Youths swept aside by Pat's
Gap to Harps widens as likelihood of play-off increases
It's looking increasingly likely that Wexford Youths will have to come through a promotion/relegation play-off in order to preserve their SSE Airtricity Premier Division status after the latest in a long line of disappointing results in Richmond Park, Inchicore, on Friday.
St. Patrick's Athletic 4 Wexford Youths 1
The iconic ground hasn't been the location for any happy memories in their first season in the top flight, as a 4-0 hammering there in April was followed by a comprehensive 4-1 reversal this time around.
And just to make matters worse, Finn Harps were beating Bray Wanderers in Ballybofey at the same time, meaning the team directly above Youths on the table have collected a precious four points from their last two games.
It leaves them a healthy eight points clear of the Ferrycarrig Park crew at this stage and, with just four matches apiece left for both, it would take something special for Youths to jump above them into tenth spot and ensure safety.
Of more immediate concern now is the absolute necessity to keep that six-point gap between themselves and bottom side Longford Town who have been long-standing tenants of the automatic relegation spot. On all known form it looks like the Youths squad and their supporters will be bracing themselves for do-or-die home and away play-off clashes against either Drogheda United, UCD or Cobh Ramblers on Monday, October 31, and Friday, November 4.
Youths hadn't played in a fortnight as their game against Cork City on September 30 was postponed due to the Leesiders' FAI Cup commitments. That clash will now take place in Turner's Cross on Monday, October 24, four nights before the regulation season concludes away to Sligo Rovers.
Prior to that Shane Keegan's side will entertain Galway United next Friday and Finn Harps on October 21, while Longford Town's run-in features games away to Sligo Rovers, home to Dundalk, away to Galway United, and home to Shamrock Rovers.
Youths have been dealt a heavy blow as no fewer than five of the squad - Stephen Last, Eric Molloy, Andy Mulligan, Danny Ledwith and Conor O'Keeffe - have left to pursue their careers in New Zealand, linking up again with one of their former I.T. Carlow lecturers, Paul O'Reilly, who is now managing Southern United in Dunedin.
All five will work in a coaching capacity in the local community as well as lining out for the club, but their move couldn't have come at a worse time for Youths.
However, with the New Zealand season starting at the end of this month, they couldn't wait around any longer.
It certainly reduced options considerably for the second trip of the year to Richmond Park, coupled with the absence of the injured Gary Delaney and the suspended Aidan Keenan, while the club's record goalscorer, Danny Furlong, is also no longer part of the squad.
Four changes in personnel were made from the 3-1 home defeat to Bray Wanderers on September 23, with Andrew O'Connor demoted to the bench while Keenan, Mulligan and Molloy were the other absentees. Gorey teenager Vincent Quinlan made his competitive league debut on the right wing, having featured for the first time with the team in a late cameo appearance against Bohemians during the Leinster Senior Cup final.
Aidan Friel, Chris Kenny and Eoin Porter also started after being on the bench against Bray, and it was notable that seven of the starting eleven came from a Wexford League background which represented a seasonal high. Another Under-19, Dean George, was part of the squad for the first time alongside two more of his colleagues apart from Porter and Quinlan, namely reserve netminder Corey Chambers and defender Owen McCormack.
Unfortunately, the game was well and truly over by half-time when St. Patrick's Athletic held a healthy 3-0 lead, and indeed it could have been more.
Their league form has been a big disappointment, failing to match their EA Sports Cup success and qualification for the last four of the FAI Cup, but on this occasion they were irresistible in possession.
They punished Youths repeatedly on the break, bossing the central midfield exchanges and creating a significant amount of chances down the right flank in particular where Conan Byrne posed a constant threat.
He had scored twice in that win in April and added another brace here, with ace striker Christy Fagan also repeating his goal-getting feat from six months ago before Graham Kelly piled on the agony.
The speedy movement of Pat's and their accurate, one-touch football left Youths repeatedly chasing shadows, and they never looked like getting anything from the game although Jonny Bonner at least managed to grab a consolation goal.
Only once did the visitors mount a decent attack in the opening quarter, after seven minutes when good build-up play ended with Paul Murphy teeing the ball up for Shane Dempsey whose shot was powerful but too high to worry Brendan Clarke.
Centre-back Darren Dennehy shot wide for the home side after they earned the game's first corner, and the menacing Conan Byrne forced Graham Doyle into a 14th-minute save before Lee Chin hacked the ball to safety.
