Solo goal wins it for students
U.C.D. 1 Wexford FC 0
The second-last away game of the season for Wexford F.C. ended in disappointment in the U.C.D. Bowl on Friday when Rob Manley's strike in the 75th minute was enough to give the students all three points from an evenly-contested SSE Airtricity First Division encounter.
The venue had been packed to the rafters recently for the women's rugby World Cup, but there was plenty of leg-room this time around for the hardy League of Ireland followers on a night when the visitors were perhaps unfortunate not to take something from the game.
Having said that, the one-goal deficit at the end would have been two but for a superb penalty save by Danny Bolger with three minutes left, with the Carlow newcomer diving low to his left before the rebound was smacked off the crossbar.
While a niggling injury meant that August player of the month nominee Thomas Croke wasn't part of the match-day squad, the team's attacking prowess was undoubtedly boosted by the return of Adam Hanlon and Mark Slater from injury and suspension respectively.
They haven't played on the same starting eleven often enough this season for a combination of the above two reasons, but the side carries a far more menacing threat going forward when they're both on the field at the same time.
They represented two of three changes in personnel from the home win against Cabinteely a fortnight earlier, with Conor Sutton also drafted in to a defensive midfield berth. Croke, Danny Doyle and Dean George were the players omitted, although the latter duo did make second-half appearances off the bench.
With Wexford tops on the corner count 12-6, that stat alone emphasised the amount of possession they enjoyed in the opposing half. For a long time there was hope that they might nick a goal and beat the home side for the first time this season after two draws and a loss, but instead U.C.D. gained the three points to leave them third in the eight-team group.
Andrew O'Reilly had the opening shot in the fourth minute after a partial clearance from a Josh McClelland corner, but it flew over Bolger's crossbar.
And just over 60 seconds later Wexford created a decent chance when Adam Hanlon's right-wing cross deflected off a defender into the path of Dean Kelly who unfortunately couldn't keep his first-time strike down.
The first of the visitors' five corners before the break was dealt with by the U.C.D. defence, while an Aaron Dobbs header from Kelly's second flag-kick in the tenth minute was well off target.
One of the most positive aspects of recent weeks has been the seamless manner in which Danny Bolger has fitted in between the posts, proving an able replacement for Corey Chambers.
And the number one showed his worth once more in the 13th minute when he got down low to make a good save from Josh McClelland's drive after the winger was teed up by Georgie Kelly when he moved into a central position outside the box.
Strong defending by Owen McCormack led to a U.C.D. corner after Rob Manley beat Seán Hurley and got to the byline, and a major scramble ensued around the penalty area before Wexford finally cleared from McClelland's delivery.
Bolger was seen at his best once more in the 17th minute when striker Georgie Kelly got a firm header on Timmy Molloy's free-kick from just beyond half-way, with the bottom corner his intended target.
Aaron Dobbs had a half-chance after a Dean Kelly corner ended up at his feet on the left side of the box, but goalkeeper Niall Corbet made a straightforward save.
Kelly headed over at the other end before his namesake came within a whisker of giving Wexford the lead in the 27th minute.
A foul on Mark Slater by Daniel Tobin just outside the area led to Dean Kelly curling the ball around the four-man wall, but a slight touch turned it to the wrong side of the left post for a fruitless corner.
However, Wexford could just as easily have found themselves in arrears on the next U.C.D. attack of note just under four minutes later when Rob Manley played in Georgie Kelly who shot to the right and wide as he bore down on Danny Bolger's goal.
McClelland sent a free-kick over the bar before Georgie Kelly had yet another effort, but this time his header from a Daniel Tobin cross was too high to hit the target.
Manley did test Bolger when he got a connection on a McClelland cross, with the teams retiring scoreless at the break but Wexford playing well enough to suggest they would be very much in contention on the re-start.
And so it proved as they 'won' the second-half corner count 7-2, with a couple early on coming to nothing before Slater forced Niall Corbet into a decent save in the 53rd minute after Owen McCormack's long ball initially found Seán Hurley haring down the left flank.
U.C.D. dealt with another brace of corners before defender Josh Collins got his body in the way to ensure Aaron Dobbs wouldn't capitalise on a Slater cross in the 62nd minute.
The students introduced two very creative players to their midfield at the same time in a bid to unlock the Wexford defence, with Daire O'Connor fresh from his exploits at the World University Games in Taipei where Shane Dunne was a team-mate, while Gary O'Neill was returning after a long injury lay-off.
Neither side could capitalise from a corner before an acrobatic effort from Georgie Kelly flew high and over.
Another McClelland flag-kick went menacingly across the goalmouth without anyone getting a touch, while Mikey Byrne shot to the left and wide for Wexford in the 75th minute after a pull back from the recently-introduced Dean George.
The crucial U.C.D. goal arrived from the kick-out, with a McClelland cross from the left breaking kindly for Rob Manley who side-footed it calmly into the right corner of the net.
It was a hammer blow for the visitors, and they almost conceded again just one minute later when a Daire O'Connor run and cross set up Georgie Kelly whose shot went low to the left and wide.
Dean George forced Corbet into a fine fingertip save at the expense of a corner with just over ten minutes left, but Gary O'Neill headed clear from Dean Kelly's delivery.
Aaron O'Connor followed George and Danny Doyle as the third Wexford introduction following a long injury lay-off, and Mikey Byrne's defensive instincts were evident in the 85th minute when he raced back to dispossess Daire O'Connor on a breakaway.
Georgie Kelly directed another header across goal on a night when his finishing wasn't as sharp as usual, but U.C.D. should have wrapped it up when Dean Kelly took down goalscorer Manley just inside the box on the right in the 87th minute.
Bolger showed his worth from the spot-kick though, while luck was on Wexford's side when the rebound rebounded off the woodwork.
The visitors crafted one good chance for a leveller in the three added minutes when Aaron O'Connor lofted a long ball towards fellow substitute Danny Doyle to the right of goal, but the angle was tight and his shot was saved by Niall Corbet at the expense of a corner.
That sequence of play ended with Doyle heading over the bar and, after a Craig McCabe throw was cleared, U.C.D. were able to relax as the final whistle sounded.
Wexford have next Friday off as it's FAI Cup quarter-final weekend, giving them ample time to prepare for the last south-east derby of the season against likely champions Waterford in Ferrycarrig Park on September 15.
Wexford F.C.: Danny Bolger; Craig McCabe (capt.), Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny, Seán Hurley; Conor Sutton, Mikey Byrne; Adam Hanlon, Dean Kelly, Mark Slater; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Dean George for Slater (72), Danny Doyle for Sutton (80), Aaron O'Connor for Hanlon (84), also Adam Dempsey, A.J. Lehane, Andrew O'Connor, Eoin Porter.
U.C.D.: Niall Corbet (capt.); Daniel Tobin, Maxim Kouogun, Josh Collins, Evan Osam; Andrew O'Reilly, Timmy Molloy; Rob Manley, Cian Kavanagh, Jason McClelland; Georgie Kelly. Subs. - Daire O'Connor for O'Reilly (63), Gary O'Neill for Molloy (63), Conor Crowley for McClelland (90), also Conor Kearns, Joe Manley, Simon Power, Ben Hanrahan.
Referee: Marc Lynch (Galway).