Peare, Conor English, Matt Connor.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Paddy Barrett, Andy Boyle (capt.), Brian Gartland, Dane Massey; Chris Shields; John Mountney, Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan; Patrick McEleney, David McMillan. Subs. - Ciarán Kilduff for McMillan (75), Robbie Benson for McEleney (78), also Gabriel Sava, Seán Gannon, Georgie Poynton, Shane Grimes, Darren Meenan.
Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin).