Youths improve but still lose
First-half gives strong Cork side all three points
Wexford's winning sporting weekend against Cork teams didn't extend to Sunday's SSE Airtricity Premier Division clash at a windy Ferrycarrig Park, as Youths were undone by a 28th-minute goal which stretched their losing streak to five games.
Wexford Youths 0 Cork City 1
The song says 'two out of three ain't bad', but unfortunately Shane Keegan's charges were the odd one out after the successful exploits of the hurling and camogie sides against Leeside opponents one day earlier.
One of the strange contradictions of the campaign to date has been their ability to pose plenty of problems for the big two of Dundalk and Cork City, while routinely struggling to match those performances against less-accomplished elevens.
The champions had to work very hard for their two wins thus far against Youths, while their most likely successors travelled to Wexford last Sunday conscious of the battling performance which had secured a 1-1 draw for Youths in Turner's Cross.
Once again the Premier Division newcomers pushed them for long stretches despite the superior passing ability of John Caulfield's team, but this time around they had nothing to show for their efforts as they remain second from bottom. Indeed, Bray Wanderers' good spell has coincided with a slump for Youths, with the Wicklow side collecting another point over the weekend to move one clear.
Shane Keegan unveiled a new formation for this game and, while it was a big ask to introduce it for the first time against one of the top teams, he simply had to try something to address the number of goals conceded which stood at 33 before Sunday's clash.
He went from the tried and trusted four at the back, deployed in all 17 games thus far, to a trio as Stephen Last returned to man the centre with Gary and Ryan Delaney on either side.
Full-backs Craig McCabe and Conor O'Keeffe were sacrificed in the shake-up which saw four changes in personnel from the eleven starters in the defeat to Bray eight days earlier. Aidan Friel and Danny Ledwith came in to hug the right and left flanks respectively, with Shane Dunne also starting in central midfield as regular wingers Eric Molloy and Andy Mulligan were kept on the bench.
One positive was the name of combative midfielder Peter Higgins on the teamsheet for the first time this season, and he came on for the last 20 minutes after a long injury lay-off. With reserve goalkeeper Matt Connor moving to Sunday's opponents during the week, his place on the bench was taken by Gavin Dowling.
There was some disappointment for local fans looking forward to seeing Cork City's Wexford double act because New Ross midfielder Greg Bolger was ruled out through injury and watched the action from the stand. However, Curracloe left-back Kevin O'Connor showed why manager John Caulfield rates him so highly with his slick passing and control on the ball, and he also provided the assist for the match-winning goal.
The visitors had played in the Europa League on Thursday versus Linfield, and O'Connor was one of eight starters retained from that 1-1 draw which secured a 2-1 aggregate win. Centre-half Kenny Browne had to cry off after being named on the original teamsheet, with his place taken at the eleventh hour by Michael McSweeney.
The strong wind didn't make it easy for either side to control possession, but Cork enjoyed the lion's share of the ball as the corner count of 11-1 in their favour would suggest.
Graham Doyle, who received the Supporters' Club player of the month award for June before kick-off, had to be alert straight away when he advanced smartly to gather a knock-on by Mark O'Sullivan from Kevin O'Connor's delivery.
Danny Morrissey had the first chance for Cork in the tenth minute after good build-up play by O'Connor, Colin Healy and Steven Beattie saw the ball transferred from left to right, but his effort through the legs of Ryan Delaney was beaten away before three corners in quick succession came to nothing.
A push by Shane Dunne on Gavan Holohan in a central area just outside the box led to another opportunity for the visitors in the 16th minute. Holohan teed it up for Mark O'Sullivan whose low drive was well saved by Graham Doyle after O'Connor initially stepped over the ball.
Danny Morrissey hooked over a Gavan Holohan knock-down from O'Sullivan's cross three minutes later, but the number 9 was offside in any case.
Youths hadn't really threatened at that stage, but they came close in the 20th minute when Aidan Friel's cross from the right to the far post was met by a first-time Jonny Bonner volley which flashed across goal and wide.
