Saved by the whistle
SÓ Hotels Women's National League: Wexford Youths 2 Cork City 1
Wexford Youths scraped past Cork City to maintain the pressure on Peamount United at the top of the SÓ Hotel's Women's National League table in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.
The hosts created ample chances, more than they have made against any decent side this season, but they still almost coughed up the points when Christina Dring latched onto an Orlaith Conlon error in injury-time.
Trying to atone for the mistake, the Wexford defender fouled the Cork attacker as she blitzed away but Dring stayed upright and lined up her shot. With Maeve Williams poorly positioned and back-peddling, the striker let fly.
However, as she was swinging her leg, referee Fran Sinnott blew the play up and awarded a free-kick to Cork, mistakenly deeming the advantage to be over. Williams made a weak attempt at the save and the ball nestled in the net.
Cork were apoplectic but to understand how the situation came about is to look at what preceded the incident.
The longer the second-half wore on, the more their bench were roaring for everything, often ridiculous things.
The referee had been consistent for most of the game but the constant sniping seemed to be getting in his head. Likely ready for the next volley of abuse, he whistled right at the end of when one might deem enough time had passed to warrant the end of the advantage.
It was a theory which was fine had Dring's shot gone anywhere but the back of the net. In fairness to Sinnott, other referees might have tried to make up for the error with a phantom penalty from the next set-piece, but he didn't try to make a right with two wrongs.
While the incident was unfortunate for the visitors, the result was far from harsh. They were only still in the game thanks to some poor Wexford finishing.
In reality, the hosts could have had five or six on the board by that stage and it wouldn't have flattered them.
Boss Tom Elmes made changes from the side that beat DLR Waves but kept faith with some of those that got him that result.
There was no surprise that Rianna Jarrett and Kylie Murphy came back into the starting line-up, but the defensive set-up would have raised a few eyebrows.
Becky Cassin stayed in the side but shifted to the right full-back position, with Orlaith Conlon coming into the starting line-up to partner Ciara Delaney. The partnership didn't sync as well as the Cassin/Delaney duo did against Waves.
Conlon, without the pace of Lauren Dwyer as failsafe, looked edgy with her unfamiliar partner and at times space appeared between the two centre-halves that Cork, on occasion, threatened to exploit.
While she was the steadier of the two, there was a submissiveness to Delaney's performance that wasn't present against Waves. It's understandable to an extent, as she is the one lacking experience at this level, but it couldn't possibly help her in the long term.
However, Wexford didn't constantly look like conceding. Cork had a lively first ten minutes but the game settled into a pattern of Youths dominance as they began to create chance after chance.
Dring had a couple of opportunities in the first ten minutes, as she flashed over the bar in the opening minute and drifted into that space from a long Nathalie O'Brien ball over the top but heel-volleyed a weak effort wide.
In between those opportunities, Youths should have went ahead. McKenna Davidson slipped the ball down the right flank to Jarrett and she sent an excellent low ball across the box.
Katrina Parrock timed her arrival perfectly but, with only Maria O'Sullivan to beat, blasted at the Cork 'keeper from point-blank range.
She had another effort blocked from the follow-up but Cork survived that too. Jarrett weakly headed wide, Conlon saw an effort deflected up into the air and into O'Sullivan's hands, and Lauren Kelly sent in a powder-puff strike on goal as Wexford kept up the pressure.
It was no real surprise that the hosts took the lead in the 28th minute when Doireann Fahey's ball over the top was latched on to by Jarrett and smashed past O'Sullivan from ten yards out.
Davidson floated over the crossbar, Murphy's shot was fumbled but recovered by O'Sullivan, and Jarrett flicked over the last defender but volleyed her potential Puskas contender close enough for the 'keeper to get down and save.
Cork had done nothing for over half an hour when Dring slipped the ball past Aoife Slattery on the edge of the area, went past Conlon just as quickly, and was taken down by the defender's flailing leg for a penalty.
Eabha O'Mahony stepped up to convert from the spot, sending Maeve Williams the wrong way, to give Cork parity at the break in a game where they hardly had a kick. The visitors proceeded to do nothing for most of the second-half too.
The pattern of the game continued after the break, as Parrock put in a superb cross that Jarrett headed wide unmarked from six yards out after she got her feet all muddled up.
The Wexford striker then fizzed in a cross that Murphy chose to head from near the penalty spot. It flew over but she had more time than she realised.
Elmes looked to his bench just after the hour mark. While Aisling Frawley struggled to impact the game, Edel Kennedy certainly put herself about in the middle. Her weak-footed shot was easily saved in the 63rd minute.
However, two minutes later Wexford went in front when Jarrett controlled Fahey's searching pass, cut inside and curled a classy finish around O'Sullivan and into the bottom corner of the Cork net.
Youths continued to press, looking for the goal to wrap up the points. Jarrett powered another shot narrowly wide of the far post, fired a free-kick over the crossbar, and forced O'Sullivan into a sharp save with her left-footed strike.
Lauren Kelly poked Fahey's low cross over the bar from eight yards out and then had a weak shot stopped by the 'keeper. Cork finally woke up with a couple of minutes left and Wexford got a little jittery.
Maggie Duncliffe snapped a long-range shot high and wide in the 89th minute before Dring was denied by the referee's whistle in additional time. Duncliffe had another shot deflected over from the resulting free but Wexford survived to take the points.
With Peamount snatching a late winner against Galway at the weekend, the gap at the top remains five points. However, Wexford have a break from league action when they host Limerick in the League Cup semi-final at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday.
Wexford Youths: Maeve Williams; Becky Cassin, Ciara Delaney, Orlaith Conlon, Doireann Fahey; Aoife Slattery; McKenna Davidson, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Lauren Kelly, Katrina Parrock; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Edel Kennedy for Slattery (62), Aisling Frawley for Davidson (62), Lauren Dwyer for Parrock (82), also Sophie Lenehan, Vanessa Ogbonna, Nicola Sinnott, Cliodhna Ní Shé.
Cork City: Maria O'Sullivan; Nathalie O'Brien, Ciara McNamara, Emma Farmer, Shaunagh McCarthy; Zara Foley, Eabha O'Mahony; Danielle Burke, Katie McCarthy (capt.), Ríona Crowley; Christina Dring. Subs. - Rachel O'Regan for Crowley (46), Maggie Duncliffe for Burke (75), Eadaoin Lyons for O'Mahony (89), also Abby McCarthy, Katie O'Connor, Liz O'Connor, Savannah McCarthy.
Referee: Fran Sinnott (Wexford).