Youths shine with super win
Highly-rated Rovers toppled in best result of the season
Just before 10 p.m. last Friday, all in the world must have seemed absolutely perfect for the Ferrycarrig Park faithful.
Wexford Youths 2 Shamrock Rovers 0
The weather had been glorious, and the biggest crowd of the season to date had passed through the turnstiles. And, most importantly of all, Wexford Youths had taken the first major scalp of their tenure in the top flight of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
Promise had been shown in some of the earlier games against big guns without getting the rewards in terms of results. However, this was an entirely different story as third-placed Shamrock Rovers were on the receiving end of a gutsy, controlled and skilful performance from the home side as the result of their previous meeting in Tallaght was reversed.
The fully-merited 2-0 victory saw Pat Fenlon's side drop a spot to fourth while Youths leaped into the rarified atmosphere of ninth, leapfrogging Bohemians in the process.
It was a victory borne out of an unyielding work ethic, and nobody personified this more than Paul Murphy - isolated up front owing to the absence of the injured Danny Furlong - who ran himself into the ground as he applied constant pressure on the Rovers back four.
The goals came from Andy Mulligan and Chris Kenny in the 19th and 70th minutes respectively, and two could very easily have been four as Eric Molloy will no doubt agree after his hard work forced two fruitless one-on-ones with Rovers netminder Craig Hyland on either side of that first goal.
And while captain Graham Doyle did have more than his fair share of vital saves to make, he was rewarded with a second clean sheet of the campaign as Youths ended a perfect week with the maximum six points from two outings.
Shane Dunne was given his first start of the season in the absence of the injured Furlong, with the sand applied to the pitch since the last home game clearly visible once the action began.
Aidan Friel, who had a fine outing at left-back, cleared early danger from a free-kick before Gary Delaney conceded the first of nine corners for the visitors, but Brandon Miele's delivery to the far post was met with a weak Gavin Brennan header which went wide.
Chris Kenny and Craig McCabe both made relieving headers clear before the former blocked a Miele shot, and the first gilt-edged Youths chance was just around the corner.
It arrived in the tenth minute when Eric Molloy blocked the attempted clearance of Rovers left-back Gavin Brennan who looked very uncomfortable with the ball at his feet. Molloy's pace left him in the clear but he steered a low shot to the left and just outside the post as Craig Hyland narrowed the angle.
Graham Doyle saved impressively from Rovers captain Gary McCabe who shot first-time after a long ball by Gavin Brennan, while there was nobody to get on the end of a dangerous Dean Clarke cross from the left in the 13th minute.
Jonny Bonner, whose eye for a killer pass is second to none, threaded one through to Andy Mulligan but unfortunately his pull-back was behind Shane Dunne and Rovers cleared their lines.
Paul Murphy fired over from a free-kick after a foul on Eric Molloy in a central position, and then he showed his defensive qualities with a clearance from the second Rovers corner.
The deadlock-breaking goal owed everything to the tenacity of Gary Delaney who robbed Gary Shaw of possession in a dangerous area to the left of goal. His swift, low delivery into the box fell invitingly for the left peg of Andy Mulligan who calmly steered a low shot past Craig Hyland for his second goal of the week.
It was a tremendous boost for the outsiders although netminder Graham Doyle came to their rescue less than three minutes later when he did superbly to knock a rising shot from Gary Shaw out for a fruitless corner.
Eric Molloy then rounded the 'keeper at the other end from a Shane Dunne through ball but ran out of room as it went over the byline. And the Carlow winger should have done better after robbing Gavin Brennan again in the 26th minute and creating another one-on-one, with his hurried shot lacking power and not testing Hyland.
Free-kicks at either end came to nothing, with Graham Doyle gathering a Gary Shaw header before Jonny Bonner found the goalkeeper's arms after the heavily outnumbered Paul Murphy had done very well to draw a foul.
Aidan Friel defended expertly from the resultant long kick-out, locating Doyle from a header with Dean Clarke lurking menacingly in his slipstream.
