Strong fightback earns draw
Wexford Youths staged a dramatic fightback from 3-1 down to snatch a vital point in the race for the Continental Tyres Women's National League title against Shelbourne in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.
Wexford Youths 3 Shelbourne 3
The defending champions looked in serious trouble when Leanne Kiernan fired to the net seven minutes into the second-half to give the Dublin side their second two-goal lead.
However, Will Doyle's side wouldn't have had the success they've enjoyed in the last couple of seasons without massive inner strength and resilience, and they proved it again by forcing their way back into the driver's seat in the race for the title.
Not that it was exactly picture perfect for Wexford. Unlike the Cup final, which Youths dominated against the same opposition, Shelbourne had the better of this game and boasted the greater amount of clearcut chances.
At times the three across the back were really hanging on. Shelbourne broke with pace and clever, accurate passing and it left the hosts outnumbered and exposed on several occasions. With the same opposition on the horizon on back-to-back Wednesday evenings, starting next week, it's not a pattern that the Youths management could possibly wish to see repeated. Whether the return of Jessica Gleeson to the back three will be enough, on its own, is yet to be determined.
Youths started with good energy and created the first decent chance when Ciara Rossiter's long ball was flicked on by Claire O'Riordan and the returning Lauren Dwyer volleyed powerfully but straight at Niamh Reid-Burke.
However, a minute later Wexford were behind. Noelle Murray hared away on the left of goal and forced the ball across to the edge of the six-yard box where Leanne Kiernan pounced to claim the goal in a coming together between herself, defender and goalkeeper.
Aisling Frawley was blocked out when fed beautifully by Emma Hansberry in the 24th minute, and Kylie Murphy's pot-shot was well held by Burke in the follow-up. Both 'keepers made further comfortable saves before Shelbourne doubled their lead three minutes before the break.
From a Wexford point of view it was a painfully soft goal to concede. Rebecca Creagh's free-kick from the centre-circle was glanced towards goal from near the penalty spot, by Pearl Slattery, all the way into the bottom corner of Furlong's net.
It was crucial that Youths responded immediately, and they did. Kennedy played a brilliant one-two with Dwyer and broke into the box. Her initial shot was blocked but the imposing midfielder followed up to make it 2-1 at the interval.
Wexford didn't start the second-half like a team that needed a goal. Shelbourne sent out a warning when Sophie Watters got away on the left and flashed over in the 51st minute, however it wasn't heeded and less than 60 seconds later the visitors scored.
With the Youths defence stretched to breaking point, Kiernan's first shot was blocked but the ball fell perfectly for the Shelbourne attacker to flash the rebound past Furlong to the rigging.
Again the home team almost responded immediately. Kylie Murphy broke to the byline on the left and squared across goal, only for O'Riordan to miss her kick and Dwyer to thump an effort from a tightening angle that Burke saved.
Shelbourne gifted Youths a route back into the game on the hour mark when O'Riordan raced on to a horrible back pass, rounded the goalkeeper and ran the ball to the goal before getting to her knees and heading over the line.
Shortly after Noelle Murray volleyed over from a Fiona Donnelly corner, she was given another opportunity to score when Siobhán Killeen was fouled on the edge of the area. Tamara Furlong got across to push her free-kick onto the crossbar and then blocked the follow-up from Dearbhile Beirne.
The let-off re-invigorated the hosts who equalised two minutes later. Hansberry won a corner on the left which she swung over herself. It proved too hot for Reid-Burke to handle and Kennedy was able to poke the loose ball to O'Riordan who netted from eight yards out.
Referee Seán Grant had a quiet enough first 80 minutes but things were to change. Youths won a free-kick 40 yards from goal that Hansberry lined up to take. It was struck well but blocked by Murray who encroached two yards and also appeared to use her hand.
The usually calm Hansberry was apoplectic as Murray rolled around holding her head. Grant blew the whistle signalling a head injury and the Shelbourne striker immediately popped up and jogged off as Hansberry took a yellow for dissent.
The game re-started with a Shelboure free-kick that almost led to a controversial winner when Kiernan strode away through the middle onto Murray's pass, only to see her left foot shot just kept out by Furlong at her near post.
There was still time for further drama as Claire O'Riordan picked up her second yellow for the same offence as her first. Earlier the two-goal hero had been booked for sarcastically applauding a free-kick that went against her.
She put in an excellent, strong tackle in the 89th minute, for which she was penalised. O'Riordan had a right to be frustrated but to then do the same thing that cost her a yellow card earlier in the half, and consequently receive a red, was rather foolish.
Youths managed to hang on to take a vital draw and remain third in the table behind Galway and Shelbourne who have both played more games. Next up for Wexford is a visit to Castlebar on Saturday before they face a huge re-match with Shelbourne four days later in the capital.
Wexford Youths: Tamara Furlong; Nicola Sinnott, Ruth Fahy, Ciara Rossiter; Linda Douglas, Emma Hansberry, Edel Kennedy, Kylie Murphy, Aisling Frawley; Lauren Dwyer; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Aoibhín Webb for Douglas (60), Amy Walsh for Dwyer (85), also Shauna Wall, Orlaith Conlon, Rachel Hutchinson, Megan Whitty, Jessica Gleeson.
Shelbourne: Niamh Reid-Burke; Keeva Keenan, Pearl Slattery, Niamh Walsh, Dearbhile Beirne; Rebecca Creagh, Rachel Graham; Sophie Watters, Noelle Murray, Siobhán Killeen; Leanne Kiernan. Subs. - Fiona Donnelly for Watters (67), Alexandra Kavanagh for Creagh (89), also Niamh Barnes, Amanda McQuillan, Megan Lynch, Courtney Higgins.
Referee: Seán Grant.