Tough baptism continues for new faces
Westmeath 0-16 Wexford 1-10
The familiar pattern of the Allianz Football League thus far continued before a small crowd of 750 in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, with Wexford suffering a second successive three-point defeat, and third in all on the trot, in this Division 3 clash.
An opportunist last-gasp goal by Tiarnan Rossiter - his second of the campaign - left that relatively tight margin at the finish, but in truth Westmeath were a good deal superior and would have won by a lot more but for some very poor shooting and suspect decision-making in the attacking third of the field.
As well as triumphing in the game to move on to four points, the midlanders topped the wides count 17-8, and some of those misses kept Wexford in the hunt.
Indeed, the home side reduced the margin to the minimum on two occasions in the third quarter, but a run of three points on the trot by speedy attacker Luke Loughlin pushed Westmeath 11-7 clear and left them with the breathing space they needed.
In similar fashion to the away losses in Fermanagh and Sligo, some bright spells were enjoyed by Wexford although they never really looked capable of taking full control and turning the tables on their Leinster rivals after those two heavy Division 4 defeats last year.
At least the margin was a good deal tighter than both the 2017 group game and the Croke Park final mis-match, although that's hardly a big consolation for the side desperately in need of a first win when they travel to Glennon Brothers Pearse Park to face Longford on February 25.
The game featuring the other two point-less teams, Derry and Offaly, didn't go ahead in Celtic Park owing to snowfall, and Sligo's home clash with Fermanagh was also postponed.
Armagh are the form team in the group thus far, having pipped fellow strong starters Longford by 1-11 to 1-10 in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday to claim outright leadership on the table.
And while Wexford seem destined for a relegation battle unless their fortunes change rapidly, the extreme inexperience of the squad bears repeating.
By this stage they have given National League debuts to the grand total of 14 players: ten against Fermanagh, another two in Sligo, and a further brace last Sunday when Glynn-Barntown netminder Matt Doyle was given his chance while HWH-Bunclody's Martin O'Connor made a late appearance off the bench.
The team showed five changes in all from the fruitless trip west seven days earlier, with Doyle, Brian Malone, Eoghan Nolan, Robert Frayne and Barry O'Connor coming in for Pa Doyle, Michael Furlong (suspended), Syl Byrne, Donal Shanley and Craig McCabe.
Malone was back after his one-game ban to form an all-Shelmaliers half-back line with younger brother Glen and Eoghan Nolan, but it only lasted 17 minutes as the latter suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury sustained at a late stage in Enniskillen.
By that stage Wexford were 0-3 to 0-1 behind despite playing with the wind into the town end. The route one ploy of dropping long balls in the immediate vicinity of Nick Doyle was repeated, with the towering Starlights man moving to the edge of the square after the throw-in while the energetic James Stafford drifted outfield.
However, apart from one good chance that drew a fine save from Eoin Carberry, the tactic wasn't successful and Doyle was more productive in a midfield role beside team captain Daithí Waters, hard-working as ever, in the second-half.
On more than one occasion in the early exchanges we saw Westmeath 'playing the percentages' to use some of the modern G.A.A. speak that drives the traditionalists to drink.
Forwards were content to take their points from clear goal chances, as Matt Doyle's shot-stopping wasn't unduly tested on an afternoon when his kick-outs didn't always reach the intended targets.
Wexford had a half-chance after two minutes when a Ben Brosnan punt broke off Nick Doyle, but when Paul Curtis swung his boot first-time the ball was blocked by a defender.
Matt Doyle also averted early danger after Callum McCormack tried to get a solid touch on a John Heslin free landing menacingly around the square.
James Stafford kicked the first of eight Wexford wides before Ben Brosnan gave them the lead after latching on to a Tiarnan Rossiter line ball on the left flank in the sixth minute.
Kieran Martin levelled from a David Whelan handpass, and Westmeath were never behind after Heslin played a one-two with Martin from a free and made it 0-2 to 0-1 in the ninth minute.
There was a double blow for the home side just over four minutes later when Matt Doyle slipped in the act of taking a kick-out.
It went to Martin who added his second score, but only after direct opponent Eoghan Nolan had pulled up with that hamstring injury, having missed the action in Sligo.
The one big chance with Nick Doyle close to goal arrived in the 16th minute, at a stage before the mentors had a chance to replace Nolan with Barry O'Gorman since there was a long passage of unbroken play.
Barry O'Connor's hand initially knocked another Ben Brosnan delivery into the path of the versatile Enniscorthy lad, but Eoin Carberry darted off his line to smother the shot.
A foul on Kieran Martin resulted in John Heslin making it 4-1 in the 20th minute, and Wexford's search for scores continued when Robert Frayne dropped an effort short after a similar kick earlier by James Stafford.
Ben Brosnan struck the second and last wide of the opening half from a 40-metre free, but Carberry's poor kick-out went straight to Paul Curtis who was happy to return it swiftly over the bar.
Luke Loughlin and Ronan O'Toole created a goal chance for Tommy McDaniel in the 25th minute after John Heslin underlined his ability beforehand with a couple of marks, but he was content to fist over a handy point.
Similarly, Callum McCormack opted for a safe point after winning a Kieran Martin pass over Conor Carty's head, instead of testing Matt Doyle who was penalised twice - once per half - for kick-outs that didn't travel the required distance. Thankfully, Daithí Waters was on hand to win both throw-ins that resulted.
A Ben Brosnan '45 didn't have the legs to clear the crossbar in the 30th minute, but the gap was narrowed to 6-3 when Barry O'Connor caught a Tiarnan Rossiter centre and fed Paul Curtis.
Westmeath brought their wides tally to eight before half-time, and sandwiched in between was a Ben Brosnan point after O'Connor was rather lucky to earn a free in the left corner that was moved closer to goal for dissent.
That two-point deficit meant that Wexford weren't out of the running provided they could carry the ball effectively into the wind and maximise possession.
An off-balance Paul Curtis fired the first of their six wides after the break on the opening attack before Brian Malone made a good tackle to thwart Luke Loughlin on the endline.
Unfortunately, Jim Rossiter fumbled the ball for a '45 that John Heslin stroked over, but Ben Brosnan cancelled that out after a foul on James Stafford.
Westmeath were wasteful, adding two wides in three minutes while Brosnan made it a one-point game in between after Daithí Waters was impeded. Unfortunately, he missed another chance after the kick-out went straight to Paul Curtis, and Wexford couldn't get back on level terms despite a couple of Nick Doyle marks to set attacks in motion, with Heslin making it 8-6 from a Ronan O'Toole pass instead.
A high kick from James Stafford then split the posts after Robert Frayne was hauled down and the free was taken quickly.
Centrestage was occupied for a key spell from the 47th to the 50th minutes by Westmeath attacker Luke Loughlin, with his three unanswered points in that period finally giving the visitors and favourites a small bit of breathing space (0-11 to 0-7).
Craig McCabe had been introduced for Barry O'Connor, and another Paul Curtis point from a Tiarnan Rossiter handpass left three dividing the teams entering the last 20 minutes.
Retaining possession from their own kick-outs was proving a problem for Wexford, with Westmeath profiting at times by fisting some of Matt Doyle's longer drives back into their attacking zone.
John Heslin kicked a fine long-range point over via Doyle's fingertips, and a fisted score by substitute Finbar Coyne was followed by a yellow card shown to Jim Rossiter for a late challenge (0-13 to 0-8).
Nick Doyle kicked a wide before Ger Egan extended the margin to six in the 54th minute, while Ben Brosnan dropped a shot short mere seconds after the introduction of Donal Shanley for Robert Frayne.
James Stafford kicked his second point from a Brosnan pass, only for Ronan O'Toole to punish a poor kick-out with a swift response.
Both sides were wasteful over the next eleven scoreless minutes, shooting three wides apiece with Wexford's coming from James Stafford, Craig McCabe and a Ben Brosnan free.
John Heslin had a goal chance for the leaders, but a vital touch on the ball by Daithí Waters put him off at the critical moment and he ended up crashing it into the side-netting.
Heslin atoned with his team's last point, but Brian Malone responded after good work by substitute Martin O'Connor and Paul Curtis.
Wexford pressed hard in the three-plus added minutes, and it took a super save by Eoin Carberry to keep out a goalbound Conor Carty shot after a mark was claimed by Shane Doyle.
The '45 floated in by Ben Brosnan was cleared, but the home side didn't give up and were rewarded with a consolation goal at the death.
Martin O'Connor's kick went off a Westmeath hand and landed at the feet of Tiarnan Rossiter who first-timed the ball to the net, and it may prove to be a crucial strike yet if scoring difference comes into play at the end of the campaign.
The free count was a lot lower than usual, with a mere 29 awarded by Brendan Cawley, 14 for Wexford. Part of the reason was the best playing surface that Paul McLoughlin's troops have played on thus far after the considerably worse conditions in Brewster Park and Markievicz Park respectively.
It wasn't a physical game by any means either, with just one yellow card per team for Jim Rossiter and Callum McCormack respectively.
Wexford now have a chance to re-group next weekend before making the third of their four long trips in total to Longford on February 25.
Wexford: Matt Doyle; Conor Carty, Jim Rossiter, Mark O'Neill; Glen Malone, Brian Malone (0-1), Eoghan Nolan; Daithí Waters (capt.), Nick Doyle; Robert Frayne, Ben Brosnan (0-4, 3 frees), Tiarnan Rossiter (1-0); Paul Curtis (0-3), James Stafford (0-2), Barry O'Connor. Subs. - Barry O'Gorman for Nolan, inj. (17), Craig McCabe for O'Connor (50), Donal Shanley for Frayne (55), Shane Doyle for O'Gorman, inj. (58), Martin O'Connor for O'Neill (69), Syl Byrne for Waters (70).
Westmeath: Eoin Carberry; Mark McCallon, Frank Boyle, Killian Daly; David Whelan, Noel Mulligan, James Dolan; Sam Duncan, John Heslin (capt., 0-6, 1 free, 1 '45); Kieran Martin (0-2), Ger Egan (0-1), Luke Loughlin (0-3); Callum McCormack (0-1), Tommy McDaniel (0-1), Ronan O'Toole (0-1). Subs. - Finbar Coyne (0-1) for McDaniel (44), Jamie Gonoud for Whelan (49), Denis Corroon for Martin (64).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).