Dose of the Blues for Wexford
Wexford F.C. 0 Waterford F.C. 3
Ferrycarrig Park was rocking to a great atmosphere on Friday, sparking reminders of this time two years ago when Wexford Youths were on the cusp of promotion to the top flight.
Alas, roles were reversed on this occasion though as the excitement and banter came from the massed ranks of the travelling Blues supporters as Waterford F.C. took a mighty leap towards the SSE Airtricity First Division crown with a composed and clinical dismissal of home side Wexford.
Their promotion to the top flight after an eleven-year gap was confirmed the following night when their closest challengers, Cobh Ramblers, went down 3-0 at home to Cabinteely.
The similar winning margin on Friday was a very accurate reflection of on-field events and, in actual fact, it could have been even higher as the visitors completely bossed the exchanges.
It was a clear indicator of the gap between top and bottom in this eight-team group, with Wexford restricted to the role of helpless onlookers for large tracts of the game as their south-east rivals owned possession.
Their charge was led by experienced midfielder Paul Keegan who showed all the quality that made him a regular with Doncaster Rovers cross channel for six fruitful years.
He constantly demanded the ball from his back four, picked out telling passes, and generally set the tempo that his colleagues were only too willing to follow.
Waterford simply couldn't afford any slip-ups just in case Cobh Ramblers did the business to keep the pressure on with two rounds remaining.
Sometimes that type of scenario can lead to unforced errors as the pressure has a negative impact, but it was the exact opposite this time around as the Blues were in superb form from start to finish.
As for Wexford, they probably cannot wait for the season to end at this stage, but they still have an important target to meet.
Having fought so hard to get off the foot of the table, they want to ensure they preserve that seventh spot and don't fall below Athlone again. They're two points above the midlanders with games to come at home to Shelbourne this Friday and away to Longford on October 7, while the Westmeath side will conclude with a trip to Cabinteely in three days and a home clash against U.C.D. 15 nights later.
The suspended Mark Slater, as well as Seán Hurley and Dean Kelly, were out from the team which lost to the students a fortnight earlier, with Thomas Croke, Dean George and Adam O'Rourke coming into the starting eleven.
Croke, O'Rourke, Aaron O'Connor and Shane Dunne were all back to full fitness, but the club had lost the services of defenders Andrew O'Connor and Conor Dunne since their last engagement.
Waterford won the first of four opening half corners in the second minute after Mikey Byrne got his head to an Aaron Drinan cross, but Danny Bolger claimed Garry Comerford's second delivery after his set-piece eventually ended up back at his feet.
Bolger also grabbed a Paul Keegan free-kick as Wexford struggled to get any time on the ball, with the midfielders in serious trouble from the off against superior opponents.
A Seán Heaney cross in the 15th minute was just too long for ace poacher Mark O'Sullivan, and there was a deserved yellow card for Sander Puri shortly afterwards when he took a pathetic dive to the obvious disapproval of Wexford centre-half Ross Kenny.
Owen McCormack headed clear from another Heaney cross as the unrelenting Waterford pressure continued, with Puri turning and forcing Danny Bolger into a save from his shot in the 19th minute.
O'Sullivan headed wide from a Keegan corner before Wexford's first opportunity arose in the 23rd minute. Adam Hanlon delivered a cross from the right but Aaron Dobbs couldn't get his header on target.
The opening Waterford goal had been threatening practically from the off, and it arrived after a telling long ball from captain Kenny Browne.
John Martin flicked it on in the box to Mark O'Sullivan who dinked it past netminder Bolger and coolly into the net with nearly 24 minutes elapsed.
The veteran striker almost made it two on the next attack, striking the side-netting as Waterford started to enjoy themselves with the pressure somewhat lessened.
Adam O'Rourke was booked before earning a free-kick himself, and it led to a major let-off for the leaders.
Thomas Croke wasn't picked up when Adam Hanlon floated the set-piece into the box in the 31st minute, but his free header against his former club flew over the crossbar.
Danny Bolger did well to divert a Paul Keegan long-range shot out for a corner which was cleared, while Aaron Drinan whipped in a dangerous ball from the right that flew across goal and wide.
Drinan then rattled the side-netting after a good move featuring Sander Puri and Garry Comerford, while the visitors' fourth corner was wasted by the latter in the 41st minute.
Dean George shot high and wide from the left of the penalty area before Waterford doubled their lead with a fantastic O'Sullivan strike approaching half-time.
A long ball by Keegan for Sander Puri broke out into the striker's path, and his venomous first-time drive from distance beat Danny Bolger to confirm the destination of the points in the 43rd minute.
There may have been a lot of time left, but it was clear that Wexford didn't stand a chance of getting back into the game.
Keegan shot wide from a Puri lay-off before the break, and the control exerted by the Blues continued on the re-start.
Ross Kenny was booked early on for a foul on Comerford in a central position, with O'Sullivan shooting wide at the second attempt after Keegan knocked the free-kick into the box.
John Martin turned neatly but shot over before Owen McCormack dealt capably with a dangerous Comerford cross.
Danny Bolger saved Paddy Barrett's header after another Keegan set-piece in the 59th minute, while a good tackle by Adam O'Rourke on the edge of his own penalty area stopped a menacing run by the rampant ex-Bohemians and Doncaster performer.
Wexford's sole corner was taken by Adam Hanlon in the 70th minute but it was claimed in the air by Ferrycarrig Park old boy Matt Connor.
Kenny Browne headed clear from a Shane Dunne free-kick before Waterford made it three with quarter of an hour left. And it was no more than they deserved either as Comerford, Keegan and Barrett all featured in a defence-splitting move before John Martin applied the finish at the second attempt after initially challenging advancing netminder Bolger.
Waterford couldn't make the most of two corners in quick succession before last Wexford substitute Danny Doyle went into the referee's notebook, with ex-Waterford player Aaron O'Connor and Shane Dunne having entered the fray earlier.
Referee Eoghan O'Shea decided that a penalty wasn't warranted in the 88th minute when Waterford centre-half Kenny Browne took a tumble and Aaron Dobbs fell over him before hitting the deck himself.
Danny Bolger raced out to stop Paddy Barrett's through ball intended for substitute Dean Walsh before Aaron Drinan directed a volley off Craig McCabe for the seventh and final Waterford corner taken by Keegan but headed clear.
Wexford had a late free-kick after the Blues' new arrival, Jack Lynch, picked up an immediate yellow card, but Shane Dunne's delivery went off Ross Kenny's head and drifted wide.
Danny Doyle did come close to breaking his scoring duck at this level deep in added time when Matt Connor misjudged the flight of his cross from the right, only for the post coming to the netminder's rescue as Waterford maintained that three-goal gap to the finish.
Wexford F.C.: Danny Bolger; Craig McCabe (capt.), Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny, Conor Sutton; Thomas Croke, Mikey Byrne; Adam O'Rourke, Adam Hanlon, Dean George; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Aaron O'Connor for George (54), Shane Dunne for Croke (67), Danny Doyle for O'Rourke (79), also A.J. Lehane, Eoin Porter, Dean Kelly, Colum Feeney.
Waterford F.C.: Matt Connor; Anthony McAlavey, Kenny Browne (capt.), Paddy Barrett, Seán Heaney; Paul Keegan; Aaron Drinan, John Martin, Garry Comerford, Sander Puri; Mark O'Sullivan. Subs. - Dean Walsh for Puri (76), Dean O'Halloran for Martin (81), Jack Lynch for Barrett (90+1), also David McDaid, Conor Whittle, Derek Daly, Ian McLoughlin.
Referee: Eoghan O'Shea (Tipperary).