Youths regain second spot
Brace of wins leaves Wexford one point behind Harps
A superb double strike from Andy Mulligan was the difference between the teams as Wexford Youths moved back into second place with their finest display of the season to date against Division 1 league Leaders, Finn Harps, at Finn Park, Ballybofey, on Friday.
Finn Harps 1 - Wexford Youths 3
Youths, coming off the back of a mid-week victory over Athlone Town, built on that display with some superb defending against a home side that did most of the attacking, striving to put a couple of disappointing recent results behind them.
However, Harps were helpless in their efforts to break down the superb organisation of the Youths at the back where Gary Delaney, returning from suspension, and Stephen Last were superb in the centre.
And when Harps did manage to get a shot on goal, experienced captain and 'keeper Graham Doyle showed superb handling skills with two vital stops, one in each half.
Youths showed their counter-attacking qualities, breaking quickly out of defence, while their ability to retain possession and play the safe pass resulted in three superb goals to their credit as they rocked the home side who did most of the attacking through the 90 minutes.
Youths took the lead after 18 minutes when Danny Furlong's free kick from the edge of the area took a wicked deflection off the wall and wrong-footed 'keeper Ciarán Gallagher to find the back of the net.
Following this breakthrough the confidence increased in the visiting side and they stretched their lead in the 42nd minute when Andy Mulligan headed Conor English's cross past Gallagher, making it 2-0 at the interval.
Finn Harps hauled themselves back into the game with a 59th-minute cracker from Kevin McHugh to tee up a potential comeback, only for Mulligan to put the game beyond the reach of the hosts twelve minutes later when he swept Furlong's cross high into the roof of the net to match his feat of seven days earlier when he also scored twice against Shelbourne.
The hosts have now lost two successive games, while the Youths have put victories back-to-back in the space of four days to go into the mid-season break just a point adrift of leaders Finn Harps.
As the Donegal side attacked late on, Doyle produced a fine save from a Garbhan Friel header, while the Youths lost Conor English to a second yellow card in the 87th minute.
There was some drama before the game when, for a period, it looked as if the Youths had made a long idle journey up north. A bizarre beginning saw a wheelbarrow of sand come to the rescue of the game.
In the region of 1,000 supporters inside Finn Park were left scratching their heads though, as it was eight minutes before the appointed kick-off time before referee John McLoughlin actually gave the go-ahed for the fixture to be played.
While the pitch looked perfect, the match official held a different viewpoint to the bemusement of spectators in the venue. Accompanied by the F.A.I's match delegate, former League of Ireland referee Paul Deering, McLoughlin instructed Harps officials and the reluctant ground staff to sand divots at the River End before declaring the pitch playable.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle, Craig McCabe, Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Lee Grace, Conor English, Peter Higgins, Craig Wall, Andy Mulligan, Aidan Keenan, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Ryan Delaney for Higgins (61), Jimmy Dermody for Mulligan (90), also Danielis Niekis, David Doyle, Eric Molloy.
Referee: John McLoughlin.
Wexford Youths 2, Athlone Town 0: Following their setback to Shelbourne four days earlier, the Youths needed all three points to keep their chase of leaders Finn Harps alive, and this they achieved with a commanding victory over Athlone Town at Ferrycarrig Park on Tuesday.
The Youths went into this game knowing how important the points were. While it may have been short on quality at times, the Youths were always the superior force and were determined to take full points from this re-fixture.
It had been abandoned a few weeks earlier owing to floodlights failure when the Youths were leading 2-0 at the interval, and they ended up with a similar outcome this time around and none of the accompanying drama to bolster confidence ahead of Friday's long journey to Ballybofey which also yielded a good win.
The sides cancelled each other out during the first-half, going in scoreless at the interval.
Conor English had an early effort comfortably saved but Athlone settled the better, with right winger Marco Chindea leading their charge.
Graham Doyle had to tip a drive from long-range wide and it was the 31st minute before Youths threatened again, with Craig Wall's left-footed effort just missing the top corner.
Danny Furlong hit the side-netting from a free kick and the sides went in scoreless at the break.
Youths stepped up the tempo of their game on the re-start and took a 56th-minute lead through Conor English, his first-ever goal in Senior competition. He slid the ball under the advancing netminder, having scuffed an earlier effort wide.
Strong claims for an Athlone penalty were waved away in between when Marco Chindea went to ground when challenged by Jimmy Dermody.
Athlone were still trying to come to terms with that English goal when they conceded again one minute later, with Craig McCabe's long throw headed into his own net by Brian Shortall.
Athlone battled back though, and Graham Doyle made a good save from Chindea while Craig McCabe cleared an effort from Coughlan off the line in the 73rd minute.
Chindea hit another attempt straight at Doyle and later teed up Coughlan for a bicycle kick in the 88th minute which went narrowly wide.
Stephen Last also made a vital challenge in the four minutes of added time to keep the Youths' clean sheet intact. This result, together with Friday's outcome on the road, leaves the club in the best-possible position as the league takes its annual break for holidays, with the next game away to Cabinteely on Friday, June 26.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle, Lee Grace, Jimmy Dermody, Stephen Last, Craig McCabe, Aidan Keenan, Peter Higgins, Conor English, Andy Mulligan, Craig Wall, Danny Furlong. Subs. - David Doyle for Furlong (94), Paul Brennan for Mulligan (94), also Ryan Delaney, Eric Molloy, Danielis Niekis.
Referee: Paula Brady.
DIVISION ONE TABLE