Youths hold on in bizarre tie
Locals squander 5-0 lead but still win nine-goal thriller
How on earth does a team cruising with a 5-0 lead after 53 minutes end up hanging on for dear life at the finish?
Wexford Youths 5 Galway United 4
That was one of several perplexing questions posed by a crowd who certainly couldn't complain about the entertainment value on offer after this quite remarkable SSE Airtricity Premier Division encounter at a rain- and wind-lashed Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.
First and foremost, it must be noted that Wexford Youths collected a welcome sixth win of the season and a valuable three points which practically ensured that there is no chance Longford Town will perform some kind of miracle and overtake them from the foot of the table.
Indeed, by the time you read this the midlanders' automatic relegation will probably be confirmed, as they faced the unenviable task of playing Dundalk last night (Monday).
And although Youths have been talking about involvement in a promotion/relegation play-off for some weeks now, they have closed the gap to Finn Harps back to six points. And with a chance to gain nine between now and October 28, it turns their last home tie of the regulation season on Friday against the Donegal men into a game of tremendous importance.
That will be the second-last game for Harps whereas Youths have admittedly difficult trips to Cork City and Sligo Rovers next week. However, if Friday's game proved one thing, it's that there's no limit to what might potentially happen in sport so all angles should be covered.
Incidentally, if the play-off is ultimately Youths' fate, the opposition will be provided by either Drogheda United or Cobh Ramblers after U.C.D. departed from that three-horse race with a loss to the Louth club on Saturday night.
One of the big positives looking at Friday's teamsheet was the presence on the bench of the club's record goalscorer, Danny Furlong. He was back in the fold nearly as quickly as he had left it, and fate went on to play a big part after he was introduced in the 27th minute when early goalscorer Aidan Keenan was forced off with a facial injury.
By game's end the ace opportunist had leapfrogged Paul Murphy into the position of leading league marksman for the season thus far, availing of very poor Galway defending twice with typical aplomb.
Aidan Keenan returned from suspension, Conor Whittle was handed his first start of the season in this competition, and Andrew O'Connor also came into the starting eleven, with Shane Dempsey plus young guns Eoin Porter and Vincent Quinlan demoted to the bench.
New signing from the U.S.A., Alexandre Zidani, wasn't part of the match-day squad on this occasion, and while Gary Delaney was still missing, it was encouraging to see him jogging freely around the pitch while the warm-up was taking place.
Tactically, the most interesting move was the decision to push Lee Chin forward from centre-back and start him at midfield in a direct swap with Chris 'Hopper' Kenny.
Galway United came into this game after a recent change of manager, with Tommy Dunne sacked and replaced by Leo Tierney, while they had shipped five goals both home and away in recent losses to Cork City.
And it took just over two minutes for those defensive frailties to emerge again on a night marred by thunder, lightning and heavy persistent rain. Lee Grace and Conor Whittle had a hand in the build-up, but the key intervention came from Chin who slid a through ball to Aidan Keenan, with the Laois man holding off his direct opponent and slotting home his first league goal of 2016.
It couldn't have come at a more opportune time, and it set Youths up for a very productive first-half, aided and abetted it must be said by some truly shocking Galway defending.
The home side were lucky not to concede though less than one minute after getting off the mark, as ace striker Vinny Faherty wasn't too far away from finishing off a Kevin Devaney cross.
They breathed an even bigger sigh of relief in the sixth minute when Enda Curran whipped in the ball from the left for Gary Shanahan to control and strike off the bar.
The heavens opened just after Youths cleared the first of Galway's seven corners, with ex-Youths defender Killian Cantwell booked for a challenge on Aidan Keenan before Lee Grace did well to deal with a Colm Horgan cross.
Marc Ludden couldn't make the most of a free-kick for the visitors, while a dangerous Andrew O'Connor delivery was dealt with by a defender before Youths almost doubled their lead.
They forced their first corner on the left after a Craig McCabe throw, with Conor Whittle's delivery met with a powerful header by Lee Chin which Kevin Horgan did well to turn around the post for another corner, this time on the right.
Chin was low to the ground when getting on the end of that ball in from O'Connor, with his glancing effort going wide.
Another Galway corner was cleared and led to a breakway featuring Jonny Bonner, Aidan Friel and Chin, but the move broke down on the edge of the box at the Ferrycarrig end.
Danny Furlong joined the fray for Aidan Keenan in the 27th minute, with both sides unable to capitalise on further corners, while Andrew O'Connor came to Chris Kenny's rescue with a spot of sound defending after the ball initially skidded under the Enniscorthy man's boot as the constant rain took its toll.
Jonny Bonner wasn't too far off the mark with a good effort which flew wide at Kevin Horgan's near post, with Stephen Walsh booked for the visitors before they contributed to their own downfall in conceding a second goal.
It came in the 39th minute when Jonny Bonner slid a low free-kick to his right for Aidan Friel when Galway probably expected him to knock it into the box. And although Kevin Devaney initially made an interception, his back pass was short and Danny Furlong pounced to fire it home for a priceless 2-0 lead.
