Injury to Dobbs a big concern
Soccer SSE Airtricity First Division Series 10: UCD 3 Wexford FC 2
The sight of star striker Aaron Dobbs being helped off the field by physio Nigel Fitzharris added to the disappointment in the U.C.D. Bowl on Friday when Wexford F.C. managed to halve a two-goal deficit on a couple of occasions but ultimately returned home empty-handed from this entertaining SSE Airtricity First Division encounter.
The visitors found themselves 2-0 and 3-1 in arrears, only for goals from Dobbs and Mark Slater to re-ignite their challenge and leave the students with plenty to think about.
Ultimately though, the table-toppers held their nerve to ensure that Wexford F.C. are still looking for a first-ever league win in this head-to-head after five meetings, although the loss of Dobbs undoubtedly had a big bearing.
Almost two-thirds of the game had elapsed when the number nine was hit by a double whammy after a no-holds-barred tussle for the ball with direct opponent Josh Collins.
Both men ended on the ground with injuries, although the defender's wasn't anywhere near as serious as his opponent's.
Referee Adriano Reale stood patiently over Dobbs with his yellow card at the ready as soon as the attacker managed to get to his feet, but that took a considerable length of time.
The damage appeared to be to his right foot or ankle and, while he was able to gingerly hobble off the field with assistance from the physio, the portents didn't look great.
It's a real shame, because Dobbs has finally found his scoring boots and had grabbed a fifth in four games, and second from the spot in successive outings, in the first-half to bring Wexford back into the game.
Last year's top scorer was Thomas Croke with six in a 28-match campaign, and the talented teenager is now just one shy of that tally after a mere nine outings. It shows his worth to the team, and they will miss him if he is ruled out for any length of time.
There was just one change from the side that hammered woeful Athlone Town 7-0, with captain Ross Kenny returning from suspension to replace A.J. Lehane in the centre of the defence.
And it didn't take long for the gloss from that emphatic victory to wear off completely, as Wexford realised they were back in with the big boys as early as the fourth minute when U.C.D. pounced for their opening goal.
The ever-dangerous Daire O'Connor beat a high defensive line and ran on to a through ball just inside the opposing half in a central position.
Liam McCartan managed to get back to him and apply some pressure, but the diminutive operator was still able to knock the ball to his left for Jason McClelland to side-foot home with a clinical first-time finish.
That set the tone for an all-too familiar scenario at this venue, as the students are masters at spraying the ball around and their passing is often a joy to watch.
And in that regard, there's nobody better than central midfielder Greg Sloggett who ran the show as the home side looked to make the most of their early advantage.
Wexford found it hard to get the ball back for a long period, and a Liam Scales cross in the aftermath of the goal almost led to a second but McClelland knocked it over the bar.
Ross Kenny blocked a speculative shot from Georgie Kelly, but the latter continued his superb form in the opposition box when he doubled their lead in the 19th minute.
The striker had increased his goals tally from six to eight last weekend after I penned my report on the Athlone massacre, and he duly made it nine after a superb move.
Liam Scales played in Daire O'Connor to the left of goal, and his lovely feint left a defender for dead and gave him the time to pull the ball across for Kelly to finish with aplomb from close range.
It was all U.C.D. at this juncture, with Kevin Coffey heading over before a deflected shot by captain Gary O'Neill led to the first of their six corners without reply before the interval.
Wexford were feeding off scraps, but there was a clear sign that Aaron Dobbs had the beating of Josh Collins when he blocked his attempted clearance but then fouled netminder Conor Kearns as he tried to close him down.
Just over 120 seconds later, in the 31st minute, Mark Slater played a long ball down the right channel for Dobbs to chase again. A combination of pace and physical strength saw him beat Collins who took him down as he closed in on goal, and he picked himself up to blast the penalty into the left corner.
It was a real tonic for Wexford on a night when supporters had an unusual complaint in the first third of the game, given the dreadful weather of late.
A low sun directly behind Kealan Gaffney's goal ensured that hands were required above the eyes every time the students attacked, and unfortunately they were camped in that half for the most part although nobody was complaining about the welcome change in the weather.
The sun dropped around the time that Dobbs netted though, and moments later a Jason McClelland volley was only inches over the bar after a Wexford defender completely missed a cross from the right.
