Wasteful Wexford pay penalty
Athlone Town 1 Wexford F.C. 0
The old adage about persistence paying off certainly didn't ring true in Lissywollen on Friday when Wexford F.C. threw everything they had at Athlone Town in the second-half of their SSE Airtricity First Division clash, only to come up short and make the long trip home still in search of a first win of the season.
While they mightn't have played well enough to have merited a victory, they certainly deserved a share of the spoils at the very least on the basis of chances created after the interval.
However, Wexford have been extremely poor in their opponents' third of the field throughout this campaign, and the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer came back to haunt them yet again as they had nobody up front to avail of a hatful of opportunities. A predator like Danny Furlong would no doubt have rattled the net in a game of this nature, but there's no point harping on about a former star player as it doesn't really serve any purpose at this stage.
We were spoiled for choice with the quality of player available in the last two seasons of Wexford Youths, and the harsh, yet simple and obvious, reality is that the current squad isn't nearly as strong.
If any team appeared vulnerable and a likely candidate for a defeat, it was Athlone. Not alone had they lost five of their last six games, they also parted company with head coach Ricardo Monsanto earlier on Friday.
Yet, Wexford couldn't capitalise on this messy state of affairs for the home side as they ultimately lost out to a goal from front man Walter Invernizzi in the 24th minute.
Some of the Uruguayan veteran's earlier histrionics weren't in keeping with a cold April night in the midlands, but he created as well as finished the chance that saw his team beat the Ferrycarrig Park crew for the second time this season.
Invernizzi's neat flick left Romanian midfielder Dragos Sfrijan to bear down on goal, and Wexford captain Craig McCabe conceded a cast-iron penalty with a clumsy tackle that also led to a yellow card.
Invernizzi stepped up to the spot kick and Corey Chambers went in the wrong direction, with the striker calmly tucking away what proved to be a priceless winner. Athlone had started like an express train, with a shock home win against title favourites Waterford followed by that victory in Wexford, but since then all they had to show for their efforts was a late draw with Cabinteely as the identity of their mysterious anonymous foreign investor continues to provoke a lot of comment.
Damian Locke made two changes from the side which lost to Cobh Ramblers seven days earlier, with Andrew O'Connor coming in at wing-back for Ricky Fox while Mark Slater replaced Shane Dunne in midfield.
Fox and Dunne are two of the more creative players in the ranks who are likely to make things happen, so it was no coincidence that the team's fortunes improved after both were introduced in the third quarter.
Craig Hayes had the first chance for the visitors in the eighth minute after Adam Hanlon set him up, but his low shot was safely gathered by the goalkeeper who also dealt with a second effort by Hayes following an Eoin Porter interception.
Walter Invernizzi headed a looping cross from Athlone captain Niall Scullion wide, while Colm Coss did likewise after Jose Viegas directed the game's first corner to the far post in the 18th minute.
In between the offside flag had foiled Mark Slater when Adam Hanlon played him through, although the Athlone goalkeeper had advanced smartly to cut out the threat at any rate.
Another Porter interception set up Hanlon for a shot, but all of the sting was taken out of it by a block so it was an easy claim for the netminder.
Corey Chambers produced a fine save in the 20th minute, getting down low to hold a well-struck Jose Viegas effort after a first-time cross by Jason Lyons.
Niall Scullion was well off target with a long-ranger, but Athlone's period of pressure was rewarded with that penalty goal from their experienced attacker.
The first Wexford corner, taken by Andrew O'Connor, was cleared before Adam Hanlon whipped in a good cross from the right, but Craig Hayes' header lacked power.
Chambers made another stop from Viegas after neat build-up play from Conor Barry and Jason Lyons, while neither side could capitalise on their second corners of the half before Athlone nearly broke through again in the 40th minute.
Walter Invernizzi played the ball to Jose Viegas and was poised to latch on to the swift return pass in the box when young Owen McCormack saved the day with a well-timed tackle.
The last of three first-half corners for Athlone was fisted clear before the break by Corey Chambers, while Eoin Porter earned another one for Wexford inside 40 seconds of the re-start but Adam Hanlon couldn't keep it away from the goalie.
