Wexford rage at 'ref' justice
Wexford F.C. 0 Cobh Ramblers 2
It's never a good sign when the performance of the referee is the main talking point leaving a sports venue, but that was undoubtedly the case in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday as Limerick official Robert Hennessy incurred the wrath of home supporters for a string of dubious decisions in the course of this 2-0 loss to Cobh Ramblers.
The paying attendance of 251 turned up primarily to cheer on the locals, in a season when there has been precious little to shout about thus far.
However, they grew animated like never before in the stand during the second-half, and unfortunately for all the wrong reasons as Wexford finished with nine men on another frustrating evening.
Hennessy is the most recent addition of Irish officials on the FIFA referees' panel, but his default position on Friday was to flash a yellow card at anyone who had the temerity to question a decision, hardly the best way to establish a working rapport with players and effectively manage a game.
First things first, and in the interest of balance and fairness: the referee was correct to show a straight red card to left winger Mark Slater in the 38th minute after he lashed out at Cobh's recent loan signing from Cork City, John Kavanagh, after an innocuous-looking 50-50 clash that ended with a throw-in to Ramblers.
It happened near the corner flag at the clubhouse end, and Slater probably knew he would be making the short walk to the dressing-room in the seconds before Hennessy arrived on the scene.
Wexford had trailed by a goal since the 21st minute so the dismissal left them in a precarious position, but the drama was only beginning.
In the 43rd minute Thomas Croke played a through ball into the path of Aaron Dobbs who was crudely taken out of it by Ramblers goalkeeper Paul Hunt outside the box.
Fortunately for Dobbs, the netminder didn't lead with his knees and wasn't as high off the ground as that infamous Schumacher/Battiston incident in the 1982 World Cup semi-final, and he thankfully responded well to treatment.
Nonetheless, the fact that Hunt was shown yellow rather than red raised the ire of Wexford fans, and then, to rub salt into the wounds, he dived low to make a superb save from Dean Kelly's free-kick.
The goalkeeper took centre stage again with three minutes left at a stage when Wexford were chasing an equaliser despite being down to nine men by that juncture.
Once again Croke played the ball through for Dobbs, but Hunt flew from his line and carried the ball outside the box. Most Wexford fans were of the opinion that the prevention of a clearcut goal chance in this manner would merit a yellow card, but no action was taken apart from awarding the free-kick and Hunt stayed on the pitch.
The second dismissal had occurred when two yellows were flashed to substitute Shane Dunne in the space of 90 seconds or less.
The first was for his fruitless appeal for a penalty after an 82nd-minute incident when a Dean Kelly free-kick to the far post was headed by substitute Dean George back across goal where Aaron Dobbs' shot was blocked for a corner.
Dunne's frustration was evident in the next tackle he made, and Hennessy didn't hesitate in taking the yellow card out of his pocket again.
Thomas Croke was booked just over a minute later, and when captain Ross Kenny arrived on the scene to give his opinion, he too was on the receiving end of a yellow as referee Hennessy clearly wasn't in the mood for talking to anyone.
While his performance over-shadowed everything else, the end result was harsh on Wexford because they only conceded the second goal over two minutes into added time, at a stage when they were two men down and were always liable to get caught on the break.
Having said that, they will be haunted by the schoolboy defending that saw Cobh centre-back James McSweeney left completely unmarked in the box as he met Darren Murphy's corner from the right to head home their lead goal in the 21st minute.
Ramblers had been given a lesson by Waterford seven days earlier and, while they're full value for second spot in the league, their performance after Wexford were reduced to ten men outlined exactly why they're simply not good enough to beat the Blues to the sole promotion spot.
Indeed, the home side looked the more purposeful and inventive side for a long spell after the break, but the goal they craved eluded them.
Adam O'Rourke and Eoin Porter started in place of Shane Dunne and Dean Kelly who dropped down to the bench, and the first half-chance fell to Cobh in the fifth minute when Cian Leonard headed over from a Charlie Fleming cross.
The visitors came even closer on their next attack when Darren Murphy struck the post, with Leonard flagged for offside after finishing the rebound to the net.
The woodwork also played a part in denying Wexford in the 13th minute after a handball by Karl Caulfield led to a free-kick just outside the box on the right.