And the situation improved even more for Youths less than 90 seconds later when a Galway defender tried to play the ball across the field but only succeeded in gifting a chance to Conor Whittle who didn't need a second invitation to strike his first goal of the season.
Indeed, the Waterford lad had an opportunity to make it four in added time after good work by Danny Furlong, but his effort was blocked.
It was the first time Youths had scored three goals since the FAI Cup win against non-league Firhouse Clover at the same venue on May 20, but it was about to get considerably better.
Gary Shanahan drove a first-time shot wide for Galway before a fourth goal was added at the other end in the 50th minute. A Craig McCabe throw-in from the left was added to at the near post into the path of Andrew O'Connor who scored his first-ever goal for the club from close range.
The season-high goal tally of four, registered away to Longford Town on May 10, had been matched, but it was quickly surpassed.
Galway centre-half Stephen Walsh somehow didn't spot Danny Furlong and, in a carbon copy of Whittle's goal, his crossfield pass for a colleague went straight to the replacement striker who couldn't believe his luck as he made it 5-0.
Youths were in dreamland, and what could possibly go wrong at that stage? Quite a lot as it turned out, with the leaders inexplicably falling apart and conceding four goals in the space of just 13 bizarre minutes.
Prior to that Paul Murphy cleared a Galway corner, while Furlong hooked the ball to the left and wide from an O'Connor setpiece at the other end.
Chris Kenny made a good challenge on Kevin Devaney after he cut into the box, but this was a portent of things to come. Kenny entered the notebook and Aidan Friel cleared a corner, before what most people felt would be a mere consolation goal arrived in the 61st minute.
It was a brilliant finish from left winger Devaney, curling his effort high into the far top corner of Graham Doyle's net, but there didn't appear to be any immediate danger to the Youths lead.
A Paul Murphy free-kick across goal just needed the slightest touch to cancel that goal, but it wasn't forthcoming. Graham Doyle saved comfortably from substitute Conor Melody before Chris Kenny made a diving header to cut out a Gary Shanahan cross, but the second Galway goal was just around the corner.
It arrived in the 68th minute, with another Shanahan delivery from the right turned into his own net at the back post by Aidan Friel who endured a torrid second-half in particular from direct opponent Kevin Devaney.
Peter Higgins came on at midfield for Chris Kenny, with Lee Chin dropping back to centre-half, but the home side's defence was in complete disarray in the last quarter.
There was momentary panic when Shanahan blocked Graham Doyle from a Craig McCabe back pass, but the netminder recovered. He was picking the ball out of the net again though in the 72nd minute, with a poor headed clearance from Aidan Friel leading to Vinny Faherty finding Kevin Devaney who tucked another effort into the same corner to make it 5-3.
The locals were growing restless, and their mood didn't improve when Doyle had to advance smartly to deny Devaney a hat-trick after a long ball from Shanahan.
Unbelievably, the margin was down to one just over 40 seconds later when a Marc Ludden cross from the left was met with a poor clearance into the path of substitute Conor Melody who rattled the roof of the net.
From a position of being in cruise control, Youths were now sweating, and it was entirely their own fault. Hearts skipped a beat when Doyle didn't control a Chin back pass, but thankfully he recovered.
Craig McCabe was booked before Killian Cantwell scuffed a shot well wide, with Shane Dempsey replacing Conor Whittle and both sides unable to capitalise on corners.
Marc Ludden was booked for a theatrical dive in the box, and Doyle was out swiftly to cut out Stephen Folan's attempted long ball to Shanahan just before three added minutes were announced.
Youths had to defend a few late Galway attacks, with Doyle and Chin both prominent, before the long whistle of Graham Kelly brought an end to the type of game that doesn't come about too often. It represented the best and worst of what the home players have to offer, and it's clear that only the former quality will suffice from now on if they want to guarantee a second season of top flight football.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Aidan Friel, Chris Kenny, Lee Grace, Craig McCabe; Conor Whittle, Jonny Bonner, Lee Chin, Andrew O'Connor; Paul Murphy, Aidan Keenan. Subs. - Danny Furlong for Keenan, inj. (27), Peter Higgins for Kenny (68), Shane Dempsey for Whittle (81), also Eoin Porter, Vincent Quinlan, Shane Dunne, Corey Chambers.
Galway United: Kevin Horgan; Colm Horgan, Killian Cantwell, Stephen Walsh, Marc Ludden; Gary Shanahan, Paul Sinnott (capt.), Alex Byrne, Kevin Devaney; Enda Curran, Vinny Faherty. Subs. - Conor Melody for Curran, inj. (45+4), Stephen Folan for Walsh (55), Pádraic Cunningham for Faherty (79), also Sam Ramsbottom, Armin Aganovic, Evan Murphy.
Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork).
PREMIER TABLE (before Monday's games)
Derry City3115115442856 Shamrock R3115610423251
Bray Wand3112613353942 Bohemians3112514293441
St. Pat's Ath2911612363339 Galway Utd3110714435037