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Sunday 15 December 2019

First win was fully deserved

Soccer: SSE Airtricity first division series 5 - Wexford FC 2 Bray Wanderers 0

Wexford F.C. centre-half Seán Callan racing past Hugh Douglas of Bray Wanderers.
Wexford F.C. centre-half Seán Callan racing past Hugh Douglas of Bray Wanderers.

Alan Aherne in Ferrycarrig Park

Sometimes a positive result can arrive when it's least expected, and that was undoubtedly the case in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday when Wexford F.C. claimed their first win of the SSE Airtricity First Division campaign at the fifth attempt against a highly-fancied, and ultimately shell-shocked, Bray Wanderers side.

The home team went into this contest against one of the outfits relegated from the top flight at the end of last season without a point, but they were full value for a victory that was warmly welcomed by their small but loyal following.

Building on the promise and improvement shown in the first-half in Tolka Park one week earlier, they stunned a team expecting to make an immediate return to the top flight with a brace of second-half goals, both superbly executed, by Emmet Nugent and Jack Doherty.

And there was nothing lucky about the success, as Danny Furlong also had a first-half tap-in ruled out for offside and later missed the type of gilt-edged chance that he will more than likely convert as the season progresses and his sharpness returns after a recent suspension.

The opening goal was a real cracker, arriving in the 54th minute after a Jack Doherty corner on the left was initially headed clear by Bray captain Paul Keegan.

However, Ryan Nolan flighted the ball back into the box from the right, with a cushioned header from centre-half Seán Callan teeing it up perfectly for Emmet Nugent who swung his left boot and directed a sublime strike into the top corner of a startled Gabriel Sava's net.

It was a memorable goal from the Kilkenny winger who had also grabbed the side's first of the season away to Athlone on day one of a trying campaign thus far.

And while Bray rarely looked like hitting back for an equaliser, despite some promise shown by Dylan McGlade, Wexford supporters couldn't afford to relax until Jack Doherty doubled the lead in somewhat odd circumstances with eight minutes left.

Bray were awarded a free-kick around midfield, and taking it in a hurry proved the wrong option as it struck Doherty, who had his back to the ball, and rebounded into acres of free space as the visitors had started to push forward.

For a split second everyone seemed to stop, anticipating a whistle from referee Jason Mannix to order a re-take, but he was happy that everything was in order as Doherty hared towards the ball.

He had a long time, relatively speaking, to think about what he was going to do with it, but his composure was admirable as he curled his shot past the advancing Sava to seal a first home win in the league since the last game of 2018 against Athlone Town.

Doherty, who had already converted from the spot against both the midlanders and Cobh Ramblers, is now the club's top scorer for the fledgling season on three goals.

Two changes were made from the loss to Shelbourne, with Corey Chambers getting his first league start of 2019 between the sticks in place of Joseph Walshe, while vice-captain Owen McCormack - who wore the armband again in the absence of Chris Kenny - came in at right-back in place of Liam McCartan who has left the club due to work commitments.

Seán Callan and Darragh O'Connor got a second chance to hone a centre-half partnership that started at under-age level with Shamrock Rovers, and on the basis of this display it could well be the platform for a much more solid Wexford defensive unit as the year progresses, particularly if Chambers is retained in goal.

Bray's Philip Gannon shot to the right and wide in the eighth minute, while an effort from Paul Keegan cleared the crossbar shortly afterwards.

Joe Doyle then headed over from a Dylan Barnett cross, while a long-range effort from Gannon was too high to trouble Chambers as Wanderers struggled to come up with an end product.

Doyle couldn't keep a Luke Nolan cross from the right down, while Seán Callan timed his tackle very well when Dylan McGlade tried to flick the ball into Doyle's path in the 22nd minute.

Dean O'Halloran entered the notebook for a foul on Paddy Cahill before Bray did come close to taking the lead in the 29th minute.

A Dylan Barnett cross didn't get the strongest of touches from Doyle, but the ball was still on course for crossing the goal-line were it not for a crucial clearance from full-back Lee Costello.

Derek Daly fired across the box and wide from distance before Wexford finally managed to launch an attack, but Ryan Nolan's volley was well off target in the 33rd minute after an Emmet Nugent cross was initially cleared into his path.

Corey Chambers caught the ball cleanly from the game's first corner, and this led to an attack that ended with his opposite number, ex-Dundalk man Gabriel Sava, being beaten at the other end.

Alas, it didn't count, as Danny Furlong's 37th-minute finish from an Emmet Nugent cross, after good work initially by Jack Doherty, was ruled out for offside.

Still, it was a sign of better things to come, with Doherty almost playing Nugent in on the next attack, only for Sava to dart off his line and put the latter off before the ball was cleared.

A second Bray corner was headed away at his near post by Nugent, while Dylan McGlade shot over after good work by Paul Keegan midway through the one added minute at the end of the half.

Darragh O'Connor was booked for a foul on McGlade on the re-start before the first of two Wexford corners (Bray ended with five) ultimately led to that smashing lead goal from Nugent.

A McGlade free-kick was headed wide by Hugh Douglas as Bray sought a leveller, and the former was then wide from long range.

Sava raced out to intercept Ryan Nolan's delivery which was intended for Jack Doherty, but he was a relieved man in the 59th minute after a superb long ball by Darragh O'Connor found Danny Furlong who hooked his shot across goal and inches wide of the right-hand post.

The closest Bray came to equalising was on their next attack when McGlade a played one-two from a short corner on the right with Dylan Barnett before cutting into the box and unleashing a shot.

Paddy Cahill and Paul Keegan entered the referee's notebook in separate incidents before that breakaway goal from Jack Doherty brought Wexford's season to life after such a difficult start.

There was a yellow for Seán Callan - who made one powerful run from deep - before the leaders absorbed some late pressure.

Paul Keegan fired a shot low to the left and wide, while McGlade had one effort pushed away by Chambers before firing over deep into added time.

The victory means that Wexford will be travelling in high spirits when they visit Drogheda United for series six on Friday with a 7.45 p.m. kick-off.

Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Owen McCormack (capt.), Seán Callan, Darragh O'Connor, Lee Costello; Danny Doyle, Paddy Cahill, Ryan Nolan, Emmet Nugent; Jack Doherty; Danny Furlong. Subs. - Seán Kelly for Nolan (72), Andrew Farrell for Doyle (90+3), also Joseph Walshe, Thomas Croke, Seán Roche, Nika Arevadze.

Bray Wanderers: Gabriel Sava; Luke Nolan, Hugh Douglas, Killian Cantwell, Dylan Barnett; Philip Gannon, Paul Keegan (capt.); Dean O'Halloran, Dylan McGlade, Derek Daly; Joe Doyle. Subs. - Richard Purdy for Gannon (80), Jake Ellis for Douglas (85), also Adam Hayden, Luka Lovic, Brandon McCann, Andrew McGovern, Seán Heaney.

Referee: Jason Mannix (Cork).

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