Losing start to life in top flight
It required just six minutes for Wexford Youths to experience the harsh reality of life in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division at a chillingly cold Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.
Wexford Youths 0 Longford Town 2
That's all the time it needed for Longford Town to take the lead and remove any hopes the home side may have entertained of gradually easing themselves into their first-ever clash at the highest level of domestic football.
Instead it left them chasing the game from an early stage and, while they had plenty of possession and dominated the second-half exchanges in particular, creating clearcut chances proved easier said than done.
Danny Furlong did have the ball in the net in the last minute of normal time but the linesman's flag had been raised for offside beforehand. And just to rub salt in the wounds, Longford Town embarked on a rare breakaway in added time and Youths captain Graham Doyle was beaten for the second occasion to leave Tony Cousins' side embarking on the long trek home in high spirits.
The first half-chance fell to the locals in the fourth minute when Eric Molloy made room for a shot after a crossfield pass from newcomer Aidan Friel, but his effort was blocked on the edge of the box.
However, Youths were rocked just over two minutes later when a Longford throw on the left found midfielder Kevin O'Connor - not to be confused with his Cork City namesake who hails from Curracloe. After jinking past an opponent, he fired a sweet low shot to Graham Doyle's right side which nestled in the near corner of the net.
It was a bitter blow for Shane Keegan's charges as they had conceded a goal before the settling down period had expired. However, they tried hard to respond with so much time left, with the pace of Aidan Friel down the right wing leading to a booking for Longford Town's Philip Gannon in the 13th minute.
The first real opportunity of note to equalise arrived on the quarter-hour mark when Paul Murphy squared the ball to the creative Jonny Bonner who in turn found Eric Molloy with a neat pass, but the Carlow man's low drive was turned around the post for the sole Youths corner of the first-half by Paul Skinner.
Chris Kenny figured prominently in the next three attacks, firstly stretching to get to Paul Murphy's high, hooked pass to the left which bounced off his chest and was gathered safely by Skinner.
The long throwing capability of right-back Craig McCabe was the chief source of openings for Youths throughout. One effort in the 22nd minute from the left was knocked on by Murphy but Kenny hadn't much room to manoeuvre and turned an overhead effort wide.
The Enniscorthy midfielder tried his luck again just under two minutes later from another McCabe throw from the same position which came off netminder Skinner, but his header cleared the crossbar.
Longford Town enjoyed a rare breakaway in the 27th minute which nearly led to another goal after Kevin O'Connor played a crisp pass into David O'Sullivan's path. His shot was blocked by Gary Delaney and the follow-up from Kaleem Simon was deflected out for one of two fruitless first-half corners for the visitors.
Paul Murphy almost prospered from a sloppy Paul Skinner clearance before Gary Delaney headed wide at the near post from another McCabe throw.
And the last opportunity of the first-half also fell to Youths as Eric Molloy picked out Ryan Delaney down the left flank, with his whipped cross to the far post headed by Murphy but taking a deflection which kept it off target.
The 928 supporters witnessed a second-half which was essentially a carbon copy of the first, with Youths dominating the play but failing to score and unfortunately conceding another goal.
The corner count after the break of 5-0 in their favour said it all, with the first coming inside two minutes when Jonny Bonner's strike from the right was cleared.
Paul Murphy entered the referee's notebook in the 49th minute for a challenge on Longford Town captain Conor Powell before Bonner whipped in a free-kick to the far post which didn't get the touch it needed.
Murphy didn't threaten netminder Skinner with a speculative shot from distance, while earlier in the half Eric Molloy had fired over the bar after Murphy knocked a McCabe throw into his path.
The prolific Danny Furlong had been starved of openings until the 58th minute when Aidan Friel's corner from the left found him in space for a header which went wide.
Gary Delaney couldn't make the most of another Friel corner before a Furlong effort was too high to test the 'keeper after a Friel shot was blocked and broke into his path.
Andy Mulligan replaced Eric Molloy down the left flank before Longford Town netminder Paul Skinner dealt comfortably with another half-chance for Chris Kenny after Gary Delaney got his head to a Craig McCabe throw.
A Jonny Bonner snapshot was saved before his free-kick also found the netminder's welcoming arms.
Longford Town duo Mark Hughes and substitute James Mulhall collected yellow cards on either side of the arrival of Danny Ledwith in place of Ryan Delaney, with his 'welcome' consisting of an over-zealous challenge from Mulhall which incurred the referee's wrath.
Youths engineered two free-kicks on the left just outside the area after fouls on Andy Mulligan and Danny Ledwith, but Danny Furlong's first effort was saved by Skinner while Ledwith fired the second attempt wide.
Skinner was finally beaten in the 90th minute, but the linesman's flag had intervened and it was a fairly clearcut offside call. The ever-inventive Jonny Bonner had hooked the ball past a defender and Danny Furlong in turn knocked it over the advancing 'keeper, but it didn't count.
Alas, the three extra minutes announced had only reached the 34-second mark when Longford Town struck gold on the break. A long ball over the top down the left by Philip Gannon went in behind Gary Delaney, with Josh O'Hanlon rewarded for his patience in waiting so long for a chance as he controlled the ball before firing it high and handsome into the corner of Graham Doyle's net.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and it should be remembered that Youths lost their two opening games last season to Cabinteely and Waterford United before experiencing great riches. Nonetheless, there is a far steeper learning curve in the Premier Division, and it won't be getting easier any time soon given the much higher quality of opposition.
While the team was on the road last night (Monday) for their re-fixed Leinster Senior Cup fourth round tie against Athlone Town in Lissywollen, two of the league's four 'big boys' lie in wait in the next week.
The first away trip is to Tallaght Stadium on Friday night where Shamrock Rovers will be odds-on favourites to succeed, and there should be considerable local interest in the visit of the all-conquering and three-in-a-row seeking Dundalk to Ferrycarrig Park on Monday, March 14.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Lee Grace, Ryan Delaney; Aidan Friel, Chris Kenny, Jonny Bonner, Eric Molloy; Danny Furlong, Paul Murphy. Subs. - Andy Mulligan for Molloy (65), Danny Ledwith for R. Delaney (82), also Matt Connor, Craig Wall, John Peare, Conor English, Stephen Last.
Longford Town: Paul Skinner; Mark Hughes, Noel Haverty, Mark Rossiter, Conor Powell (capt.); Philip Gannon, Kealon Dillon, Kevin O'Connor, Kaleem Simon; David O'Sullivan, Josh O'Hanlon. Subs. - James Mulhall for Dillon (65), also Daniel O'Reilly, John McKeown, Ian Molloy, Pat Flynn, Cian Fay, Karl Chambers.
Referee: Robert Rogers.