The best Rovers chance for an equaliser arrived in the 37th minute when centre-half Rob Cornwall headed narrowly wide from a Killian Brennan free-kick on the right.
A crunching Gary Delaney tackle on Dean Clarke typified the resolve of the home side before their sole corner of the game, earned by Eric Molloy and taken by Shane Dunne, was cleared after Chris Kenny's path was blocked by a mass of bodies at the near post.
Dean Clarke shot wide for Rovers after Gary Shaw did well to beat Gary Delaney, and the half ended on a positive note as the Dubliners' fourth corner was cleared.
The corner count read 5-0 for Rovers after the break, with Ryan Delaney conceding the first and then dealing with it as he thumped a header clear inside a minute.
Paul Murphy capitalised on poor defending in the 50th minute to square the ball for Eric Molloy who shot high and wide on the run, while Gary Shaw flicked wide at the near post from a Dean Clarke cross at the other end.
Killian Brennan drove a free-kick over Graham Doyle's crossbar before Eric Molloy didn't get hold of a snapshot after a long kick-out.
A powerful Aidan Friel run down the left was defended by Rovers during a spell when Ryan Delaney was unyielding at the back for the leaders.
Graham Doyle saved a long-range shot from Gary McCabe before Chris Kenny made a timely block on Killian Brennan in the box.
Doyle turned an effort from distance by Brandon Miele - who had switched from right to left - over for a corner, and the pressure was absorbed effectively before the lead was doubled.
A flowing move down the right ended with Shane Dunne crossing for Chris Kenny who first-timed his shot to the far corner of the net, increasing his tally of league goals for the season to three.
Rovers now had to go for broke with just 20 minutes left to salvage something, with Danny North and later Seán Boyd introduced to bolster their attack.
However, they struggled to create chances as Youths really warmed to the task, backed all the way by the bigger than usual home crowd.
Rovers 'keeper Craig Hyland darted off his line when Jonny Bonner tried to play Andy Mulligan in, and Craig McCabe was on hand to concede a corner when Graham Doyle spilled a Rob Cornwall cross at his far post.
Gary Delaney's header led to another corner that Ryan Delaney cleared, and the New Ross youngster also coped with the threat posed from a Dean Clarke cross.
Andy Mulligan ran into open space but shot over in the 79th minute after Rovers centre-half David Webster pulled up with an injury as he prepare to gather a ball from netminder Hyland.
The highly-rated Brandon Miele posed the greatest threat for the visitors as always, shooting over before Ryan Delaney cleared again from a Danny North knockdown.
Miele came even closer in the 87th minute from a free-kick on the left, but Graham Doyle saved superbly at the expense of a corner and Rob Cornwall headed it over.
Miele was well off target as Youths wound down the clock with three substitutions, and a night to savour ended with roars of approval from the home support.
This result offered emphatic proof that Shane Keegan's side are well able to compete at this level of the league. He's been saying it all along in fairness, and regulars at games have seen it too; hopefully some more fans were converted on Friday and will continue their backing now as we move into a week of cup action on two fronts.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Ryan Delaney, Aidan Friel; Shane Dunne, Chris Kenny; Eric Molloy, Jonny Bonner, Andy Mulligan; Paul Murphy. Subs. - Stephen Last for Kenny (88), Conor Whittle for Molloy (90+2), Danny Ledwith for Dunne (90+3), also John Peare, Conor O'Keeffe, Conor English, Matt Connor.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Rob Cornwall, David Webster, Gavin Brennan; Killian Brennan, Pat Cregg; Brandon Miele, Gary McCabe (capt.), Dean Clarke; Gary Shaw. Subs. - Danny North for McCabe (71), Seán Boyd for Webster, inj. (80), also Barry Murphy, Max Blanchard, Seán Heaney, Stephen McPhail, Richie Purdy.
Referee: Pádraig Sutton (Clare).