Mark Slater's effort tested Paul Hunt who got down low and managed to tip the shot on to his near post.
Adam O'Rourke cut in along the byline after another Slater free-kick shortly afterwards, but the nearest defender resisted the temptation to make a rash tackle and the chance was lost.
The first Cobh goal followed in the 21st minute, after Charlie Fleming's cross was blocked by Mikey Byrne for a corner.
Irish under-age international James McSweeney had scored his first senior goal at the same venue earlier in the season, so there really was no excuse for leaving the teenager unattended as he came forward to smash home Darren Murphy's delivery with a meaty header.
A late tackle on John Kavanagh saw Mark Slater enter the notebook in the 30th minute, although there wasn't the cushion of a second yellow in the incident with the same player which saw him depart on a straight red.
An injury led to Adam O'Rourke's departure as Dean Kelly came into the fray just after the half-hour mark. Wexford's first corner arrived shortly after the sending-off, with Kelly's delivery headed narrowly wide by Dobbs.
This was Corey Chambers' final game between the posts before his departure to the U.S. on a soccer scholarship, and he left his mark in the 42nd minute with a marvellous reflex save from Cian Leonard's header after a Karl Caulfield cross.
The incident with Dobbs and Hunt which caused tempers to rise followed before Wexford forced a second corner before half-time, but Croke's header from Kelly's set-piece was comfortably saved.
The corner count after the break was 5-1 in Wexford's favour, an accurate reflection of the pattern of the game. Hunt fisted the first from Kelly clear before Kevin Taylor fired across goal and wide at the other end.
Andrew O'Connor dealt with a dangerous cross after Taylor beat Conor Dunne in the box, while a one-two between Aaron Dobbs and Eoin Porter was thwarted as the former's shot was cushioned by a block.
Cobh nearly capitalised on a Chambers error in the 57th minute when he left Owen McCormack short with a pass, but Ross Kenny came to the rescue as he intercepted Kyle McNamara's cross to Cian Leonard and injured himself in the process.
A Dean Kelly corner on the 60-minute mark was headed on by Conor Dunne into the path of Kenny who rose high but missed the target.
Dobbs was posing constant problems up front and James McSweeney was booked for fouling the striker in the 62nd minute, but the free-kick proved fruitless after a defender was pushed in the box.
Chambers was seen at his best once more when he saved with his feet from substitute Ian Mylod, while Cian Kingston was the next Cobh player booked for hacking down Dobbs, with nine minutes left.
The free-kick that followed from Dean Kelly led to Shane Dunne's appeal and the first of those quick-fire yellow cards as the game took another unexpected twist.
Wexford were left with only centre-backs McCormack and Kenny back to mind the house, and Chambers made another excellent stop after Beneoin O'Brien-Whitmarsh played in fellow substitute Mylod in the 89th minute.
However, there was nothing he could do to prevent the second goal over two minutes into added time. Roles were reversed on this occasion as Mylod crossed from the left for the unmarked O'Brien-Whitmarsh who had a straightforward tap-in.
Despite this defeat, Wexford will still relish the trip to Lissywollen to face Athlone Town on Friday, because a win would see them finally leapfrog their midland opponents off the bottom of the table.
They will be back in Ferrycarrig Park on August 11 to take on Crumlin United in the first round of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Conor Dunne, Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny (capt.), Andrew O'Connor; Mikey Byrne; Adam O'Rourke, Eoin Porter, Thomas Croke, Mark Slater; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Dean Kelly for O'Rourke, inj. (33), Shane Dunne for O'Connor (56), Dean George for Byrne (71), also Danny Doyle, A.J. Lehane, Michael Walsh.
Cobh Ramblers: Paul Hunt (capt.); Charlie Fleming, John Kavanagh, Cian Kingston, James McSweeney, Kevin Taylor; Karl Caulfield, Darren Murphy, Cian Coleman, Kyle McNamara; Cian Leonard. Subs. - Beneoin O'Brien-Whitmarsh for Leonard (71), Ian Mylod for McNamara (73), also Michal Sadys, Chris McCarthy, Shane Lowth, Peter Callanan, Gordon Walker.
Referee: Robert Hennessy (Limerick).