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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Limp start leads to early exit

Women's Champions League Qualifying Group: Thor/KA3 Wexford Youths 0

Full-back Nicola Sinnott taking on Sandra Jessen of Thór/KA
Full-back Nicola Sinnott taking on Sandra Jessen of Thór/KA

Dean Goodison in Belfast

Wexford Youths crashed out of contention for a place in the UEFA Women's Champions League knockout stage, hampered badly by a limp opening 20 minutes against Thor/KA in Seaview, Belfast, on Friday.

Nothing short of victory was going to keep the slim hopes of the Ferrycarrig Park side alive, but they failed to match their opponents' intensity in the first quarter and the game was over before they could even get going.

To their credit, Wexford refused to throw in the towel and take a pasting. Tom Elmes switched his line-up around, went to three at the back, and his charges did do themselves justice in the final 70 minutes.

While they will be proud of how they responded to adversity, not getting up to speed quicker will hurt those experienced heads in the Wexford dressing-room. Thor play at a decent level, and they are a big, aggressive side, but their technical ability was clearly a step down on Ajax.

However, the Dutch side didn't play at the same sort of tempo and Wexford were able to stick with them in the first-half by filling in the gaps and defending deep.

When they were hit by direct, sweeping balls, the big gaps between defence and midfield, filled by Thor runners from deep, put the Youths defence under immense pressure and they buckled quickly.

Thor's gameplan shouldn't have come as a surprise to the Wexford management, as they saw the Icelandic club get the better of Linfield using the same approach.

Still, the players didn't get the benefit of seeing it in the flesh and they were caught on the hop.

It should be noted that before facing Ajax, Wexford hadn't properly been challenged since they beat Peamount in late June. They have continued to win by coasting through games. It has simply been too easy domestically, and there evidently is no automatic on/off switch.

Realistically, coming into this tournament, there were two places in the starting line-up up for grabs. It was those two spots that manager Elmes chose to change after the Ajax defeat. Sophie Lenehan came back into the goal for Ciamh Dollard, while Orla Casey replaced Katrina Parrock on the wing.

Goalkeeper Lenehan could do nothing about the three Thor goals. There's currently not a lot between the two shot-stoppers; they have different strengths but Wexford got into trouble from their own kick-outs too often against Ajax and that was rectified by the change.

Casey probably doesn't enjoy that right wing role but plays it to fill a hole for the team. Wexford haven't pulled up any trees in the middle of the park in this tournament so, using the personnel he did, it's a little surprising Elmes didn't choose to flip the youngster with Hansberry for a different look, moving her into a role in which she's more comfortable.

Still, nobody was at the races in a dreadful opening 20 minutes. In their first real attack, the pacy Hulda Osk Jonsdóttir got to the byline and pulled the ball back for the unmarked Sandra Jessen to volley home.

Not many sides can get to those positions against Wexford domestically and they looked ill-prepared to deal with it. The defence sucked back onto the edge of the six-yard box, the midfielders didn't get tight, and Jessen just sat in a pocket of space and waited for the quality delivery.

Kylie Murphy snapped a long-range shot that Stephanie Bukovic easily held in the seventh minute. However, her side conceded again when Andrea Mist Páisdóttir whipped her corner to the back post and Hulda Bjorg Hannesdóttir headed to the Wexford net.

Stephany Mayor was the next Thor player to exploit Wexford shakiness. She fed back to Hulda Osk Jonsdóttir and her shanked volley trickled just inside the post to make it three after a mere 19 minutes.

Jessen missed the target from ten yards out and saw a header saved by Lenehan before she was forced off through injury. Wexford threatened for the first time when Frawley found Jarrett who beat her marker but couldn't force her shot past the composed Bukovic.

Doireann Fahey looked more comfortable as a wing-back in this contest and her probing down the left saw her just chip onto the roof of the net ten minutes before the break.

Frawley missed the target from distance while at the other end Lenehan was able to parry away a rocket from Mexican international Stephany Mayor.

The tempo was high in the third quarter but it was a much more even battle. Wexford were the first to create an opening when Jarrett released Casey down the right, but her first touch slowed her progress and her shot was comfortable for Bukovic.

Frawley slipped Jarrett in moments later but her shot missed the target. Murphy was next to hit the seats behind Bukovic's goal as Wexford chipped away at an Icelandic side desperately seeking a fourth goal to put them ahead of Ajax in the table before their final round meeting.

Jonsdóttir failed to trouble Lenehan with a drilled effort from the right of goal with 17 minutes remaining.

At the other end Hansberry's poked long ball got Jarrett isolated on the last defender, and she cut in before drifting out but saw her left-footed shot stopped by the 'keeper.

Hansberry had an effort repelled by a reaching Bukovic before Frawley and Jarrett combined to pick out McKenna Davidson.

On too late to make a real impact, the Hawaiian connected pretty well but it was stopped by the impressive Thor goalkeeper again.

Wexford ended their Champions League campaign against Linfield yesterday (Monday).

The hosts aren't as talented as Youths but went after both of their previous opponents with intent so it was destined to be a real battle, especially if there was any repeat of this sloppy start.

Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Orlaith Conlon, Doireann Fahey; Edel Kennedy, Kylie Murphy (capt.); Orla Casey, Emma Hansberry, Aisling Frawley; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Katrina Parrock for Fahey (75), Aoife Slattery for Murphy (88), McKenna Davidson for Casey (88), also Becky Conroy, Becky Cassin, Cliodhna Ní Shé, Ciamh Dollard.

Thor/KA: Stephanie Bukovic; Arna Ásgrimsdóttir, Lilly Hlynsdóttir, Bianca Sierra; Hulda Bjorg Hannesdóttir, Ariana Catrina Calderon, Andrea Mist Pálsdóttir, Anna Pétursdóttir, Hulda Osk Jonsdóttir, Stephany Mayor, Sandra Jessen (capt.). Subs. - Karen Sigurgeirsdóttir for Jessen, inj. (35), Rut Matthiasdóttir for Pálsdóttir (67), Johanna Henriksson for Bukovic (88), also Lára Einarsdóttir, Margret Arnadóttir, Águsta Kristinsdóttir.

Referee: Barbara Poxhofer (Austria).

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