Point earns top spot
Wexford Youths 0 Galway 0
Wexford Youths stuttered to the top of the Continental Tyres Women's National League table with a disappointing goal-less draw against Galway in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.
Coming just three days after the loss away at Shelbourne, the single point sent Wexford ahead of Peamount but leaves Laura Heffernan's side just four clear of the defending champions from Tolka Park with five games to go.
It was hardly any surprise that Wexford failed to score in the league for the first time this season, given that their four attacking players from three nights earlier were in Taipei with the Irish University squad.
Claire O'Riordan, Rianna Jarrett, Aoibhín Webb and Aisling Frawley all made the trip to Asia and it left Wexford short of numbers, so much so that midfielder Edel Kennedy made her first start after returning from injury as the lone striker.
It's unclear whether Wexford Youths or the FAI decided that this fixture should go ahead while the Ferrycarrig Park side were missing so many important players, but whoever did make the final call has massively dented the club's title hopes.
It's an even more baffling decision given that the games of Wexford's two main title rivals, Peamount and Shelbourne, have both been shelved while their players are away on international duty.
On the field it was a game of few chances as Youths continue to struggle to play like a cohesive unit. It's getting awfully late in the season for this masterplan to kick into action and the players just don't look like they have any belief in what they are being asked to do.
With the rest of the league in different stages of developing young teams, this experienced, two-time title winning Wexford side should be out of sight of the pack but there's a very real danger that this trophy is going to slip away in the coming weeks.
The first-half had very few chances of note. After a modicum of success pumping balls from deep on the wing into Rianna Jarrett against Shelbourne, Wexford peppered the edge of the area with those low percentage balls all half and Galway lapped it up.
The visitors were missing Shauna Fox from the heart of their defence but they coped superbly against a side looking to feed on errors rather than get the ball into good positions closer to the byline.
It was even easier when Wexford tried to squeeze the ball through the centre, with the Galway midfield and defence coping without too much stress. It's such a minefield in the middle at the moment that the next move for Youths could well be to go to three at the back and add an extra body in there against anyone not named Shelbourne.
Galway were first to threaten when Gráinne Barrett's corner flew all the way to the back post and Lynsey McKey fired into the side-netting. Wexford were at their most dangerous from set-pieces, and when Emma Hansberry's delivery in the twelfth minute was fed back across goal by Kylie Murphy, the westerners had to be at their best to scramble clear.
Early desperation laced Hansberry's 35-yard strike that flew well wide as the game moved into the second quarter. There was an aptness about Orla Casey's sliced shot that got Linda Douglas into her best position in the first half an hour, but the Wexford winger didn't connect well and it flew wide.
The important thing to take from that situation was not the end product but that it was exactly the position Wexford need to get Douglas into more often; if they do that the delivery to hurt teams will come.
Lauren Dwyer nearly caught Tina Hughes napping with a daisy-cutter from distance that the Galway 'keeper had to tip around the post. Méabh De Burca then stopped Hansberry from getting away on a counter-attack with a superb tackle.
After switching to the left, Douglas sped away onto Kylie Murphy's best pass of the evening down the left and was tripped up by a desperate Rachel Baynes right on the edge of the area. Emma Hansberry missed the target with the free-kick.
With the half-time whistle fast approaching Lynsey McKey got into the perfect position on the left, close to the byline. Her cross hit Sadhbh Doyle on the run but her header from six yards out somehow bounced off the ground and over Sophie Lenehan's crossbar.
Goal-less at the break, a sharper Kennedy might have scored when she looped just wide from Hansberry's pass in the 50th minute. Douglas won back possession with her typical determination two minutes later but her shot, after a one-two with Kennedy, was partially blocked and easily held.
It went quiet again until there was complete mayhem for a couple of minutes around the midpoint of the half. When Murphy was fouled, Hansberry's delivery pinballed in the box but Galway momentarily got it away.
However, Becky Cassin was tripped moments later and Hansberry sent a curling shot towards the right corner that Hughes tipped onto the crossbar. In the ensuing scramble nobody could force the ball over the line.
Then Galway had a little spell. Nicola Sinnott stretched every sinew to head Aislinn Meaney's cross away with two Galway girls lurking. Then, when the visitors worked the ball back in, Lenehan made a fantastic save from Barrett's header.
A Hansberry corner that Sinnott helped back into the danger area was almost headed in by Lauren Dwyer in the 72nd minute. Galway got it off the line and Douglas saw her shot blocked as she tried to fire through bodies.
Apart from the energetic Douglas who didn't play Wednesday, Wexford visibly tired as the game went on.
They created nothing of note in the 23 minutes referee Seamus Kelly played after that chance but survived a scare at the other end.
It was Lenehan to the rescue again; the young 'keeper was probably Youths' best performer on the night as she reacted superbly to brilliantly save Gleeson's sliced clearance from Meaney's wicked cross into the area from the left.
The point does move Wexford into top spot but means that one more slip-up and Shelbourne have their destiny in their own hands.
At the moment the champions should be considered favourites for the title, despite being four points back with five to go, as they have added good strength-in-depth while Youths have weakened themselves by allowing players to leave.
The next game for Wexford is away to Kilkenny on August 27 where anything less than three points will simply not be good enough. The following week Shelbourne travel to Ferrycarrig Park in a fixture that will go a long way to deciding the destination of the title.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon, Lauren Dwyer; Becky Cassin; Linda Douglas, Orla Casey, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Emma Hansberry; Edel Kennedy. Subs. - Katrina Parrock for Kennedy (58), also Jenny O'Keeffe, Siobhán Doolan, Amy Wilson, Sadbh McCarthy.
Galway: Tina Hughes; Rachel Baynes, Chloe Singleton, Keara Cormican, Méabh De Búrca (capt.); Therese Hartley, Gráinne Barrett; Lynsey McKey, Tessa Mullins, Sadhbh Doyle; Aislinn Meaney. Subs. - Lucia Lobato for Hartley (56), Lucy Hannon for Barrett (72), Aoife Walsh for Baynes (89), Megan Carroll.
Referee: Seamus Kelly (Wexford).