Morgan's first goal is a winner
Soccer, SSE Airtricity First Division Series 18: Athlone Town 0 Wexford FC 1
John Morgan's first goal for Wexford F.C. was the difference between the two basement sides before a tiny crowd in sun-baked Lissywollen on Friday as Damian Locke's team marked their return from the mid-season break with a welcome win.
It was only their second success on the road this season, and it came about thanks to an accurate free-kick in the 34th minute from the left-back on his tenth league appearance for the club.
The chance arose after Danny Doyle played a neat through ball into the path of Aaron Dobbs who was cynically stopped in his tracks by yellow-carded Athlone Town defender Ciarán Grogan slightly to the right of goal just outside the penalty area.
It was a set-piece tailor-made for a left-footer, and Morgan duly beat the wall before his shot took a bounce close to goal and went beyond 17-year-old netminder Darcy Lawless via the far post.
Wexford's only previous away win had come on the opening night of the season in February versus Cabinteely, and once again Stradbrook is their next destination this Friday (7.45 p.m.) as they attempt to triumph back-to-back for the first time in 2018.
While a repeat of their 7-0 hammering of Athlone in Ferrycarrig Park in April was never on the cards, Wexford were the more productive side and the weak home outfit never posed a threat to safe-handling netminder Corey Chambers.
The midlanders have now gone an incredible 35 games without a victory, leaving them just three short of the unwanted record established by Kilkenny City with 38 spanning the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
They appointed a new manager, Terry Butler, in May and also made some additions to their squad in recent weeks, but there was no evidence on Friday to suggest their meagre points tally of two will improve any time soon.
Aaron O'Connor and Mark Slater were absent through injury for a Wexford side showing two changes from the scoreless draw with Galway a fortnight earlier, with Mikey Byrne and the now fully-fit Aaron Dobbs replacing O'Connor and Thomas Croke respectively.
I was surprised to see Croke making an appearance off the bench in the 65th minute, given that he was among a long list of players slated to serve a one-game suspension as and from Monday, June 25, for accumulating five yellow cards according to an e-mail from the FAI earlier in the day.
Whatever transpired to make him available, Wexford were glad to have the Waterford man given the threadbare look of their bench which featured two goalkeepers and just two more outfield players, one of whom, captain Ross Kenny, wasn't even togged out as he continues his recovery from injury.
The visitors threatened first in the sixth minute when Dean Kelly delivered a ball into the box for Danny Doyle who out-muscled defender Ger Smith, but goalkeeper Darcy Lawless advanced quickly to smother his shot.
Dean George posed a constant threat on the left wing in the first-half, and his cross found Doyle who turned on to his left foot before forcing Lawless into an even better save on the next attack.
Aaron Dobbs couldn't get any power behind his header from a long ball by Ryan Nolan in the 15th minute, but the Enniscorthy striker should have opened Wexford's account just over 30 seconds later when he first-timed a cross from George over the bar from close range.
George had a shot blocked and cleared before a long throw by John Morgan hopped kindly for Danny Doyle whose effort was too high to test Lawless.
Referee Alan Carey stopped play for a welcome water break on the 25-minute mark, and when the action resumed Athlone's Georgian winger, Nika Kalandarishvili, was booked for a late tackle on Ryan Nolan.
The Wexford goal followed in the 34th minute, with Morgan becoming the seventh player to contribute to the club's haul of 17 this season on his seventh start, and tenth league game in all.
Athlone hadn't threatened in any shape or form beforehand, although Wexford were fortunate that a dangerous low cross from the left by Kalandarishvili didn't get a touch from an attacker on their next attack.
The only corner of the first-half was won by the home side in the 44th minute when an Aaron Brilly cross went off Owen McCormack, but Kalanadarishvili fired it too long and wide which was symptomatic of Athlone's attacking woes.
Dean George wasn't too far away from grabbing a spectacular goal three minutes into the second-half. Netminder Lawless raced off his line to intercept Ryan Nolan's intended long pass to Aaron Dobbs, but he then got caught in no man's land and George's first-time punt from midfield bounced to the right of a gaping goal and narrowly wide.
Wexford's first two corners from a second-half count of 5-3 in their favour came to nothing before Aaron Dobbs sent a glancing header left and wide from a Conor Sutton cross.
Baba Issaka, the veteran Ghanian defender, saw yellow for a high challenge on Danny Doyle before the second water break, and Athlone started to show a bit more attacking intent when play resumed.
However, there was no end product, with substitute Stephen Grogan firing high and over Corey Chambers' bar after a one-two with Tzee Mustapha.
Chambers safely plucked a long-range Grogan free-kick from the clouds, while Dean Kelly was unfortunate to see a shot strike a defender after good build-up play by Dean George and Danny Doyle.
Thomas Croke had an attempt blocked after the third Wexford corner, while Aaron Dobbs almost latched on to a lucky bounce in the centre circle but a heavy touch gave goalkeeper Lawless the chance to hare out and avert the danger.
George beat two men and had a shot saved by Lawless, with the unfavourable hop on the hard surface denying Dobbs the chance to make the most of the rebound.
A couple of Dean Kelly corners were cleared before Conor Sutton halted the mazy run of substitute Shane Stokes with a foul and picked up a booking for his troubles.
Nika Kalandarishvili's free-kick went off Mikey Byrne for a corner which was caught cleanly by Corey Chambers and, although Athlone Town forced two more flag-kicks in the three added minutes, Wexford held firm to finally move into double figures on the points table.
As well at that trip to Stradbrook in south Dublin to meet Cabinteely on Friday, it has been announced that the re-fixed Leinster Senior Cup clash with Premier Division St. Patrick's Athletic will take place in Richmond Park on Monday, July 9.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Conor Sutton, Owen McCormack, Seán Kelly, John Morgan; Mikey Byrne (capt.); Danny Doyle, Dean Kelly, Ryan Nolan, Dean George; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Thomas Croke for Nolan (65), Liam McCartan for Morgan (73), also Kelan Gaffney, Ross Kenny, Colum Feeney.
Athlone Town: Darcy Lawless; Ger Smith, Ciarán Grogan, Baba Issaka, Ian Fletcher; Jake O'Connor, Aaron Brilly (capt.), Rob O'Leary, Nika Kalandarishvili; Tzee Mustapha; George Mukete. Subs. - Stephen Grogan for O'Leary (62), Brian Cabraley for Issaka (76), Shane Stokes for Fletcher (83), also Rory McCullough, Sodiq Oguntola, Dan O'Donovan, Michael Fogarty.
Referee: Alan Carey (Dublin).