Loss to Shels a big setback
Second defeat in five games
A second defeat in five league games, this time against Shelbourne in Ferrycarrig Park on Wednesday, has significantly damaged Wexford Youths' hopes of retaining their Continental Tyres Women's National League crown.
Wexford Youths 1 Shelbourne 3
The hosts came into the game with just seven points from their opening four ties and were hoping to get a victory against a title rival to propel them back into the reckoning. However, they were all at sea against their north Dublin opponents in a poor first-half playing into the elements, and were never quite able to recover.
While Youths' injury problems have been well documented at this stage, the visitors themselves have had a bit of a turnover of players since the dramatic end to last season, when they were beaten to the title in a play-off by Wexford.
The disappointing thing for Gary Hunt and his side is that the changes haven't exactly made Shelbourne any stronger. Across the back they are weaker and that must have influenced the Wexford supremo enough to send his side out with attacking intent.
Yet it was an unmitigated disaster as Shelbourne, with the powerful wind at their back, dominated the opening half. Wexford were simply way too open and the back three were swamped with attacking players time and again.
The wingers played so far up the field for Wexford that they were rarely any help to a defence trying its best to keep their heads above water. Okay, the individual performances might have been better but they were certainly hampered by the circumstances in which they found themselves.
It was probably a little surprising to see Youths retain the three at the back, with Rachel Hutchinson sitting in front, given that they really struggled to contain Shelbourne with that formation after injuries took hold at the end of last season.
It was only when they played a back four, including the fantastic defensive performance in the title play-off, that it looked like Wexford could curtail their powerful opponents' pacey attacking threat.
There was a bit of life from Youths in the early stages with Claire O'Riordan firing wide in the second minute. The Limerick native was hacked down from behind by Seana Cooke moments later, a challenge that deserved a yellow card but somehow didn't get one.
Shelbourne looked dangerous in the early stages, without finding a way to a clearcut chance. Wexford went close in the eleventh minute when Linda Douglas and O'Riordan combined to release Maria Delahunty on the right. Delahunty crossed to the back post to Aisling Frawley who forced Amanda McQuillan into a smart save.
Five minutes later Youths could, probably should, have had a penalty. Douglas was again involved on the right, feeding Claire O'Riordan. When the striker's effort looped up in the air and caught in the wind, Kylie Murphy nipped in and won the ball ahead of McQuillan, nodding it past the goalkeeper who careered into the Wexford captain, taking her down. Referee Michelle O'Neill was unmoved.
Three minutes later Shelbourne went ahead. Not for the first time the wide players in the Youths defence got stretched by either Leanne Kiernan on the left or Siobhán Killeen on the left.
This time it was the former penetrating on the left, crossing to the centre where Kate Mooney and Killeen were two-on-two with Lauren Dwyer and Jess Gleeson.
When the ball beat both defenders and fell to Killeen on the back post, the Shelbourne winger had one thing on her mind. She shifted it onto her right foot and fired across a raw Sophie Lenehan to the opposite corner.
The impressive young Youths 'keeper might have to endure a few drills on narrowing the angles and getting down low in the next few weeks.
Lenehan was forced into a string of solid saves after the opening goal as the confidence levels dipped for Wexford. Killeen and Noelle Murray both had shots saved by the former Shelbourne under-age goalkeeper before their side went 2-0 up in the 33rd minute.
Once again it was Kiernan causing problems on the left, but she was being pushed wide by Lauren Dwyer who really didn't need to get a hold of her jersey. The speedy Shelbourne attacker went down under the tug and O'Neill pointed to the spot. Noelle Murray converted the penalty, even though Lenehan got close to it, diving powerfully to her left.
Dwyer was hauled off two minutes later, replaced by Chelsee Snell. Wexford created a couple of half-chances with Aisling Frawley and Kylie Murphy failing to test McQuillan.
However, in a sign of things to come after the break, the Shels stopper did produce a fantastic save to keep O'Riordan's curling strike out of the net just before the interval.
It was clear that Shelbourne would look to protect their lead, while Wexford would need to up their performance after the break. Still, Youths were lucky to be saved by an assistant's flag after Lenehan spilled Courtney Higgins' strike into the path of Kate Mooney in the 48th minute.
At the other end McQuillan saved impressively from Delahunty after she was slipped in by O'Riordan.
Shelbourne went 3-0 up in the 51st minute when KIlleen's ball into the edge of the six-yard box was bundled over the line in a coming together of attackers, defenders and goalkeeper. It was credited to Leanne Kiernan although there were suspicions of an own goal.
After their third goal Shelbourne rarely threatened. A long-range Emma Hansberry shot was saved easily by McQuillan. Then Linda Douglas took possession on the right edge of the area and curled her shot towards the top corner, but the Shels goalkeeper made another fantastic diving save.
Douglas was a real danger down the right at this stage, slicing another shot wide in the 58th minute. Four minutes later O'Riordan found her on the right of goal but her low shot was saved by the foot of McQuillan.
A Douglas right wing cross, low to O'Riordan, was flicked wide of the near post with the game heading into the final quarter. Delahunty flashed over the crossbar in the 76th minute.
With nine minutes remaining Youths got a goal back. Kylie Murphy's volley wasn't crisp but it made Niamh Walsh panic, and she sliced her attempted clearance into her own net.
With McQuillan out of her goal, Frawley curled wide from tight on the left wing. The 'keeper then saved a high strike from Douglas, a finish that was close enough to the Shels number 16 to make it fairly routine.
In injury time McQuillan dropped a left-wing Delahunty corner but Murphy couldn't turn it home and Shelbourne survived to take the points.
Now five points behind Peamount at the summit, and four behind Shelbourne and UCD Waves, Youths' hopes of retaining the title, with seven games remaining, look slim.
Youths visit Jackson Park tomorrow (Wednesday) looking to keep their fading hopes alive against the host Waves.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Jess Gleeson; Rachel Hutchinson; Linda Douglas, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Emma Hansberry, Aisling Frawley; Maria Delahunty; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Chelsee Snell for Dwyer (35), Orla Casey for Hansberry (70), also Tamara Furlong, Becky Cassin, Aoibhín Webb, Amy Walsh, Leanne Tumulty.
Shelbourne: Amanda McQuillan; Sophie Watters, Seána Cooke, Niamh Walsh, Courtney Higgins; Pearl Slattery (capt.), Alex Kavanagh; Siobhán Killeen, Noelle Murray, Leanne Kiernan; Kate Mooney. Subs. - Shauna Newman for Watters (56), Fiona Donnelly for Mooney (70), Chloe McNamee for Higgins (90), also Niamh Reid-Burke, Sinéad O'Farrelly, Lynn Craven, Rachel Graham.
Referee: Michelle O'Neill.