Byrne goal crowns comeback
Shelbourne 1 Wexford F.C. 2
A tremendous second-half showing earned Wexford F.C. a fully-deserved third victory of this tough season in Tolka Park on Friday, coming from behind to stun Shelbourne and move to within one point of Athlone Town at the foot of the SSE Airtricity First Division table.
May's 1-0 home win over the Dubliners was repeated on the team's third trip to the Drumcondra venue this season, with Shels supporters left stunned by the concession of two goals in less than five minutes near the end of the third quarter.
Finishing has been a big failing in the campaign thus far, but there was lots to admire about the clinical strikes which turned the game on its head after the reds had taken a 1-0 lead after just three minutes.
Defender Seán Byrne returned to Shelbourne late last month for a second stint, and he had been composed throughout the first-half at left-back.
However, Wexford availed of his error in the 64th minute to draw level and, with a new-found confidence evident all over the field, they stormed ahead before their rivals could recover and never looked back.
Ross Kenny, captain for the evening in the absence of the injured Craig McCabe, pumped a long ball to the right edge of the area where Byrne brought it under control.
His mind was torn between driving it clear or picking out a colleague with a pass, and those few seconds of indecision were enough to put the Shels in serious trouble.
Aaron Dobbs made the most of the error after Mark Slater gave him a pass, stroking the ball to his right for the inrushing Thomas Croke to direct a sweet, low strike across goal and into the far corner of the net to elevate him to top league scorer this term with three thus far.
Just over four and a half minutes later the annoyance of Shels fans among the 480 crowd rose to an even higher level.
Eoin Porter played a ball into the right channel for Mark Slater, and this time the unfortunate Seán Byrne slipped to leave his rival bearing down on goal.
With Shels netminder and captain Dean Delany alert to the danger and advancing rapidly, Slater tried to dribble across the box towards the penalty spot to create a better angle for the shot.
Delany still managed to get a hand to it though, and it broke loose to Aaron Dobbs whose thumping effort was blocked by a defender.
Happily it was a case of third time lucky, as midfielder Mikey Byrne was following up and drilled an unstoppable shot to the net for a memorable first goal for the club since his recent signing.
The game management of Wexford was excellent for the most part thereafter, doing what was required to frustrate Shels and also surviving a couple of late scares, notably when a Dayle Rooney cross in added time broke favourably off a defender for fellow substitute Aaron Ashe who made a mess of his header.
The win was all the more impressive when one reflects on Wexford's terrible start. They were facing a Shels team which had moved into fourth spot thanks to a five-game winning streak which included away wins over higher-placed U.C.D. and Cobh Ramblers plus a home draw with leaders Waterford.
Given that fine form, the last thing Wexford wanted was to concede early, but that's exactly what happened.
The game had just moved into the third minute when Seán Byrne took a free-kick from the left-back area which carried into the box. Corey Chambers came for the ball but centre-forward James English nicked it away from him before poking it into an empty net with his second kick.
It was a very sloppy goal to concede, English's seventh of the season in the league and probably his easiest.
And while the deficit remained at one for the next 60-plus minutes, the inability of Shels to add a second and create some breathing space came back to haunt them.
The starting eleven showed four changes from the side which lost in Waterford, with injured captain Craig McCabe missing out, Dean Kelly and Danny Doyle dropping to the bench, and Aaron O'Connor not part of a rather threadbare squad which carried just five substitutes rather than the permitted seven.
Mark Slater and Thomas Croke returned from injury and suspension respectively, while Conor Sutton and Andrew O'Connor were given starting roles after coming on during the south-east derby.
There was an interesting tactical switch, with Damian Locke trying a 3-1-4-2 formation with A.J. Lehane, Ross Kenny and Owen McCormack across the back, and Mikey Byrne providing the protection directly in front of the trio.
Sutton and O'Connor manned the flanks with Slater and Croke in the middle, while Eoin Porter played just behind Aaron Dobbs up front in what must be the youngest attacking partnership in the entire League of Ireland right now.
To give manager Locke due credit, he changed tack as defender Lehane was in a lot of difficulty with the pace of the game even before collecting a yellow card for a late lunge at Adam Evans in the 31st minute. The recent arrival was withdrawn at half-time and the side reverted to a 4-1-4-1 formation which paid rich dividends.
Sutton and O'Connor moved to right- and left-back respectively, with Kenny and McCormack forming the central partnership.
Shane Dunne was introduced to fill the first-half role of Byrne who pushed up into central midfield, allowing Mark Slater to move to the right flank where he is at his most dangerous. Porter went out to the left wing and Dobbs was left to plough a lone furrow up front, with the new set-up ultimately producing the goals that guided Wexford to a second win on the road this term.
