Rampant Rovers run riot
Tough trip to noth-west end in heavy defeat for Youths
Wexford Youths endured another punishing 90 minutes on the road on Saturday when the long journey to The Showgrounds was followed by a first-half onslaught from a Sligo Rovers side brimming with confidence after a good run of recent results.
Sligo Rovers 4 Wexford Youths 1
The visitors came under attack from all angles in a generally one-sided opening period, and it was effectively game over by the interval when Dave Robertson's side held a commanding 3-0 lead.
If there's any positive to be taken from the game, it's the fact that at least Youths reacted better than the last time they found themselves in that situation when St. Patrick's Athletic added one more goal to triumph 4-0 in Richmond Park on April 15.
This time around an opportunist Danny Furlong goal early in the second-half gave them hope, and they did pose some problems. However, Sligo always looked menacing on the break, and the one goal they tacked on could have been four or five but for the agility and shot-stopping talent of an overworked Graham Doyle.
The unexpected 2-0 away win over high-flying Derry City was the perfect tonic for Rovers to take into this tie, and they were intent on building on that in front of 1,536 spectators on a miserable night for football.
The rain hammering the roof of the dug-outs for the entire 90 minutes provided a constant reminder that playing conditions weren't easy, but Sligo adapted whereas Youths floundered.
The return of Danny Furlong after his two-game suspension saw the formation tweaked as Paul Murphy had support up front again after ploughing a lonely furrow against Galway United and Finn Harps. Aidan Friel dropped down to the bench, one of two Youths players - along with Chris Kenny - who had endured a punishing schedule during the week through their involvement with the Irish Defence Forces team in games on Monday and Wednesday.
It was a first return to Sligo for left-back Danny Ledwith since he left the north-west to join Youths after making 46 appearances in the red jersey. And there was a familiar face with the opposition too as ex-Ferrycarrig Park regular Jimmy Keohane is now back on Irish soil after a period spent in England with Bristol City, Exeter City and Woking.
Andy Mulligan had an early half-chance dealt with before Gary Delaney made the first of several clearances from a Raffaele Cretaro cross in the second minute as the game opened on a lively note.
The corner count of 13-3 in Sligo's favour adequately sums up the run of play, with their first dealt with by Delaney before the lively Liam Martin fired a low shot across goal and wide.
Delaney appeared at the other end in the eighth minute but couldn't get a decent connection on Andy Mulligan's cross from the left. Graham Doyle then plucked a John Russell delivery from the clouds before he was forced into a good save by Liam Martin who shot from distance after Jonny Bonner lost possession in midfield.
Youths repeatedly turned over the ball in that area, with Sligo punishing them severely as they attacked in numbers. And with a constantly changing diamond formation deployed, it was difficult for the under pressure visitors to keep tabs on who should be marking who at any given stage.
Youths did threaten to take the lead in the 13th minute when an Eric Molloy cross from the right broke into the path of Danny Furlong who shot instinctively off his left, but Micheál Schlingermann was equal to the task.
Stephen Last got a vital deflection on a Jimmy Keohane shot at the expense of a corner which Eric Molloy cleared, while the next one in the 18th minute was headed away by Gary Delaney.
The pressure was mounting though, with Graham Doyle saving from John Russell before Paul Murphy averted the danger from two more corners in quick succession.
A breakthrough for Sligo seemed inevitable, and it arrived in the 23rd minute when Jordan Richards secured possession to the right of goal and fed local hero Raffaele Cretaro, with the veteran from nearby Tubbercurry beating Doyle to give his side a lead they fully deserved.
The key for Youths now was to at least consolidate and not concede again before the break, particularly as their overall first-half displays have left a lot to be desired in recent times.
It didn't work out that way though, with Rovers scoring again ten and 20 minutes later respectively to effectively wrap up the points with a full half still to play.
The sole Youths corner before the break arrived in the 26th minute after good work by Andy Mulligan, with Paul Murphy's delivery leading to a weak header from Eric Molloy.
Gary Delaney knocked the sixth for Rovers away at the other end, and two more proved fruitless for the locals before they doubled their lead in the 33rd minute.
