Two goals offered false hope
Furlong and Chin strikes got bad week off to bright start
This report was written over the weekend with the benefit of hindsight, so the first and most important thing to note is that the two-goal gap established by Wexford Youths in the opening leg of this SSE Airtricity Premier Division promotion/relegation play-off wasn't as decisive as it appeared at the time.
Wexford Youths 2 Drogheda United 0
Home supporters left Ferrycarrig Park on Monday of last week reasonably content with their lot after a brilliant Lee Chin volley doubled the lead in added time and left Drogheda United with a huge task on their hands in the renewal of rivalries four nights later.
A one-goal advantage, courtesy of a sublime strike by Danny Furlong, would have left the team vulnerable, but two appeared to be just fine. How little did we know though, with that theory blown out of the water to start what must surely rank as the worst weekend in Youths' ten-year League of Ireland history, being relegated to the First Division on Friday and then seeing manager Shane Keegan sign a two-year contract to take over Galway United on Sunday.
They say that a week's a long time in politics, but it has nothing on sport if the events since last Monday are anything to go by.
None of the ten outfield players who started for Youths in the first leg had been in the first eleven away to Sligo Rovers three nights earlier, although Chris Kenny had featured for two-thirds of that game following an injury to Shane Dempsey. Netminder Graham Doyle had played in the first-half, while Drogheda fielded the same eleven from their 2-1 second leg home loss to Cobh Ramblers.
Hindsight will also remind us that the Louth side were well on top in the early exchanges in Ferrycarrig, hitting the woodwork twice. Bearing that in mind, perhaps their fine feat in completely turning things around at the end of the week wasn't so surprising after all.
Centre-half Lee Grace was outstanding in the first leg, and he underlined he was up for the challenge early on with a timely clearance from a Colm Deasy cross.
His defensive partner, Chris Kenny, made a vital block on Gareth McCaffrey after Adam Wixted's cross broke to the left winger in the fifth minute, and Drogheda's bright start continued as a Jamie Hyland delivery from the left ended with striker Marc Griffin firing low and wide.
It was all Drogheda at this stage, with Youths unable to create even one worthwhile attack. Richie Purdy rattled the post in the tenth minute from a McCaffrey pass, with Lee Grace clearing the rebound.
Chris Kenny averted the danger when Adam Wixted and McCaffrey tried to link up, with Drogheda earning a first corner but Aidan Keenan clearing from Marc Griffin.
However, the number seven stood over another setpiece in the 13th minute, and this time the woodwork came to Youths' rescue again from a Luke Gallagher effort before Jamie Hyland shot over.
Those near misses finally shook the home side out of their lethargy, and they won their first corner in the 15th minute when Lee Chin found Danny Furlong who crossed to the far post for Aidan Keenan. Colm Deasy knocked the ball away, with a short delay ensuing for running repairs to the goal net before Luke Gallagher cleared from Andrew O'Connor.
Drogheda United goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness did well to grab an Aidan Keenan header close to the post from a Craig McCabe throw-in, while Jonny Bonner couldn't keep the ball after a nice piece of skill in the 27th minute.
McGuinness saved comfortably from a Lee Chin header after good work by Paul Murphy and Conor Whittle, with Murphy then coming to the rescue in his own box as he cleared the third and final Drogheda corner before half-time.
There was an unsavoury moment in the 33rd minute when play re-started after an injury to Aidan Keenan with a drop ball, but Drogheda's Jamie Hyland tried to score instead of doing the decent thing and giving possession back to Youths. He didn't come close to troubling Graham Doyle, but the incident left a bitter taste and referee Ray Matthews had words with Chris Kenny and Gareth McCaffrey before play resumed.
Lee Grace defended well when Marc Griffin tried to find Hyland, while Danny Furlong earned the second Youths corner but Lee Chin didn't get a decent connection on Conor Whittle's delivery.
Chris Kenny headed clear from a Colm Deasy cross, while another corner, taken this time by Andrew O'Connor, was dealt with by the Drogheda defence.
Lee Chin skied a poor effort well over before the visitors engineered another good opening in the 44th minute. Luke Gallagher delivered a long ball from left to right to Gareth McCaffrey who cut inside and found Marc Griffin, but Graham Doyle narrowed the angle and made a vital save.
Griffin shot wide in added time after an error by Chris Kenny, but only after Aidan Keenan should have done better at the other end when he connected with Paul Murphy's whipped cross but headed wide.
The hope at half-time was that Youths had weathered the storm, because they certainly were lucky not to have conceded.
Paul Murphy mis-hit a half chance early on the re-start before the first of their two corners after the break arrived, with Murphy off target from Conor Whittle's delivery.
Lee Grace recovered possession impressively after Jonny Bonner was caught on the ball, and Danny Furlong couldn't get power or direction into his shot after a long ball from Chris Kenny deflected off Aidan Keenan into his path.
Goalkeeper McGuinness wasn't unduly troubled by Bonner before a rare Drogheda attack in the third quarter was headed clear by Lee Chin. The all-rounder then beat two opponents on the right, but Danny Furlong was blocked from his cross.
Graham Doyle was tested in the 65th minute when Paul Murphy headed a Seán Thornton cross into the path of Richie Purdy who connected well with his shot.
However, Murphy then showed his class at the other end less than 60 seconds later, getting a short pass from Danny Furlong before teeing the ball up beautifully for his strike partner to meet it on the first bounce and beat Stephen McGuinness with a powerful strike to the net.
It was a magnificent finish, and it eased a lot of tension among the home support. Youths saw the last of their five corners cleared before Murphy was yellow-carded for a challenge on McGuinness as he chased Graham Doyle's long kick.
Luke Gallagher's reaction earned him a booking too, with Richie Purdy driving the ball over the bar for Drogheda before a defender cut out the danger as Conor Whittle tried to get on the end of a Paul Murphy touch across the goalmouth.
Jamie Hyland had a shot blocked in the 84th minute, before a weak penalty appeal ignored after Danny Furlong went down. Substitute Aidan Friel forced McGuinness into another decent save before Hyland shot tamely at Graham Doyle from the resultant breakaway.
The breakthrough for that second goal arrived 40 seconds into the three extra minutes announced when Craig McCabe changed tack and opted to take a short throw-in from the left instead of launching it into the box.
Aidan Keenan did well to manage a deep cross from the byline which went off the head of a defender, with Lee Chin reading the break to perfection and volleying it sweetly into the net.
It was a terrible time for Drogheda to concede, and it should have led to a situation where Youths were very much in the driving seat for the second leg. Alas, that goal was the last good memory the Ferrycarrig Park faithful will have of their first season as a top-flight club.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Chris Kenny, Lee Grace, Andrew O'Connor; Conor Whittle, Lee Chin, Jonny Bonner, Aidan Keenan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Aidan Friel for Whittle (83), Shane Dunne for Murphy (90+4), also Gary Delaney, Shane Dempsey, Dean George, Vincent Quinlan, Corey Chambers.
Drogheda United: Stephen McGuinness; Colm Deasy, Luke Gallagher, Kevin Farragher, Stephen Dunne; Richie Purdy, Seán Thornton (capt.); Adam Wixted, Jake Hyland, Gareth McCaffrey; Marc Griffin. Subs. - Aaron Ashe for Wixted (78), Seán Brennan for Griffin (86), John McKeown for Hyland (90+2), also Paddy Dunican, Lloyd Buckley, Sam O'Connor, Derek Doyle.
Referee: Ray Matthews (Westmeath).