Shels move into second spot
Soccer, SSE Airtricity First Division Series 13: Wexford FC 1 Shelbourne 2
It's now more than two years since Wexford F.C. emerged from the ashes of the original Youths and embarked on their first-ever campaign with a 4-2 loss away to Shelbourne in the first round of the Leinster Senior Cup on February 17, 2017.
And although the new club won two of the sides' three league meetings in that season, the Dubliners have proved very tough opponents ever since.
Indeed, Friday's 2-1 win in the SSE Airtricity First Division clash in Ferrycarrig Park was the fifth on the trot in this particular head-to-head for Shels who moved back into second spot behind surprise packets Cabinteely as a result.
Only netminder Corey Chambers and midfielder Thomas Croke were in action to bridge that gap since the first meeting in 2017, with the club losing a stalwart member of their original crew during the week.
Kilkenny defender Owen McCormack has stepped away from football for personal reasons, and he will be missed.
A virtual ever-present in Wexford F.C's two and a half campaigns thus far, he featured in a record 64 games across all competitions, 62 as a starter either at centre-half or right-back, and scored two goals in the process.
The first came in an FAI Cup loss to non-league Crumlin United two years ago, while he doubled that tally earlier in this league campaign away to Drogheda United.
Indeed, he's the only player outside the triumvirate of Doherty, Nugent and Furlong to have scored this season, and his selection as vice-captain was a measure of the esteem in which he was held around the club despite his tender years.
McCormack wore the armband seven times in the league while Chris Kenny recovered from a long-term injury, and he also provided a direct playing link to the last Wexford Youths campaign of 2016.
Another player falling into that category, Aidan Friel, was back in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday but wearing the predominantly white away strip of Shelbourne.
And his goal in the 16th minute gave them a lead they maintained to the finish, although it's highly unlikely that he really meant it.
Friel was eager to enjoy his return to the south-east from the off, regularly bombing up the right flank from his defensive berth.
He was close to the touchline when he played a one-two with James English who released him into space with the deftest of touches.
Friel made ground before whipping in what looked to all intents and purposes to be a cross. However, the flight of the ball caught everyone by surprise, including netminder Corey Chambers, as it was whipped into the net at speed via the far post.
Whether intentional or accidental, only Friel will really know, but either way it set his side up for a potential repeat of their comfortable 3-0 win they last met in Tolka Park in March.
To Wexford's credit, they stayed in the game without ever looking capable of getting the better of the visitors, who can play some very neat football when in full flow.
While they may not end up winning this very competitive division, in my opinion they have taken up the mantle of promoted side U.C.D. as the best passers of the ball outside the top flight, and certain passages of play were very easy on the eye.
For all that, it still took a defensive error to seal the win for Shels eight minutes from full-time.
Left-back Darragh O'Connor didn't get the power he intended behind a simple pass, and it was seized upon by experienced ex-Dundalk multi medal-winning striker Ciarán Kilduff.
From the byline, he squared the ball for left winger Dayle Rooney who had the fairly straightforward task of rolling it into the far corner of Corey Chambers' net.
The goal ensured a fourth loss from seven home games for Wexford who have recorded two wins plus a draw in Ferrycarrig Park thus far, while their sole point on the road was picked up in troubled Limerick.
Still, there was time for an excellent consolation goal in the 89th minute, as the smallest man on the pitch, Jack Doherty, headed home from close range at the clubhouse end to bring his tally for the season to an impressive six from all 13 starts.
The Tipperary man will no doubt acknowledge the fact that most of the credit ought to go to substitute Danny Doyle, as the cross he delivered from the right was perfect in terms of pace and accuracy.
Nika Arevadze had got the nod to start on the wing ahead of Doyle in the only change from the 2-2 draw with Cobh Ramblers.
And there was an early let-off for Wexford in an attack-minded game featuring an abundance of corners, eight for Shelbourne and four for their rivals.
The first for the visitors, in the sixth minute, wasn't fully cleared, and when the ball was returned to the box it took a lunge by Corey Chambers to stop a James English shot before centre-half Derek Prendergast sent the rebound over via the top of the crossbar.
