Kelly rescues precious point
Soccer, SSE Airtricity First Division Series 14: Wexford FC 1 Finn Harps 1
Wexford FC hopefully took the first significant steps in rectifying the very poor form of late when they recovered well to deny Finn Harps victory with a Dean Kelly equaliser in the 80th minute of Friday's SSE Airtricity First Division encounter in Ferrycarrig Park.
It was an encouraging finish to the game for a side low on confidence after a string of recent setbacks, with a precious point collected after five defeats on the trot.
Harps veteran Paddy McCourt made it all look so simple as the chief playmaker for the visitors, with the ex-Celtic stalwart always appearing to have plenty of time on the ball, and more often than not picking out an astute pass.
And when he gave his side the lead from a penalty in the 66th minute, sending Kealan Gaffney the wrong way, it seemed as if the Wexford losing sequence was going to extend to six matches.
It was difficult to see where and how centre-half Owen McCormack committed a foul, and Harps man Niall McGinley seemed as surprised as anyone when referee David Keeler pointed to the spot as he tried to make the most of Mark Hannon's delivery to the left of goal.
McCourt was never going to miss in that situation, but the Wexford heads didn't drop for a welcome change and they were amply rewarded with that equaliser in the 80th minute.
Stand-in captain Thomas Croke latched on to a very poor defensive header near the edge of the box, and it looked like last year's top scorer was going to open his account for this campaign when he got a lot of power behind his volley.
Netminder Ciarán Gallagher did get behind the ball but could only parry it into the path of the alert Dean Kelly who followed up to register his second goal of 2018.
Harps were stung by that concession but came closest to getting a late winner after a long ball by centre-half Keith Cowan was misjudged by Seán Kelly in the 84th minute.
It left the wasteful Ciarán O'Connor bearing down on Kealan Gaffney's goal from the right, but the netminder denied him with a fine save before later darting off his line to cut out a long ball by Jesse Devers that was intended for substitute Mickey Place.
Wexford welcomed back centre-forward Aaron Dobbs after his injury lay-off, with John Morgan dropping down to the bench in the re-shuffle, while there was a straight swap at the back where Seán Kelly came in for injured captain Ross Kenny.
However, the playing resources are stretched as the mid-season break draws closer, with defender A.J. Lehane out for eight weeks after a knee operation while Seán Hurley and Mikey Byrne were also absentees.
Dobbs marked his return with an early cross intended for strike partner Shane Barnes, but a defender got in the way with a vital touch.
The second of two corners from Dean Kelly led to a blocked volley from Thomas Croke, with Conor Sutton blazing over from the rebound.
The latter was at left-back on this occasion after sitting in front of the back four in the defeat in Drogheda, with Wexford reverting to the 4-4-2 formation now that Dobbs was back to join Barnes up front.
Harps threatened first in the eighth minute when Jesse Devers played a one-two with Ciarán O'Connor before firing right and wide.
Wexford were doing fine though, and Barnes tested goalkeeper Gallagher with a low snapshot on their next attack of note.
Still, there was a major let-off for the hosts in the eleventh minute when Ferrycarrig Park old boy Aidan Friel sent a fine long ball into the path of Ciarán O'Connor whose first-time strike on the bounce came back off the bar with Kealan Gaffney stranded.
Dean Kelly forced Gallagher into a save from a long-range shot, while a brave diving header from Owen McCormack cleared the danger from a Harps corner as O'Connor prepared to pull the trigger.
Friel was clearly eager to leave a big impression on his return to the south-east, and his long-range shot forced Gaffney into a fine tip-over save in the 22nd minute.
Paddy McCourt's corner found the head of Keith Cowan, but thankfully Conor Sutton was standing on the line and nodded the ball away for a goal-saving clearance.
Dean Kelly's free-kick from the left was safely gathered by Ciarán Gallagher, while Gaffney raced out to ensure a long ball from McCourt didn't find intended target Jesse Devers.
The Donegal side exerted a lot of pressure for an extended spell, but the best they could muster was a shot from outside the box by Niall McGinley that didn't worry Gaffney.
And the tide turned as Wexford looked the more threatening approaching half-time.
A good low shot by Dean George was saved by Gallagher, with Dean Kelly's corner kick too long to pose any problems.
Shane Barnes saw yellow prior to Wexford's fourth and final corner of the half, and this time Kelly found Dobbs whose downward header was only narrowly wide.
Kealan Gaffney had to be alert just 33 seconds into the new half when he got down low to make a save, and his powers of recovery were strong in the 62nd minute when Harps almost took the lead.
It came after a very good passing move as Jesse Devers got to the byline before finding Michael O'Connor, but his flick-cum-shot didn't have enough power and Gaffney was able to keep it out.
Ciarán O'Connor headed wide from a Mark Hannon cross before the arrival of that dubious goal from the penalty spot, but the manner of Wexford's recovery was encouraging given their troubles of late.
Of course, the important thing now is to try to build on this hard-earned point, although it won't be easy as Shelbourne are going well and will be hard to topple on their home patch in Tolka Park on Friday.
The only team below Wexford - Athlone Town - also gained a point last Friday, just their second of the campaign in a home draw with Longford Town in the midlands derby.
It means the gap between the two bottom sides remains at six points, and there's a similar divide between Wexford and seventh-place Cobh Ramblers who will clash in St. Colman's Park on Saturday week.
Wexford F.C.: Kealan Gaffney; Liam McCartan, Owen McCormack, Seán Kelly, Conor Sutton; Danny Doyle, Dean Kelly, Thomas Croke (capt.), Dean George; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Owen Wall for Doyle (74), Mark Slater for Dobbs (78), Ryan Nolan for Croke (82), also Colum Feeney, Aaron O'Connor, John Morgan.
Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher; Ciarán Coll (capt.), Keith Cowan, Sam Todd; Paddy McCourt; Aidan Friel, Jesse Devers, Niall McGinley, Mark Hannon; Ciáran O'Connor, Michael O'Connor. Subs. - Mickey Place for M. O'Connor (68), Dylan McGrory for McGinley, inj. (87), Jamie Browne for C. O'Connor (90), also B.J. Banda, Gareth Doherty, Ryan Finn, Peter Bourke.
Referee: David Keeler (Cork).