Jordan Richards, on loan from Notts County, twisted and turned on the right in the box and evaded Danny Ledwith and Chris Kenny before slipping the ball past Graham Doyle.
It left Youths with a mountain to climb, but they did have a chance to hit back quickly when Paul Murphy's cross found Danny Furlong in a great position.
However, his touch was poor and likewise Andy Mulligan got no power behind his follow-up which was stopped by Schlingermann.
Jimmy Keohane headed over with a tame effort for Rovers before Graham Doyle had no trouble dealing with a similar attempt from Jordan Richards.
However, he was picking the ball out of the net again in the 43rd minute after Keohane released Liam Martin with a beautiful pass over the top from left to right.
The attacker calmly picked his spot with a sweet left-footed finish, and three might have become four prior to the break but for an important block by Gary Delaney on another Martin shot on the edge of the box.
It was nigh on impossible to envisage an all-out comeback from Youths, but they were handed a lifeline as early as the 50th minute. Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann found himself in no man's land after coming off his line when there was no need, and the opportunist Danny Furlong spotted his poor positioning and beat him at his near post with an instinctive first-time strike.
The ball was in the net before the number one had time to react, and it did give Youths a boost as only Gary Boylan's vital interception prevented Paul Murphy from playing Furlong through again.
Still, the visitors looked extremely vulnerable when Sligo broke at pace, and they were lucky not to concede once more in the 59th minute when half-time substitute Jaanai Gordon shot high and over from a great position.
A Youths corner, won by Andy Mulligan and taken by Paul Murphy, was headed clear by official man of the match Tobi Adebayo-Rowling (although it was hard to credit how the outstanding Raffaele Cretaro was overlooked).
The first of several good second-half saves by Graham Doyle occurred in the 62nd minute after Jaanai Gordon fed Cretaro. The last Youths corner came to nothing before Rovers full-back Regan Donelon was yellow-carded for a challenge on Eric Molloy.
Gordon should have scored in the 69th minute after Gary Delaney allowed a Donelon cross to roll under his foot, while Graham Doyle denied Cretaro once more after Molloy gave the ball away with a poor pass.
The veteran netminder was busy as ever, making another good save from John Russell at the expense of a corner, with Danny Ledwith clearing his lines. Two more corners were defended by Gary Delaney and Eric Molloy before Liam Martin fed Raffaele Cretaro whose shot was destined for the corner but Graham Doyle knocked it off the post via his foot.
Stephen Last blocked a Martin effort while Craig Roddan fired over from a free-kick on the edge of the box after Gary Delaney was yellow-carded.
It was a constant barrage as Graham Doyle saved from Jaanai Gordon before the latter, on loan from West Ham United, finally grabbed his first goal for the club in the 86th minute.
The last of Rovers' 13 corners was played short on the left, and the subsequent cross from Raffaele Cretaro was nodded home by the new arrival.
The one saving grace for Youths was that the only team below them, Longford Town, also lost to Shamrock Rovers, but it makes their trip to City Calling Stadium tonight (Tuesday, 8 p.m.) to meet the midlanders a game of the six-point variety.
Taking points off the sides in the lower half of the table is an essential requirement from Shane Keegan's men, and now would be a very good time to forge a first away win of the season.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Danny Ledwith; Eric Molloy, Jonny Bonner, Chris Kenny, Andy Mulligan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Shane Dunne for Kenny (82), also Aidan Friel, Conor O'Keeffe, John Peare, Conor Whittle, Matthew Connor, Ryan Delaney.
Sligo Rovers: Micheál Schlingermann; Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Michael Leahy, Gary Boylan, Regan Donelon; Jordan Richards, John Russell, Craig Roddan (capt.), Jimmy Keohane; Liam Martin, Raffaele Cretaro. Subs. - Jaanai Gordon for Richards (HT), Phil Roberts for Russell (88), Kieran Sadlier for Cretaro (90), also Ciarán Nugent, Chris Lyons, Mikey Place, Gary Armstrong.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork).