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Tuesday 19 June 2018

Humiliating record defeat

Wexford F.C.1 Drogheda United 8

Alan Aherne

Mikey Byrne of Wexford F.C. takes aim as Drogheda United winger Mark Doyle closes in
Mikey Byrne of Wexford F.C. takes aim as Drogheda United winger Mark Doyle closes in
Thomas Croke on the ball as Luke Gallagher keeps a close watch

The St. Patrick's weekend sporting schedule started on an extremely low note in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday when the ground played host to a biggest-ever defeat for the home side since the advent of League of Ireland football there in 2007.

This was, quite simply, deplorable to watch as a woefully inadequate Wexford F.C. eleven were easily torn to shreds by rampant Drogheda United, with the visitors coasting to an 8-1 win just five days after putting six past Athlone Town without reply.

Technically, it was the first clash between the teams since the second leg of that promotion/relegation play-off at the end of 2016 when the Drogs overturned a 2-0 deficit to win 3-0 in United Park.

Of course, it was Wexford Youths providing the opposition on that occasion before Wexford F.C. rose from its ashes, but there's no denying that football in Ferrycarrig Park hasn't recovered from that bitter blow of surrendering Premier Division status after just one season.

And on the evidence of Friday's performance that was shocking in its ineptitude, that win on the road to Cabinteely in the first game of the current campaign was merely a false dawn.

The team has now shipped eleven goals in the two subsequent league outings after going down 3-0 away to Longford Town six nights earlier, and already it looks like the SSE Airtricity First Division is sub-dividing into two distinct groups: potential title challengers, and also-rans.

Prior to Friday, the record defeat for a Ferrycarrig Park-based League of Ireland side was the 6-0 thumping away to Limerick on September 23, 2011.

The record books have duly been changed and, not alone that, it was also Drogheda's best-ever victory, eclipsing a 7-1 against Finn Harps in 1977, and a 6-0 versus Kilkenny City in 1994.

There was just one change to the Wexford side from the previous league outing in Longford, with Shane Barnes coming in for Seán Kelly, and Chris Kenny moving back to defensive duties.

I, for one, thought the Enniscorthy man, who spent last season with Sligo Rovers, would be used primarily as a midfielder, but he was the central figure in a back three for the second time so far, flanked by Owen McCormack on the right and captain Ross Kenny on the left.

And while he did move to midfield approaching half-time, with Mark Slater dropping back and McCormack then manning the heart of the defence, it was well and truly game over by that stage as Wexford incredibly trailed 5-0 as early as the 26th minute.

It was a bittersweet first-half for the experienced Seán Brennan, one of four brothers active in the League of Ireland, as he scored from two peaches of free-kicks before being removed from the field on a stretcher in added time with an injury.

The game was less than three minutes old when he netted for the first time from a central position more than 30 metres out, leaving Danny Bolger rooted to the spot as he beat the wall and tucked the ball into the left corner after Chris Kenny fouled Wexford old boy Lee Duffy.

It was also a night of mixed fortunes for Duffy, who will be remembered for coming off the bench to grab a last-minute equaliser on his club debut in the opening league game of the 2017 season away to Cobh Ramblers.

It was hoped that he would be the prolific striker Wexford haven't had since the departure of Danny Furlong - now in wonderful form with new club Galway United - but that didn't materialise as Duffy failed to rattle the net again before moving on in mid-season.

It was ironic, then, that he scored twice as many goals for Drogheda on Friday as he did throughout his spell in the south-east, but he blotted his copybook in the 88th minute. His late lunge at Aaron Dobbs was needless in such a one-sided game, and the red card for the poor tackle was inevitable.

The night had started on a brighter note for Duffy, as he doubled Drogheda'a lead in the eighth minute. The amount of time he had to work with after Chris Lyons delivered a low cross from the right didn't say a lot for Wexford's non-existent defensive structure.

He was afforded enough room to turn and send a low shot to the net off Danny Bolger's fingertips, and already it had the hallmark of being one of those nights.