A long-range Danny Furlong tester was easily saved by Mark McNulty after a Paul Murphy knock-on, with Cork forcing two more fruitless corners before the sides experienced contrasting fortunes in front of the posts.
It was similar in many respects to the bitter experience in the Carlisle Grounds on the previous weekend when a potential 2-1 deficit became 3-0 in an instant after a Gary Delaney miss.
This time around, Jonny Bonner played the ball to the right where Paul Murphy's first-time delivery found Danny Furlong in a great position. His placed shot came back off the post though into the grateful arms of Mark McNulty, a stroke of bad luck typifying the current plight of the striker who hasn't scored in the league since May 7.
As if that miss wasn't a bitter enough pill to swallow, Cork had the ball in the net just over one minute later. Danny Morrissey was fouled on the edge of the box, and this time Gavan Holohan stroked the free-kick to Kevin O'Connor whose piledriver was parried by Graham Doyle, with Garry Buckley on hand to fire the rebound to the net.
City forced another three corners as they looked to build on that lead, but they all proved fruitless. Danny Ledwith then played a ball into the box for Chris Kenny to knock on, but Ryan Delaney didn't get any power into his shot and Mark O'Sullivan was able to clear.
Steven Beattie ballooned a Cork City strike off target before Mark McNulty fisted a Shane Dunne cross off the head of his own defender, Kevin O'Connor, to safety. Graham Doyle saved from a long-range Gavan Holohan shot in first-half stoppage time before the home side retired facing that one-goal deficit.
They resumed brightly, with Jonny Bonner driving a free-kick to the far post after 55 seconds where a stretching Gary Delaney knocked the ball over the bar.
Paul Murphy and Danny Furlong combined in the 57th minute, with the latter seeking to find Chris Kenny in the box. Kenny took a tumble under a challenge from Michael McSweeney, but referee Tomás Connolly saw nothing in it to merit a penalty.
Murphy shot high and wide seconds later, with Stephen Last doing well to cut out a Karl Sheppard cross at the other end before Mark O'Sullivan had a shot blocked in the box.
The return of Peter Higgins was followed by the one and only corner won for Youths by Paul Murphy, but Danny Ledwith's effort went harmlessly beyond the far post.
Ledwith then had a shot blocked after an Aidan Friel cross was cleared into his path, with Gary Delaney making a vital interception before Graham Doyle made a good save from Mark O'Sullivan's header after an Ian Turner cross.
A double substitution saw Andy Mulligan and Eric Molloy introduced for the last ten minutes in place of Shane Dunne and Aidan Friel respectively.
Ian Turner fired over after a Cork City corner before Ledwith was booked for a foul on Steven Beattie. The subsequent free-kick from Kevin O'Connor forced Graham Doyle into a super save as he got a vital hand on Mark O'Sullivan's header for a corner.
Youths' best hope of salvaging something from the game arrived after a foul on Eric Molloy in the 88th minute, but Danny Furlong fired high and over from the free-kick. Danny Ledwith stood over another setpiece in added time, but Peter Higgins headed well wide as Youths failed to register a goal for the fourth game on the trot, in sharp contrast to Cork City who have now gone 15 matches unbeaten in the league to underline their quality.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Ryan Delaney; Aidan Friel, Shane Dunne, Jonny Bonner, Chris Kenny, Danny Ledwith; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Peter Higgins for Kenny (70), Eric Molloy for Friel (80), Andy Mulligan for Dunne (80), also Craig McCabe, Conor O'Keeffe, Conor Whittle, Gavin Dowling.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett (capt.), Michael McSweeney, Kevin O'Connor; Garry Buckley, Colin Healy, Gavan Holohan, Gearóid Morrissey; Danny Morrissey, Mark O'Sullivan. Subs. - Karl Sheppard for G. Morrissey (61), Ian Turner for D. Morrissey (74), also Stephen Dooley, David Coffey, Seán Maguire, Craig Donnellan.
Referee: Tomás Connolly (Dublin).