Mulligan grabs late winner
First cup quarter-final awaits after sensational finish
The Ferrycarrig Park faithful rose in unison to acclaim substitute Andy Mulligan in the teeming rain on Friday night after his composed injury-time finish gave Wexford Youths an unexpected but thoroughly deserved victory over a shell-shocked Sligo Rovers in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup third round.
Wexford Youths 2 Sligo Rovers 1
Unwelcome thoughts of a trip to the north-west for a replay last night (Monday) were looming large as four extra minutes were announced, but two wily campaigners combined to ensure that Shane Keegan's side qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time ever.
There was a certain irony in the fact that Sligo Rovers veteran Raffaele Cretaro had his pocket picked by Jonny Bonner, shortly after the visitors' goalscorer had been announced as the 'player of the match'.
It wasn't a unanimous decision among the press corps (he certainly wasn't my choice), but on this occasion he decided to go it alone moving out from defence to midfield in a central position when he had options on either side.
Bonner, introduced eleven minutes later, robbed him and slid a lovely through ball to fellow replacement Andy Mulligan. Rovers netminder Micheál Schlingermann raced out but the winger's left foot directed the ball across him and it rolled into the far corner of the net before the vocal fans in Row H and the more sedate home supporters erupted in unison.
It was a sweet finish and the most unlikely of outcomes for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it came just a fortnight after Sligo had humiliated Youths 5-0 in the league at the second venue.
And secondly, while the cup was a top priority for the visitors, the same certainly wasn't the case for the home side beforehand. Sligo have a proud pedigree in the competition and were recent winners in 2010, 2011 and 2013, leaving new manager Dave Robertson in no doubt as to how important it was to build on their recent progress up the league table.
Indeed, he paraded eight of the eleven players that started in the rout two weeks earlier, and the three replacements certainly were no slouches: ex-Youths man Jimmy Keohane who tormented his old club from left-back, experienced central defender Gavin Peers, and Frenchman Achille Campion who scored on his debut after coming off the bench in Ferrycarrig during that league game.
In contrast, Shane Keegan made no fewer than eight changes in personnel from the side which lost to Shamrock Rovers four nights earlier, some of them enforced due to injury.
Out went Conor O'Keeffe, Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Shane Dunne, Jonny Bonner, Andy Mulligan, Paul Murphy and Danny Furlong, and in came Aidan Friel, Andrew O'Connor, Conor Whittle, Shane Dempsey, Peter Higgins, Danny Ledwith, Eoin Porter and Aidan Keenan.
First starts were handed to new arrivals O'Connor and Dempsey, plus Peter Higgins to complete his long recovery from injury, while the most interesting new name was that of Porter who joined recently from Waterford United.
The talented 17-year-old has a fine pedigree as his father, Donegal-born John Michael, was a leading light with New Ross Celtic when they were one of the top Junior sides in the country. Eoin himself is an all-rounder who has starred with Good Counsel hurling and football teams, while he was a colleague of Shamrock Rovers lad Aaron Dobbs on this year's county Minor football side as well as being capped along with Southampton's Thomas O'Connor at under-age level for Ireland.
On Friday he showed that he is destined for a bright future in the game, and it was a pleasure to see such a promising local player introduced at this level by Shane Keegan. He played up front just behind Aidan Keenan who typified the team's approach with a selfless display of hard work, constantly making life hard for the Sligo defenders and running himself to a standstill.
The early stages were uneventful as both sides took time to adjust to the difficult weather conditions. Neither goalkeeper had to deal with anything of note until Micheál Schlingermann caught a free-kick from Sligo old boy Danny Ledwith in the 14th minute, and Andrew O'Connor forced the first of just three corners in the game (two to Youths) shortly afterwards on the left following an Eoin Porter pass.
Shane Dempsey's delivery was headed clear by Gavin Peers, but the Youths midfielder illuminated an otherwise drab and dreary evening in the 20th minute with a magnificent opening goal.
Left-back Aidan Friel played the ball to front man Aidan Keenan who chested it down, and when it broke to Dempsey the ex-North End stalwart well and truly marked his return for a second stint at Ferrycarrig Park with a composed and clinical strike to the top corner of the net.