Wexford were on the back foot for the most part in the opening quarter, although they did put the ball in the net on their first threatening attack in the 14th minute.
Some neat close control by Nika Arevadze freed him from the attention of two would-be tacklers before he found Jack Doherty.
The ball was then passed to Emmet Nugent who threaded it into the path of Danny Furlong, but the offside flag was raised seconds before he hit the net.
No doubt grateful for that lucky escape, Shelbourne only required 90 seconds before taking the lead with that moment of opportunism or luck, depending on one's point of view, from Aidan Friel.
Netminder Chambers was a little unsure of himself in terms of handling and positioning throughout, although he clearly deserved his free for being fouled when he dropped a James English header in the 19th minute.
Centre-half Luke Byrne got on the end of a corner with his head for the second time in the half, but this particular attempt lacked the power to worry Chambers after his initial effort cleared the crossbar.
Shels captain Ryan Brennan shot over from the edge of the box in the 27th minute, while Chris Kenny's header from a Jack Doherty corner at the other end was too high to trouble netminder Colin McCabe.
The leaders came close to doubling their advantage in the 40th minute, with Ryan Nolan clearing from close to his own goal-line after James English got a touch on Dayle Rooney's flag-kick from the right.
Their experienced defender, Derek Prendergast, was booked for a lunge at Jack Doherty in the last notable action of the half, but Wexford's top scorer fired the free-kick left and narrowly wide.
No chance of note was created on the re-start until the 54th minute when Dayle Rooney volleyed wide after getting on the end of an attempted headed clearance by Paddy Cahill.
It took a superbly-timed tackle by Seán Callan to deny Ciarán Kilduff a clear run on goal and, after Corey Chambers misjudged the corner that followed, Thomas Croke cleared off the line.
Callan then entered the notebook for a foul on Dayle Rooney, and the latter forced Chambers into a good diving save to his left from the set-piece.
A couple of Wexford free-kicks into the box were caught comfortably by goalkeeper Colin McCabe, before Chris Kenny dug the ball out from under his feet to get in a shot that wasn't strong enough to test the Shels netminder.
Paddy Cahill cleared a dangerous ball across the face of goal from Kilduff, with Karl Moore booked for a foul on substitute Danny Doyle that led to a Ryan Nolan free-kick and a header over the bar from Seán Callan.
Kilduff headed weakly to the left and wide before providing the assist for that game-clinching Rooney goal, but Wexford couldn't manufacture anything in the three extra minutes after their consolation to fashion an unlikely equaliser.
They had pushed Chris Kenny up to midfield after defender Lee Costello replaced Danny Furlong, while Seán Callan also ended the game close to the oppositon goal.
Apart from a blocked Danny Doyle shot on the edge of the box though, Shelbourne weren't troubled as they maintained their long-running indian sign over Wexford.
The lack of squad depth is clearly an issue at present, because manager Brian O'Sullivan hasn't had the full complement of seven substitutes on the bench now since the trip to Limerick on April 12.
That figure dropped to six one week later at home to Cabinteely, and the last four matches have seen even smaller squads of 16 rather than the allowed 18.
Probably the biggest surprise of the campaign to date was Wexford's 2-0 win over relegated side Bray Wanderers in Ferrycarrig Park on March 22, and they will be seeking a double when they travel to the Carlisle Grounds for their series 14 meeting on Friday at 7.45 p.m.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Paddy Cahill, Seán Callan, Chris Kenny (capt.), Darragh O'Connor; Nika Arevadze, Ryan Nolan, Thomas Croke, Emmet Nugent; Jack Doherty, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Danny Doyle for Arevadze (59), Lee Costello for Furlong (69), Seán Roche for Nugent (87), also Jason McGuire, Andrew Farrell.
Shelbourne: Colin McCabe; Aidan Friel, Derek Prendergast, Luke Byrne, Karl Moore; Oscar Brennan, Shane Farrell; James English, Ryan Brennan (capt.), Dayle Rooney; Ciarán Kilduff. Subs. - Darragh Noone for R. Brennan (67), Conan Byrne for English (79), also Dean Delany, Greg Moorehouse, Daniel McKenna, Seán Quinn, Flavio Marku.
Referee: David Keeler (Cork).