Colm Coss and Mark Slater blazed shots over the bar at either end before a strong run from Craig Wall was ended when Kirils Grigorovs intercepted his pass.
Porter delivered a long ball to Craig Hayes whose header across the face of goal was hooked away by Grigorovs, while Adam Hanlon should have done better after Shane Dunne's punt forward deflected off Hayes into his path.
It was Dunne's first involvement after his introduction, and he was joined five minutes later by Ricky Fox as Wexford started to pile on the pressure.
A Mark Slater shot broke to Hayes whose effort was blocked, leading to an easy save, but the netminder was really tested in the 66th minute when Adam Hanlon pulled the ball back from the byline for Eoin Porter who got a lot of power into his drive.
Hanlon blazed over after a Craig McCabe delivery broke favourably for him, but there was a growing sense that Wexford would be rewarded if they kept up this level of pressure.
Dragos Sfrijan was booked for a late lunge at Ross Kenny before the Wexford centre-half made a timely tackle to keep a Jose Viegas pass away from substitute Chris Rodrigues.
Oddly enough, even though practically all of the pressure was at the other end, Athlone were the ones who had the ball in the net again in the 76th minute, but it was ruled out for offside.
Viegas sent a free-kick into the box from the right after a foul on Rodrigues, with Corey Chambers saving a header from Colm Coss before Walter Invernizzi tapped home the rebound from point-blank range.
The linesman's flag had been hoisted though, and Wexford were free to push forward once more in search of a leveller.
Shane Dunne wasted a long-range shot before a corner from the right by Ricky Fox was headed wide by Owen McCormack.
A Hanlon cross broke into the path of Ross Kenny who mishit his shot, and it fell kindly for Slater whose attempt was blocked.
Another Slater shot was claimed at the second attempt by the netminder after Kenny swung at the ball again in the lead-up, and a good opportunity arose from a set-piece in the 88th minute when Liam Donnelly was fouled on the edge of the area.
Unfortunately Dunne fired high and over though, but Wexford continued to push forward and Donnelly earned a corner. Dunne's delivery from the right was fisted out by the goalkeeper into the path of Owen McCormack who shot wide as the game moved into added time.
The best chance fell to Donnelly in the 93rd minute when a Craig McCabe throw from the left was headed on at the near post by Seán Hurley, but he volleyed over.
Corey Chambers joined the attack for the last of four second-half Wexford corners, but there was more frustration for McCormack as he headed wide. The netminder was lurking close to the opposing goal once more for a last-gasp Craig McCabe throw-in, but the full-time whistle after more than five added minutes was sweet music to Athlone ears as they ended a dramatic day on a high note.
As for Wexford, they have played eleven competitive games thus far this season including two cup ties and have yet to win, with just three draws to show for their efforts.
They will attempt to end that horrible record at home on Friday at 8 p.m. to Cabinteely who were 2-0 victors when the sides met in Stradbrook early last month. With just four goals in nine league outings, it goes without saying that they need to be a good deal more clinical up front because the chances are most definitely being created, but not taken.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Craig McCabe (capt.), Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny; Seán Hurley, Craig Wall, Eoin Porter, Mark Slater, Andrew O'Connor; Craig Hayes, Adam Hanlon. Subs. - Shane Dunne for Wall (59), Ricky Fox for O'Connor (64), Liam Donnelly for Hayes (72), also Seán Eve, Thomas Croke, Danny Doyle, Adam Dempsey.
Athlone Town: Conor Gleeson; Niall Scullion (capt.), Cormac Raftery, Kirils Grigorovs, David Brookes; Dragos Sfrijan, Colm Coss, Conor Barry, Jose Viegas; Jason Lyons, Walter Invernizzi. Subs. - Chris Rodrigues for Barry (67), Jason Molloy for Invernizzi (80), Frederico Hernandez for Viegas (90+5), also Roy King, Seán McGrane, Ethan Keogh, Igors Labuts.
Referee: Tom Dempsey.