That feeling was confirmed just under five minutes later when Seán Brennan repeated his party piece from practically the same area, only this time the ball was dispatched into the right corner of the net with Bolger not moving a muscle again. Mark Slater had taken down Lyons, and the quality of Brennan's finishing had to be admired.

The opportunity for a lifeline did present itself in the 17th minute. Slater had a shot saved by Paul Skinner and, as he made his move to get the rebound, his legs were swept from under him in the box.

Chris Kenny was entrusted with the spot-kick, but Skinner dived low to his left and knocked it out for a fruitless corner.

Could it get any worse? It could and it most certainly did, with a smart Drogheda move from right to left leading to goal number four in the 24th minute.

The lack of any challenge on the man in possession was galling as Lee Duffy passed into a central area for captain Jake Hyland. He in turn knocked the ball out to left winger Mark Doyle who cut inside before beating Bolger with a composed finish.

Two minutes later, it was 5-0, after a long ball over the top found Doyle who was fouled by Chris Kenny. Chris Lyons sent Bolger the wrong way from the spot, and nobody would have complained if referee Alan Carey had ended the embarrassment there and then.

The one small scrap of comfort for Wexford was provided in the 44th minute. A high cross from the left by Seán Hurley was headed by a defender into the path of Dean Kelly, and the Carlow lad opened his goalscoring account for the season with a clinical low finish to the far corner.

There was a delay starting the second-half as a goal net had to be repaired, perhaps as a result of those five decisive strikes from the Louth side.

They were hungry for more, and three duly arrived in just over one-quarter of an hour. Jake Hyland made it 6-1 in the 53rd minute from outside the box, turning and drilling a low shot to Danny Bolger's left and into the corner of the net.

The seventh and eighth goals came as a result of comical errors. There wasn't an opponent in sight of defensive midfielder Mikey Byrne when he gave possession away with a poor pass.

Mark Doyle said 'thank you very much' and slid the ball to the far post where Lee Duffy was only too happy to make the most of the gift.

That goal arrived after 59 minutes and, just over two minutes later it was 8-1 after a short back pass from Mark Slater was latched on to by Chris Lyons who rounded Bolger and doubled his own tally.

The netminder was immediately substituted, and young Kealan Gaffney - whose club debut had come in the EA Sports Cup loss three nights earlier - did well and kept a clean sheet, saving efforts from Stephen Meaney, Luke Gallagher and Mark Doyle.

It was noticeable that Bolger played with a bandage on his right knee and, if he wasn't fully fit, manager Damian Locke clearly shouldn't have started him.

The Kerry native couldn't have seen this result coming, but he has a difficult task on his hands in trying to restore morale and pick up some much-needed points.

This result will have implications off the field, too; clearly, there's never a good time to lose 8-1, but when it happens in the first home game of the season, at a club in desperate need of a bigger following, it certainly doesn't augur well for increased numbers arriving at the gate as the season progresses. It was the worst possible start for the supporters' trust now in charge of the day-to-day operation.

Wexford's home game with U.C.D. last night (Monday) was called off, and there's a journey that few clubs from this neck of the woods look forward to on Friday when they will be on the long road to face Finn Harps in Ballybofey.

Wexford F.C.: Danny Bolger; Owen McCormack, Chris Kenny, Ross Kenny (capt.); Mark Slater, Dean Kelly, Mikey Byrne, Thomas Croke, Seán Hurley; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - John Morgan for Barnes (58), Kealan Gaffney for Bolger (62), Liam McCartan for Slater (68), also Danny Doyle, A.J. Lehane, Dean George, Owen Wall.

Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Colm Deasy, Kevin Farragher, Ciarán Kelly, Conor Kane; Jake Hyland (capt.), Luke Gallagher, Seán Brennan; Lee Duffy, Mark Doyle; Chris Lyons. Subs. - Luke Rossiter for Brennan, inj. (45+4), Stephen Meaney for Lyons (66), Kealan Dillon for Hyland (66), also Gareth McCaffrey, Luka Gratzer, Lloyd Buckley, Richard Purdy.

Referee: Alan Carey (Dublin).

Wexford People