Wexford frustrate students
Wexford F.C. 0 U.C.D. 0
Are the Wexford F.C. crew gradually turning the corner and showing signs of a bright ending to what has been a difficult SSE Airtricity First Division campaign to date?
It certainly seems that way as Damian Locke's much-altered side made it five points from a possible nine in their last three starts as their best spell of the season thus far continued before an attendance of 289 in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.
While they clearly lost out in the possession stakes to U.C.D., a resolute defence ensured that the first away victory of the campaign against Cabinteely one week earlier was followed by the side's second scoreless home draw of the season.
And, with the spoils also shared when Athlone Town visited a fortnight earlier, it leaves the squad on a three-game unbeaten run which will be put to the ultimate test when they make the short trip to face table-toppers Waterford in the latest instalment of the south-east derby on Friday.
It has been a period of immense change in Ferrycarrig Park, and one of the latest new arrivals was thrown in at the deep end in this tie for a league debut.
In a week when Curracloe United's favourite old boy, Kevin O'Connor, completed a lucrative move cross-channel to Preston North End, his favoured left-back role was filled for Wexford by A.J. Lehane, another player to emerge from the seaside club's impressive assembly line.
His signing was only announced two days earlier, along with central defender Conor Dunne who joined from Maynooth Town and was among the subs for this clash.
Carlow teenager Dean Kelly, who debuted off the bench against Cabinteely, had his first start on the right flank, while there was a debut too for his fellow county man Mikey Byrne in a defensive midfield berth.
The options were somewhat limited with the suspension of Ricky Fox and Andrew O'Connor, injuries to Seán Hurley and the bang in-form Mark Slater, and the unavailability of Conor Sutton and Dean George.
Four changes in all were made to the starting eleven versus Cabinteely, with Fox, Sutton, Slater and Aaron O'Connor replaced by Lehane, Kelly, Byrne and Eoin Porter, scorer of the all-important winner seven nights earlier.
If games of football were decided on possession stats and accurate passes alone, then it's fair to say that U.C.D. would have been out of sight by half-time.
Thankfully it's all about putting the ball in the net, and the students' lack of penetration coupled with some solid defending ensured that they returned to the capital very frustrated with the outcome.
They had needed a late leveller from a free-kick to cancel Ross Kenny's first goal for Wexford at the same venue on St. Patrick's night, but they had also played the opposition off the park when the sides clashed in Belfield in early May.
On that occasion a piece of individual brilliance from striker Georgie Kelly rewarded their patience in the second-half before a comfortable 2-0 win was secured, but history wasn't repeated this time around.
After deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent outings, Locke switched to a 4-4-2 for this tie as Adam Hanlon played up front just behind the ever-willing Danny Doyle.
The U.C.D. trio at the back were covered by defensive midfielders Greg Sloggett and Timmy Molloy, and most of their penetration further afield came from the menace posed by central duo Daire O'Connor and Jason McClelland.
Wexford opened positively as a weak Porter shot was easily saved inside two minutes before U.C.D. netminder Niall Corbet advanced smartly to cut out Dean Kelly's attempted through ball to the teenage all-rounder.
However, the visitors completely dominated in the territorial stakes for the remainder of the half, with the only respite coming in the 19th minute when Adam Hanlon led a breakaway but had a shot blocked on the edge of the box.
U.C.D. are in my opinion the best passers of the ball in the division, and they underlined that but still lacked the killer instinct in front of goal.
By game's end they were ahead 8-0 in corners, but manager Gary O'Neill must have been tearing his hair out with the failure to gain three points and keep the pressure on leaders Waterford who are now four ahead of U.C.D.
In contrast, Wexford have now drawn one-third of their 18 games and, while they're all only worth one point, this must be regarded as the best share of the spoils given the quality of the opposition and the nature of the game when backs were to the wall for so long.
U.C.D. threatened first in the sixth minute when a Jason McClelland free-kick bounced in the box and Corey Chambers turned it over for a corner that was headed over by Georgie Kelly.
The centre-forward repeated the dose from another set-piece ten minutes in before Chambers dealt capably with a Greg Sloggett shot lacking power and pace.