Byrne then squandered an even better chance, pulling a low shot across goal and wide, but Youths were constantly outnumbered down his flank and Aidan Friel often lacked support to stem the tide.
Christy Fagan had a shot blocked before Doyle had to advance smartly after Lee Desmond hooked a lovely pass into the path of overlapping full-back Ian Bermingham in the 20th minute.
The constant pressure was sure to reap rewards for Liam Buckley's side though, and they opened their account 55 seconds later on their next attack. Jamie McGrath found Graham Kelly who really shouldn't have been able to pick out an unmarked Conan Byrne in the box at this level, but the winger had cut inside unattended and wasn't going to miss from close range.
Every time Pat's broke forward they seemed capable of adding to their lead, with a Billy Dennehy shot blocked before Lee Grace intercepted a dangerous Christy Fagan cross.
Fagan was only narrowly wide in the 30th minute after getting on the end of a first-time Conan Byrne cross from the byline, but home supporters in the small crowd of 478 were celebrating again after their next attack.
Ian Bermingham won a free-kick after Vincent Quinlan tried to take him on but hadn't the legs for the wily full-back. Seconds later Fagan had the ball and played a clever one-two with Jamie McGrath to split the defence wide open before shooting calmly to the net.
And it got even worse for Youths just over two minutes later as Pat's captain Ger O'Brien whipped in a cross from the right and Lee Chin was deemed to have pushed Graham Kelly in the box in his efforts to head clear.
Conan Byrne stepped up to the spot-kick intent on doubling his own tally and duly obliged for a 3-0 lead.
There was no way back for Youths, even with more than half the game remaining. Jonny Bonner did force Brendan Clarke into a good save from a long-range shot, leading to a corner taken by Shane Dempsey which the netminder fisted clear.
Jamie McGrath should have made it four in the 38th minute but directed a free header in the box from a Billy Dennehy cross straight at a grateful Graham Doyle.
Youths did create a good opening just before the break when Shane Dempsey picked out Vincent Quinlan with a raking long pass, but the debutant couldn't get his shot away as Michael Barker got back to bring off a super tackle.
The visitors did improve on the re-start as four albeit fruitless corners were forced in the first eight minutes. A Chris Kenny header with his back to goal from a free-kick didn't trouble Brendan Clarke, although the number one did have to get down low to his left to keep out a better attempt from Paul Murphy after a Vincent Quinlan cross.
Quinlan fired over from a Murphy lay-off in the 58th minute, while Shane Dempsey tried his luck from midfield when he spotted Clarke slightly off his line but the goalkeeper saved comfortably.
Lee Chin collected a booking for a foul on the rampaging Billy Dennehy on the edge of the box, and the Kerryman fired low and wide after Conan Byrne teed him up from the free-kick.
Graham Doyle pulled off a fine save from a low shot by Jamie McGrath, with Pat's unable to create anything from the corner.
They did come close to a fourth when Lee Desmond and Christy Fagan featured in the build-up before Conan Byrne's cross was slightly behind Billy Dennehy.
Fagan fired over before Paul Murphy stepped over an Aidan Friel cross at the other end, but there was no team-mate behind him to capitalise.
Pat's duly added a fourth in the 80th minute, with Ian Bermingham's high, hanging cross from the left dispatched to the net by Graham Kelly with a powerful downward header.
The Youths consolation did arrive just under four minutes later, with a determined Jonny Bonner embarking on a run into the box and then taking a shot which deflected off Michael Barker to the net.
Late attempts by Bonner and Shane Dunne respectively to release substitute Conor Whittle didn't come off, with Youths ending with the unwanted record of being the first team to lose 20 games in the league season.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Lee Chin, Lee Grace, Aidan Friel; Vincent Quinlan, Chris Kenny, Shane Dempsey, Johnny Bonner, Eoin Porter; Paul Murphy. Subs. - Shane Dunne for Kenny (64), Peter Higgins for Dempsey (69), Conor Whittle for Porter (69), also Andrew O'Connor, Dean George, Owen McCormack, Corey Chambers.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O'Brien (capt.), Michael Barker, Darren Dennehy, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, Graham Kelly, Jamie McGrath, Lee Desmond; Billy Dennehy, Christy Fagan. Subs. - Darragh Markey for McGrath (67), Dylan McGlade for Byrne (72), also Dinny Corcoran, Mark Timlin, Rory Feely, Pat Jennings, Jonathan Lunney.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork).
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