Fans warm to gutsy draw
Wexford F.C.0 Drogheda United 0
It's a rare sight indeed when supporters rise to their feet to acclaim a scoreless draw at home, but context is everything.
And when a gutsy ten-man Wexford F.C. side played above their capabilities and held promotion-chasing Drogheda United to a deserved share of the spoils at rain-lashed Ferrycarrig Park on Friday, it seemed like the right thing to do.
The inexperienced underdogs certainly deserved the acclaim from their long-suffering supporters, because they worked extremely hard on a miserable night to offer hope that perhaps better and brighter days are on the cards in 2019.
The home form under ex-manager Damian Locke had been nothing short of pathetic, and the Drogs romped to an embarrassing 8-1 win on their last visit to the venue in mid-March.
Just one victory, and three draws, from ten outings was the sum total of their endeavours in Ferrycarrig Park prior to Friday's tie, and they were without main striker Aaron Dobbs, captain Ross Kenny, Dean Kelly, Mikey Byrne and Ryan Nolan among others.
In the circumstances, a scoreless draw in this SSE Airtricity First Division clash was a notable result, and it featured some interesting developments.
Dean Walsh was acquired on loan from neighbours Waterford during the week, and he proved himself an instant hit with the fans as his silken skills and excellent hold-up play shone through in the lone striker's role on a difficult night for flowing football.
One effort in the 44th minute was worthy of particular note, a swivel on to his left and first-time strike from just inside the opposition half that had netminder Paul Skinner worried before it cleared the crossbar.
Young Owen McCormack was handed the captain's armband for the first time and responded with a sound defensive display, while new signing Paddy Cahill looked full of running in one of the holding midfield roles on his home debut.
And there was a Senior debut off the bench for 16-year-old Kyle Scallan who coped extremely well with the pressure of being thrown in at centre-half in the 64th minute as the ten men remaining faced a Drogheda onslaught.
Young Seán Smithers (17) was also brought on for the second game running and saw a first-time shot after his corner was returned to him saved at the near post by Skinner.
The task of holding out was made all the more difficult when a reckless lunge on the edge of his own box saw centre-half Seán Kelly dismissed on a second yellow card in the 51st minute.
A defensive-orientated Wexford had held out for the entire first-half in Longford six nights earlier before caving in on the re-start, but fears of a repeat after the sending-off never materialised.
The spirit shown was the most encouraging aspect, and must have delighted mentors Seánie O'Shea, Billy Molloy and James Quinn, because on previous home outings the heads appeared to drop far too easily at the first hint of strife.
It rained hard for the opening 25 minutes, with Drogheda enjoying more of the ball without ever really worrying goalkeeper Corey Chambers.
He saved easily from a weak Seán Brennan shot in the ninth minute, while efforts from Chris Lyons and Gareth McCaffrey were blocked and the visitors couldn't capitalise on the first three of their eleven corners (Wexford only had one).
The first sign of promise at the other end arrived in the 21st minute when a long Seán Kelly free-kick was headed back by Dean Walsh into the path of Dean George whose dipping volley was seen all the way by netminder Paul Skinner.
Adham Masood nutmegged Kevin Farragher and drew the centre-half into a booking, but George's set-piece delivery ended up in the goalkeeper's arms as the rain started to ease.
The promising Masood was involved again in the 28th minute, this time directing a pass to the right for winger Mark Slater whose shot rebounded off Skinner.
Seán Kelly's first yellow card was shown before a Wexford kick-out in the 29th minute, and he was quickly joined in the notebook by Drogheda striker Chris Lyons whose pathetic dive in search of a phantom penalty was rightly punished by referee David Dunne.
Drogheda captain Jake Hyland couldn't get his feet sorted in the slippy conditions and therefore didn't test Chambers from close range in the 36th minute, but the netminder later did well to keep his eye on a long-range attempt from Seán Brennan that bounced rapidly off the surface.
And while Dean Walsh nearly put Wexford ahead with that audacious strike as half-time approached, they could have been behind too because it was followed by a Mark Doyle header into the path of Brennan whose left-footed volley was superbly saved by Chambers at the expense of a throw-in.
The rain returned for the second-half, and a slack Seán Kelly back pass put Chambers in trouble early on. Thankfully, Mark Doyle couldn't capitalise, with the goalkeeper recovering and diving at his feet to retrieve possession for his side.
Kelly departed less than two minutes later, and not surprisingly Drogheda pushed forward in waves.
A far post header by Gareth McCaffrey from a Seán Brennan corner on the left was well saved in the 55th minute, but Wexford almost pounced on a defensive lapse on a rare foray towards the clubhouse end.
Centre-half Ciarán Kelly fluffed a backpass and Dean Walsh managed to roll the ball past advancing goalkeeper Paul Skinner, but the defender did enough to put the striker off before he could follow up and finish to the net.
John Morgan was booked as the pressure mounted, but Drogheda were continually frustrated as a Seán Brennan shot was deflected wide before his even better rising effort just cleared the bar in the 70th minute.
The sole Wexford corner ended up back at the feet of substitute Seán Smithers whose shot was saved by Skinner, while Chambers used his feet to keep out an effort from Ferrycarrig Park old boy Lee Duffy at the other end.
The last five minutes plus another four added featured three Drogheda corners and a few speculative efforts, but Wexford stood tall in the face of constant pressure and were rewarded with that precious point and the acclaim of their appreciative fans.
It was a welcome change from the norm at the venue, but the next two weeks promise to be tough as the players face a long journey to Ballybofey to meet Finn Harps on Friday before hosting Premier Division Bohemians in the FAI Cup on August 10.
After that, the league will conclude with three home ties - Shelbourne (August 17), Cobh Ramblers (August 31) and Athlone Town (September 22) - along with just one more away trip to Galway United (September 14).
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Liam McCartan, Owen McCormack (capt.), Seán Kelly, John Morgan; Conor Sutton, Paddy Cahill; Mark Slater, Adham Masood, Dean George; Dean Walsh. Subs. - Kyle Scallan for Slater (64), Seán Smithers for Masood (71), Emmet Nugent for Walsh (84), also Kelan Gaffney, Ross Kenny, A.J. Lehane, Craig O'Reilly.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Colm Deasy, Kevin Farragher, Ciarán Kelly, Conor Kane; Luke Gallagher, Jake Hyland (capt.); Gareth McCaffrey, Seán Brennan, Mark Doyle; Chris Lyons. Subs. - Lee Duffy for McCaffrey (61), Robert Manley for Doyle (73), also Luca Gratzer, Kealon Dillon, Lloyd Buckley, Richard Purdy, William Hondermarck.
Referee: David Dunne (Dublin).