Youths reeled in by Hoops
Furlong scores from spot before visitors are over-run
Wexford Youths came crashing back down to earth after the morale-boosting win over Longford Town when they were comprehensively outplayed by an inventive Shamrock Rovers side in this SSE Airtricity Premier Division clash in Tallaght Stadium on Monday of last week.
Shamrock Rovers 3 Wexford Youths 1
The visitors may have taken the lead against the run of play near the end of the first quarter, but it only lasted 16 minutes before the Hoops equalised and went on to dominate proceedings.
Indeed, they could have easily doubled their eventual goals tally of three as they also hit the woodwork twice before Enniscorthy teenager Aaron Dobbs missed one gilt-edged chance after coming off the bench.
It was a chastening experience on the whole for Youths who had lost 2-0 at the same venue earlier in the season, although they had also shocked Rovers on a similar scoreline in Ferrycarrig Park on May 13.
Two changes were made to the starting eleven from the win over Longford, with Shane Dunne and Andy Mulligan coming in for Eric Molloy and Aidan Keenan on the right and left flanks respectively.
The death of Rovers legend Liam Tuohy was marked by a minute's applause before the action commenced, and it became quickly apparent that the home side's new tactical formation was going to cause Youths all sorts of problems.
Caretaker manager Stephen Bradley opted for a 3-5-2 rather than the 4-4-2 preferred by his predecessor, Pat Fenlon, whose term in charge came to an end when that league loss to Shane Keegan's side was followed by a swift exit from the Europa League a few months ago.
And the central midfield trio of Gary McCabe, Pat Cregg and Brandon Miele went on to exercise complete control of proceedings, with McCabe providing the steel, Cregg protecting his back three, and Miele offering the creativity and pace which singles him out as one of the leading players in the league.
Their dominance left Youths chasing shadows for long periods, with the front two feeding off scraps, although it wasn't until after the visitors' goal that Rovers really got into their stride. Indeed, prior to that Youths threatened more in the final third.
Paul Murphy directed an early cross into the arms of goalkeeper Craig Hyland after a one-two with Andy Mulligan, while Shamrock Rovers first posed problems in the sixth minute when the offside flag saved Youths after McCabe tried to thread the ball through to Dean Clarke.
Mulligan fired a first-time shot wide after a good pass from Lee Grace before Graham Doyle fumbled a cross from the left by Trevor Clarke, but Johnny Bonner was on hand to tidy up.
Bonner then directed a neat ball to Danny Furlong whose first touch let him down as it took him away from the posts, but the Donegal man was centrally involved in the game's first goal in the 19th minute.
His pass found Paul Murphy in the box but the attacker had his back to goal and wasn't in a particularly dangerous position. However, Rovers defender David O'Connor mis-timed his tackle and the penalty which ensued was inevitable.
Danny Furlong's reaction when his spot kick went under Craig Hyland's body and into the net looked to be one of complete and utter relief, and this was no surprise given that he was finally ending a scoring drought in the league stretching back to May 7 in the Showgrounds when he netted the consolation in the 4-1 loss to Sligo Rovers.
The Hoops faithful weren't too happy after falling in arrears naturally enough, and their mood provoked a strong reaction from the players as Rovers took over slowly but surely.
Brandon Miele couldn't make the most of a free-kick before they forced their first corner, with Graham Doyle making a fine save from Gary McCabe after his tenacity saw him beat Lee Grace in a challenge.
Paul Murphy averted the danger before a Seán Boyd back heel was cleared after he rose with Graham Doyle following a Simon Madden cross which looped into the air off Gary Delaney's head.
Shane Dunne tried his luck at the other end with a speculative long-range shot in the 29th minute after spotting Craig Hyland slightly off his line, but the netminder saved comfortably.
Jonny Bonner and Paul Murphy then combined to create a chance for Andy Mulligan who had Danny Furlong in close company, but the ball went to the right and wide.
Another effort from Miele didn't test Graham Doyle before Gary Delaney made a good interception when Dean Clarke tried to link up with strike partner Seán Boyd.
Delaney then got a slight header on a Simon Madden cross but it was enough to thwart the danger. However, all of that pressing from the home side was bound to pay dividends eventually, and the leveller arrived in the 35th minute.
Shane Dunne committed a costly, needless foul on Seán Boyd in a central area just outside the box.
Graham Doyle set up a wall of five but was still powerless to prevent Gary McCabe from crashing a beautiful free-kick high to the 'keeper's left and into the top corner of the net.
It was a quality finish, and the Hoops thrived thereafter. The rival managers got up close and personal briefly on the line after Seán Boyd was booked for a late challenge on Conor O'Keeffe, with most of the aggression in the exchange supplied by Stephen Bradley before the fourth official intervened.
That was quickly forgotten about though as Rovers needed just over four minutes to take the lead.