It served as a warning that U.C.D. weren't going to buckle, and they forced four corners in quick succession before their rivals managed to lift the siege.
Seán Hurley delivered a fine cross from the left in the 37th minute, and Mark Slater had ghosted into a great position behind the last defender with all eyes on Aaron Dobbs, but a timely clearance saved the leaders' bacon.
Dean Kelly was booked in the 41st minute before Kealan Gaffney advanced quickly to deny McClelland a possible second, but he was picking the ball out of his net once more in first-half added time.
Kelly lost possession rather cheaply to Daire O'Connor in central midfield, and the swift attack that followed saw the ball played to Liam Scales who in turn found Gary O'Neill.
The captain passed to O'Connor and then accepted the return before calmly slotting a low shot into the far corner out of Gaffney's reach. It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially as the half-time whistle sounded immediately after the re-start.
U.C.D. lost strong central defender Maxi Kouogun to injury at the interval, but they threatened early on as Ross Kenny blocked a Georgie Kelly shot before the striker headed wide when Daire O'Connor was actually in a better position to get on the end of a Dan Tobin cross from the right.
The subsequent kick-out, in the 51st minute, yielded a fine route one Wexford goal, with Thomas Croke gaining possession from Kealan Gaffney's delivery and finding Shane Barnes.
He in turn knocked a fine pass into space for Mark Slater who was haring in from the right wing, and the number 7 fairly well thumped his shot past Conor Kearns as it went in with some assistance from the woodwork for his first of the season.
Wexford were right back in it again, and Dean Kelly's quick thinking nearly yielded a stunning third on their next attack when he spotted Kearns slightly off his line and went for goal from a free-kick just inside the U.C.D. half.
The subsequent loss of Dobbs led to Dean Kelly moving to partner Shane Barnes up front, with Dean George appearing on the left, while Danny Doyle was later introduced as Wexford sought an equaliser in vain.
The third of three chances in four minutes for Daire O'Connor forced Kealan Gaffney into a good save, diving low to his left close to the post.
Barnes had a shot blocked from a Slater pass, while there was a momentary scare when a long-range Gary O'Neill shot went through Gaffney's legs.
However, his body had killed the momentum of the shot and he was able to safely gather the ball behind him.
Dean George drove an effort into a defender, again from a Slater assist, while Ross Kenny made a superb block at the other end when it looked like Daire O'Connor had put substitute Yoyo Mahdy in the clear.
An ever better chance fell to Georgie Kelly from a Greg Sloggett cross in the 85th minute and, given the striker's high standards, he will have been disappointed after heading over and not at least testing Gaffney.
Wexford dealt with the sole U.C.D. corner after the break before their own second and final flag kick was cleared at the near post.
A Dean Kelly free-kick into the danger zone also amounted to nothing, leaving the visitors with nothing to show for what was, on the whole, a very decent performance against a team with genuine designs on winning this league.
Next up for Wexford is a double meeting with Cabinteely in Ferrycarrig Park, in the Leinster Senior Cup first tonight (Tuesday), followed by a league meeting on Friday, both at 8 p.m.
And they will be renewing acquaintances with U.C.D. again quickly too, as their re-fixed game from series two will take place in Ferrycarrig on Bank Holiday Monday at 5 p.m.
Wexford F.C.: Kealan Gaffney; Liam McCartan, Seán Kelly, Ross Kenny (capt.), Seán Hurley; Mark Slater, Mikey Byrne, Thomas Croke, Dean Kelly; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Dean George for Dobbs, inj. (61), Ryan Nolan for Croke (77), Danny Doyle for Byrne (82), also Colum Feeney, Owen McCormack, A.J. Lehane.
U.C.D.: Conor Kearns; Dan Tobin, Maxi Kouogun, Josh Collins, Liam Scales; Kevin Coffey, Gary O'Neill (capt.), Greg Sloggett, Jason McClelland; Daire O'Connor, Georgie Kelly. Subs. - Paul Doyle for Kouogun, inj. (HT), Yoyo Mahdy for Coffey (74), Evan Osam for O'Connor (83), also Darragh Corcoran, Conor Crowley, Ben Hanrahan.
Referee: Adriano Reale (Kildare).