A Kelly shot from a Rob Manley pass in the 20th minute was deflected for a third fruitless corner, before another McClelland free-kick struck the boot of defender Josh Collins in the box and flew high over the bar.
McClelland, Kelly and Timmy Molloy all failed to test Chambers as the relentless pressure continued, but the young netminder had to be alert in the 32nd minute when Liam Scales got the slightest touch on yet another McClelland free-kick.
The number one's vital intervention led to a fifth U.C.D. corner but thankfully it was cleared, although there was no let-up in terms of pressure exerted by the students.
Their best chance up to that point arrived in the 35th minute when captain Greg Sloggett delivered a through ball which bounced up invitingly for Daire O'Connor, but his first-time shot was a shade too high.
Chambers saved without any bother from a McClelland shot from the edge of the box, but he was a very relieved onlooker in the 41st minute.
Timmy Molloy stepped over a cross from the left by McClelland, giving O'Connor the time and space to aim for the top right corner of the net, and his calculations were only a fraction off.
And when McClelland then hit the left post with a low shot that seemed to bounce awkwardly as it approached Chambers, it ensured that Wexford were extremely relieved to hear the interval whistle.
It was more of the same for long periods on the re-start, even though the home side did manage to pose a few more problems going forward.
Owen McCormack conceded an early corner that led to a near-post shot from Daire O'Connor being blocked, while Niall Corbet claimed the ball at the other end after a Danny Doyle cross struck Dean Kelly on the leg.
Chambers got down low to make a good one-handed save from a Sloggett shot in the 51st minute, with the seventh U.C.D. corner cleared before Adam Hanlon over-hit a pass to Kelly which cleared the byline.
Daire O'Connor couldn't get any power into his header from a Rob Manley cross before Hanlon was withdrawn shortly after collecting a yellow card, with another recent arrival, Aaron O'Connor, coming on as the first Wexford replacement.
Captain Craig McCabe was then booked, while Daire O'Connor couldn't wrap his boot around a Timmy Molloy assist and fired wildly over.
There was nobody in the box to get on the end of O'Connor's low delivery across Chambers' goal as we reached the 75-minute mark, but Wexford nearly secured an unlikely lead moments after the arrival of their second substitute.
Liam Donnelly came on for Danny Doyle and his first touch was a snapshot that led to a rare surge of excitement from the understandably subdued home support.
Chambers did very well in the 82nd minute to deny Ben Hanrahan after good work by Josh Collins and Daire O'Connor, and the resultant corner taken by Greg Sloggett was headed over by Liam Scales.
Hanrahan had another chance from a McClelland, but his shot was weak and this was largely due to a timely tackle by Ross Kenny.
Liam Donnelly tried to hook the ball into the path of Aaron O'Connor who was in a good position to bear down on goal, only for Josh Collins to intercept.
There was another scare in the 88th minute when Timmy Molloy pulled the ball across goal for substitute Simon Power who turned it back into the danger zone, but a Wexford boot averted the danger.
U.C.D. probed for one last time with the three added minutes almost up, but Ross Kenny blocked Power's effort in the box from a long Liam Scales pass.
On all known form bottom-placed Wexford will be rank outsiders when they travel to the home patch of leaders Waterford this Friday (7.45 p.m.), but those recent good results ensure they are better equipped for the journey than was the case in March when the Blues were convincing 2-0 victors.
Wexford will be on the road again on Friday week, facing Shelbourne in Tolka Park.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Craig McCabe (capt.), Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny, A.J. Lehane; Dean Kelly, Mikey Byrne, Thomas Croke, Eoin Porter; Adam Hanlon, Danny Doyle. Subs. - Aaron O'Connor for Hanlon (65), Liam Donnelly for Doyle (80), Shane Dunne for Kelly (89), also Conor Dunne, Michael Walsh.
U.C.D.: Niall Corbet; Josh Collins, Maxim Kouogun, Liam Scales; Greg Sloggett (capt.), Timmy Molloy; Rob Manley, Daire O'Connor, Jason McClelland, Evan Osam; Georgie Kelly. Subs. - Simon Power for Manley (67), Ben Hanrahan for Molloy (80), also Seán Coyne, Conor Crowley, Joseph Manley, Conor Kearns, Gareth Coughlan.
Referee: Eoghan O'Shea (Tipperary).