This time the ability of Brandon Miele to unlock any defence was underlined as he played a one-two with Dean Clarke slightly to the right of the Youths goal before planting a superb shot into the far corner.
It was another tremendous finish, and even at that relatively early stage it didn't seem like Youths would be capable of mounting a comeback.
Clarke won the second corner off Stephen Last and then headed low and only narrowly wide from Miele's delivery from the right.
Simon Madden then fed Miele but there was nobody in the box to get on the end of his low drive as Rovers sought to build on their new-found lead before half-time.
Goalkeeper Craig Hyland fisted a Craig McCabe throw clear at the other end, and Rovers had one more chance before the break when Madden fired over following a one-two with Miele - leading to a frank exchange of views between Youths netminder Graham Doyle and midfielder Jonny Bonner.
Hyland advanced smartly inside one minute of the re-start after Paul Murphy tried to pick out Andy Mulligan. Rovers couldn't capitalise on the third of their five corners in all (Youths had one) before Doyle made an easy save from Gary McCabe's weak volley.
Stephen Last entered the notebook for a foul on Miele in a central position, although further out than for McCabe's first-half goal. The threat was still there though as this time Miele's shot beat the four-man wall but was tipped over by Doyle for a corner, with defender David O'Connor nearly getting on the end of Miele's delivery at the back post.
Andy Mulligan was booked before Jonny Bonner over-hit a free-kick wide, with Youths coming under even more pressure and almost conceding again in the 60th minute.
Seán Boyd knocked the ball down to Brandon Miele in acres of space and, after receiving a return pass, the lanky striker directed his shot off Graham Doyle's near post.
Trevor Clarke blazed over but Youths were nearly punished for a slack back pass from Stephen Last, only for Doyle to dive at the feet of Dean Clarke as he sought to dink the ball around him.
Another Rovers corner was wasted with a foul on Shane Dunne in the box before Conor O'Keeffe made an important interception when Dean Clarke tried to play Miele in.
The inevitable third goal arrived in the 69th minute, with Trevor Clarke rewarded for a very busy and productive second-half on the left wing when his cross was cushioned into the net by centre-forward Seán Boyd.
Matters disimproved even further for Youths when centre-half Gary Delaney - not long back from suspension - received two more yellows in the space of five minutes which will keep him out of the clash with high-flying Dundalk this coming Friday.
There was no complaints about the first as he stopped Brandon Miele in his tracks, but substitute James Doona stayed on his feet after the second tackle and it looked like a very harsh call.
Graham Doyle clearly agreed, but his dash from the line to remonstrate with referee Adriano Reale also earned him a booking.
Seán Boyd had missed the easiest chance of the evening from point-blank range in between Delaney's two yellows, while Aaron Dobbs had also entered the fray up front to the delight of all Wexford people among the crowd.
Youths had a free-kick to deal with when the dust settled after the dismissal, and only the crossbar saved them as Gary McCabe nearly doubled his tally from setpieces.
Doyle made a good save from Trevor Clarke in the follow-up, with Lee Grace dropping back from midfield to centre-half to fill the void in defence.
Further changes saw Paul Murphy left as the sole man up front, with Youths forcing their sole corner after a Craig McCabe throw in the 82nd minute.
Craig Hyland fisted clear from substitute Shane Dempsey who figured in a few more attacks before the finish, but he didn't get hold of a shot to test the netminder while two of his free-kicks located the heads of Paul Murphy and Andy Mulligan respectively but with no end product.
Gary Shaw shot over for Rovers after shaking off Lee Grace, and Simon Madden didn't test Graham Doyle before two late chances for Aaron Dobbs.
The first was an instinctive left-footed swing at a cross from fellow replacement James Doona which flew over, while he should have scored from the second in added time.
Stephen Last failed by a matter of inches to cut out Gary McCabe's pass to the young Slaneysider who shot wide of Doyle's near post with his favoured right boot. Doona also drove over before the finish, with Youths relieved to have only conceded three goals given the relentless pressure exercised by the victors.
Next up are champs Dundalk in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday (8 p.m.).
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Conor O'Keeffe, Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Craig McCabe; Shane Dunne, Jonny Bonner, Lee Grace, Andy Mulligan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Chris Kenny for Dunne (80), Shane Dempsey for Bonner (80), Peter Higgins for Furlong (81), also Danny Ledwith, Conor Whittle, Andrew O'Connor, Gavin Dowling.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; David Webster, Rob Cornwall, David O'Connor; Simon Madden, Gary McCabe, Pat Cregg (capt.), Brandon Miele, Trevor Clarke; Dean Clarke, Seán Boyd. Subs. - Gary Shaw for D. Clarke (70), James Doona for Miele (77), Aaron Dobbs for Boyd (77), also Barry Murphy, Killian Brennan, Gavin Brennan, Stephen McPhail.
Referee: Adriano Reale (Kildare).