The pressure remained on the visitors for most of the opening half after that early goal concession, with a 5-1 corner count in favour of Shelbourne.
Derek Prendergast, who celebrated the arrival of a daughter, Alice, during the week, headed the first over from Dylan Kavanagh's delivery in the seventh minute, while James English missed the target from the second.
Midfielder Mark Hughes wasn't too far away from a goal with a long-range shot in the 15th minute, while Wexford were unable to avail of a couple of free-kicks which led to bookings for Hughes and Dylan Grimes.
Corey Chambers showed his worth in the 19th minute when he got down low at his near post to save a Grimes shot from a David O'Leary pass, while Dylan Kavanagh fired narrowly wide on the next Shels attack.
The sole Wexford corner of the half, taken by Slater, was cleared by the lively Hughes who then shot wide at the other end after a one-two with Grimes.
Chambers caught a head-high shot from Adam Evans before Owen McCormack made a couple of timely interventions, clearing a Grimes free-kick after Lehane was booked for taking down Evans, before blocking a Dylan Kavanagh shot.
Despite all that Shels pressure, Wexford nearly grabbed an equaliser in first-half stoppage time. Aaron Dobbs drove in a ball from close to the right byline that caught Dean Delany by surprise with its ferocity, and it may have glanced off the bar too before falling into the path of Eoin Porter who felt his weak touch had crossed the goal-line even though the netminder scooped it out.
For a split second it looked like Wexford had indeed equalised, only for referee Damien McGrath to signal for a Shelbourne free-kick.
While the visitors altered their formation at the break, the leaders did likewise as the injured Grimes was withdrawn and Chris Lyons came on to partner James English up front, leaving Adam Evans to move to the left flank from where he teased and tormented Wexford in the Leinster Senior Cup and league clashes at the dilapidated Drumcondra venue earlier in the season.
He again represented their main threat throughout the second 45 minutes, but happily minus an end product on this occasion as newcomer Lyons made no impact.
James English should have made it 2-0 just 49 seconds into the new half, wrong-footing a defender from Mark Hughes' slide rule pass into the box but then stroking his low shot to the left and narrowly wide.
Wexford's sole corner after the break arrived in the 58th minute, with Slater's delivery eventually breaking for Andrew O'Connor whose shot was blocked by Evans.
O'Connor cleared his lines shortly afterwards when an Evans cross nearly located the head of English, and Thomas Croke collected a yellow card before his superb strike brought the visitors level in the 64th minute.
When the hard-working Byrne made it two, it left Wexford in a position where they needed to keep their composure for 22-plus minutes in order to secure the three points.
Byrne was booked before the sole Shels corner of the half was cleared, while a yellow card for Andrew O'Connor led to a Dayle Rooney free-kick which Shane Dunne headed clear.
The ball was in the Shels net again in the 83rd minute, but unfortunately Aaron Dobbs' calm finish was ruled out for offside after Dunne robbed Chris Lyons and played the striker in.
Mark Slater moved to the left after Danny Doyle was introduced for an exhausted Eoin Porter in the 87th minute, and a couple of scares ensued before Wexford could celebrate.
Adam Evans couldn't sort his feet out when Rooney crossed into his path at the far post in the last minute of normal time, while Aaron Ashe headed high and over the bar.
There was one last yellow card for Aaron Dobbs who booted the ball away after the whistle, but James Brown's long free-kick led to a foul on Chambers seconds before full-time.
It hasn't been an easy campaign by any stretch, but credit to the players for the quality of Friday's comeback, and also to the management for that half-time change of formation which completely altered the game in their favour.
With confidence sure to rise, a bigger than normal home crowd would be most welcome on Friday when a Longford Town team ten points above Wexford visits Ferrycarrig Park at 8 p.m.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; A.J. Lehane, Ross Kenny (capt.), Owen McCormack; Mikey Byrne; Conor Sutton, Mark Slater, Thomas Croke, Andrew O'Connor; Eoin Porter, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Shane Dunne for Lehane (HT), Danny Doyle for Porter (87), also Conor Dunne, Dean Kelly, Michael Walsh.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany (capt.); James Brown, Derek Prendergast, Aidan Collins, Seán Byrne; Dylan Kavanagh, David O'Leary, Mark Hughes, Dylan Grimes; Adam Evans, James English. Subs. - Chris Lyons for Grimes (HT), Dayle Rooney for Kavanagh (67), Aaron Ashe for Collins (83), also Jamie Quinn, Niall Lanigan, Aaron Molloy, James O'Brien.
Referee: Damien McGrath (Mayo).