It was a spectacular finish and while it stunned Sligo, they did improve gradually as the half wore on. Daniel Kearns didn't test Graham Doyle with a cross-cum-shot that flew wide before Conor Whittle cleared the danger after Achille Campion, Kearns and Kieran Sadlier linked up down the right flank.
Eoin Porter was booked for a meaty challenge on Liam Martin before netminder Schlingermann advanced quickly when Danny Ledwith nearly picked out Shane Dempsey with a pass.
Sadlier shot high and wide at Doyle's near post in the 32nd minute, while a stretching Aidan Keenan almost made a connection on Andrew O'Connor's cross before Schlingermann claimed it at the other end.
Liam Martin was again the victim when Aidan Friel joined Porter in the notebook, and moments later it took a superb stop from Doyle to deny Sligo an equaliser.
Achille Campion cushioned a header into the path of Raffaele Cretaro from a Sadlier free-kick, but the Youths captain saved at point-blank range and Sadlier fired the rebound wide.
Aidan Keenan's hard graft drew a foul but Danny Ledwith's setpiece was gathered by the goalkeeper, while the centre-forward then blocked a Gavin Peers clearance but Schlingermann came to his rescue.
A timely Stephen Last tackle ensured Raffaele Cretaro couldn't make the most of a Campion header into his path from Tobi Adebayo-Rowling's cross, and Youths retired at the break very happy with that 1-0 lead.
They came under heavy pressure down both flanks after the interval, particularly on the left where Jimmy Keohane covered a lot of ground on a familiar field along with Liam Martin. The pacey Adebayo-Rowling also looked threatening on the other side, and Kieran Sadlier wasn't far away from equalising in the 50th minute when his shot from the right fizzed over the bar.
The offside flag denied Aidan Keenan and Raffaele Cretaro in quick succession at either end, with Achille Campion unable to get any power into a shot before Eoin Porter almost doubled the lead in the 60th minute. He was lurking on the near post for a Keenan throw-in from the right, and his first-time effort produced a good save from Micheál Schlingermann.
It could have been 2-0, but instead it was 1-1 four minutes later when Raffaele Cretaro pounced for the equaliser. He cut in from the left, surviving one half-hearted challenge before selling a dummy to Stephen Last and slotting a low shot to the corner out of Graham Doyle's reach.
Andy Mulligan replaced Danny Ledwith and Sligo continued to press, with Kieran Sadlier firing high and over before their sole corner of the night was dealt with.
Aidan Friel made a vital clearance from a low Sadlier cross after Cretaro initially did well to keep the ball in play in the 72nd minute. Jonny Bonner was next to join the fray for Shane Dempsey, while Conor O'Keeffe arrived later for Conor Whittle.
Cretaro was booked for a push on Lee Grace before an Eoin Porter shot was deflected high and over for the sole Youths corner of the second-half in the 86th minute. Whittle's delivery was collected by Schlingermann and it was his last involvement as the game seemed to be heading for a draw.
Lee Grace cleared a Daniel Kearns ball into the box before Sligo substitute Phil Roberts was offside when Kearns tried to play him in.
Aidan Keenan got his chest on the ball but Schlingermann claimed it with Bonner and Porter closing in. Mulligan's first cup goal of the season was just around the corner though, and it will leave Youths on a high for the visit of titleholders Dundalk for their next Premier Division clash on Friday at 8 p.m.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Aidan Friel, Lee Grace, Stephen Last, Andrew O'Connor; Conor Whittle, Shane Dempsey, Peter Higgins, Danny Ledwith; Eoin Porter, Aidan Keenan. Subs. - Andy Mulligan for Ledwith (65), Jonny Bonner for Dempsey (81), Conor O'Keeffe for Whittle (88), also Craig McCabe, Shane Dunne, Conor Sutton, Gavin Dowling.
Sligo Rovers: Micheál Schlingermann; Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Mick Leahy, Gavin Peers, Jimmy Keohane; Daniel Kearns, Craig Roddan (capt.), Kieran Sadlier, Liam Martin; Achille Campion, Raffaele Cretaro. Subs. - John Russell for Sadlier (74), Phil Roberts for Campion (80), also Regan Donelon, Pat McCann, Gary Boylan, Ciarán Nugent, Mikey Place.
Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin).