Big loss follows fine first-half
Galway United 4 Wexford F.C.1
The final result seemed to be a fanciful notion for the 847 supporters in Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday when Wexford F.C. came within a whisker of doubling their lead in the 58th minute of this SSE Airtricity First Division encounter.
Aaron Dobbs had put them ahead with a cracking finish just shy of the half-hour mark, and the general performance from the visitors up to that stage was one of the best seen under the tenure of Damian Locke.
The natives were growing restless, and their hearts skipped a beat 13 minutes after the re-start when a lovely back heel by Shane Barnes put right winger Mark Slater through.
It was a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0, but Galway netminder Tadhg Ryan was equal to the task and got his fingertips on the low drive across goal to turn it away for a fruitless corner.
What followed was hard to believe in many respects, as the home side struck for three goals in the space of eight minutes in a game they really had to win in order to keep in touch with the pace-setters.
Manager Shane Keegan, facing a Wexford team for the first time since his controversial departure at the end of the 2016 season, had made a major tactical switch just before that Slater chance, and it paid off in rich measure.
Galway's 3-4-2-1 formation wasn't getting the best out of dangerman Eoin McCormack, playing in the pocket behind Youths' favourite son Danny Furlong but having a minimal impact on proceedings.
However, all that changed when Keegan decided to go for it with a more conventional 4-4-2 set-up, with McCormack pushing forward while Carlton Ubaezuono was introduced on the left wing and also left a lasting impact on the closing stages.
Apart from one speculative early header and a few neat flick-ons, Furlong hadn't been a major threat in the first 60 minutes, although that was due largely to the poor service rather than any shortcomings on his part.
Like all good strikers though, all he needed was a sniff of the goal, and he undid Wexford's good showing in the 62nd minute with a well-worked equaliser.
Stephen Kenny, introduced along with Ubaezuono when Galway decided to go for broke, created the opening with a beautiful slide rule pass into space for Gary Shanahan who spent the entire second-half haring menacingly down the right flank.
His cross from close to the byline was perfect for Furlong, and his finish from close range got the home crowd firmly behind the team as they pushed for victory.
The Rosslare Strand native was almost in for a quick second after swivelling away from Wexford captain Ross Kenny, but the defender recovered to make a fine tackle inside the 18-yard box.
Ubaezuono then made a great run down the left, beating A.J. Lehane for pace before his pull back was sent across goal and wide by Eoin McCormack.
It was starting to look worrying for Wexford, and their bid for a gutsy point at the very least collapsed completely when Ross Kenny was red-carded in the 66th minute.
Furlong found McCormack who was bearing down on goal when a professional foul brought him to ground, leaving referee Paula Brady with no other option as the Mayo man departed after handing his captain's arm band to Chris Kenny.
Veteran Alan Murphy hit the spot kick with such ferocity that it flew out of the net and on to the field again via the back staunchion, and it was a significant strike as he was equalling the club's record of 74 league goals in the process, sharing it now with the legendary ex-international Paul 'Ski' McGee.
If any doubt remained regarding the outcome at that point, it only lasted another two and a half minutes before Galway made it 3-1 with an absolute cracker.
Murphy found Marc Ludden on the left and he played a short ball into the box where Carlton Ubaezuono set himself with one touch before hammering a rocket into the roof of Kealan Gaffney's net off the underside of the crossbar.
Galway were rampant thereafter, and Furlong had the ball in the net again in the 78th minute from a McCormack knock-on but it was ruled out for offside.
He then headed wide from a McCormack cross after an initial super pass down the left by Murphy, while a diving Gaffney was forced into a fine save to keep out a dipping Stephen Kenny shot.
The fourth Galway goal did arrive in the 88th minute, and it was all about the energy down the right flank of Gary Shanahan as he beat two men with a driving run before crossing from the byline for Eoin McCormack to head home from the edge of the six-yard box.
Wexford were relieved that the final whistle eventually came, because McCormack also hit the bar with another header from a Stephen Kenny delivery at the end of the first of the three added minutes.
The margin of defeat was hard to take, having played so well for two-thirds of the game on a night when Seán Hurley, Mikey Byrne and Shane Barnes came in for John Morgan, Thomas Croke and Owen Wall from the 1-1 draw with Cobh Ramblers.
And there was a more attacking intent from the off as Wexford lined out in a 4-4-2 formation, with Barnes partnering Aaron Dobbs four days after coming on for the Irish Colleges and Universities against Scotland in Dundalk.
The aim was to press Galway's back three as high up the field as possible, and it paid dividends for a long period.
Danny Furlong and Gary Shanahan headed over the bar initially for the hosts, but the best early chance fell to Dobbs on the seven-minute mark.
Mark Slater robbed a dithering defender of the ball on the right, and his cross to the near post was controlled and then volleyed only narrowly wide by the Enniscorthy attacker.
Wexford wasted a couple of corners before Kealan Gaffney made a marvellous save in the 19th minute. A ball into the box from the right by Maurice Nugent was met with a weak defensive header, and it fell invitingly for Alan Murphy who blasted it first time.
It was a powerful strike but Gaffney stood up to it extremely well and the rebound was bundled wide by Conor Barry.
Galway claims for a handball when a Marc Ludden throw-in struck Ross Kenny were ignored, with Wexford breaking swiftly before the move ended after a poor Mark Slater cross.
A foul on Dobbs led to a free-kick for Dean Kelly in the 24th minute, and it arrived back at his feet when Galway struggled to clear their lines.
Kelly's shot hit a defender and broke kindly for Shane Barnes, but he couldn't sort his balance out in time and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
That set-piece was a sign of better things to come all the same. Slater was fouled in virtually the same area as Dobbs in the 29th minute, roughly 30 yards out and slightly to the right of the penalty box.
Dean Kelly floated another ball in towards the far post, and this time Dobbs met it with a sweet side-footed volley to drive it into the roof of Tadhg Ryan's net and stun the home crowd.
After ending his competitive scoring drought seven days earlier against Cobh Ramblers, it's clear that the teenager now has his eye in so to speak, and we can look forward to more goals as the season progresses.
Galway tried to respond from their sole first-half corner, but Stephen Walsh's weak header was easy pickings for Kealan Gaffney.
Dobbs then turned provider with a neat turn and good ball into space for Slater in the 35th minute. The winger was outside the box and under pressure from Marc Ludden who managed to block his shot.
The half ended with Chris Kenny booked for a foul on Eoin McCormack, but Ryan Connolly's free-kick was cleared.
Wexford headed the second-half corner count 3-2, and it was 5-3 overall, with an early delivery on the re-start by Seán Hurley caught by netminder Tadhg Ryan.
The next one arrived after a fine tackle by Stephen Walsh to deny Aaron Dobbs a shot, and it created another opportunity.
Dean Kelly's flag kick from the left was added to at the near post before falling into the path of Chris Kenny who first-timed his shot over the bar.
Kealan Gaffney darted off his line to cut out a Marc Ludden through ball intended for Danny Furlong, with Mikey Byrne booked for a foul on Eoin McCormack before Keegan changed tactics as the crowd were growing more restless with every passing minute.
Wexford went from holding a deserved lead, and almost making it 2-0, to being 3-1 down and a man short in a disastrous spell, and there was no hope of a recovery after that.
Three fresh faces were introduced, with Shane Barnes appearing to get a yellow card for dissent before he departed, but the visitors' attacks were few and far between in the closing stages.
Substitute Liam McCartan put a cross on to the roof of the net in the 77th minute, while Seán Kelly wasted a free-kick from distance.
Seán Hurley drilled a speculative low long-range shot off target, while Dean Kelly had another set-piece in a central area but it went left and wide.
Wexford have two home games this week, starting tonight (Tuesday) at 8 p.m. when Cabinteely pay a visit for the oft-postponed Leinster Senior Cup opener.
A number of players on the fringes of the squad are likely to get their chances in this one, but the basement battle against Athlone Town on Friday is a game that should be targeted for a potential second win of the campaign.
The midlanders are having another awful season, and it will be a major surprise if Wexford don't collect their first home league win of the campaign as a result.
Wexford F.C.: Kealan Gaffney; A.J. Lehane, Seán Kelly, Ross Kenny (capt.), Seán Hurley; Mark Slater, Mikey Byrne, Chris Kenny, Dean Kelly; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Dean George for Slater (73), Liam McCartan for Barnes (73), Danny Doyle for Dobbs (84), also Colum Feeney, Owen Wall, Aaron O'Connor, Ryan Nolan.
Galway United: Tadhg Ryan; Maurice Nugent, Robbie Williams, Stephen Walsh; Gary Shanahan, Alan Murphy, Ryan Connolly (capt.), Marc Ludden; Conor Barry, Eoin McCormack; Danny Furlong. Subs. - Stephen Kenny for Nugent (58), Carlton Ubaezuonu for Barry (58), Alex Byrne for Murphy (87), also Arek Mamala, Conor Melody, Gary Kinneen, Conor Layng.
Referee: Paula Brady (Dublin).