Ten-man Longford triumph
Wexford F.C. 1 Longford Town 2
Wexford F.C. took to the field in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday with high hopes of building on that impressive away win against Shelbourne and finally leap-frogging Athlone Town at the foot of the SSE Airtricity First Division table.
However, the dream and the reality proved two entirely different things as Longford Town inflicted a 2-1 defeat on the home side in front of a 282 attendance despite being reduced to ten men for the last 15 minutes after a truly bizarre incident.
Wexford's newest acquisition from Kerry, Adam O'Rourke, was a little over-eager to leave his mark and clattered into rival substitute Kealon Dillon who had entered the fray less than six minutes before.
O'Rourke landed on the Longford player whose natural reaction was to push him away, but incredibly referee Andrew Mullally deemed it worthy of a red card. O'Rourke was booked for his role in the incident and the free-kick was still awarded to the midlanders, but it seemed that Dillon's punishment was extremely harsh.
The set-to occurred shortly after Thomas Croke had given Wexford hope of a draw at least with his second goal in successive games, an instinctive low strike from long range which beat Longford netminder Paul Skinner despite his dive to the right.
The goal and the dismissal ensured that supporters woke up from the funeral-like atmosphere, particularly the small travelling contingent in the stand who were understandably outraged by Dillon's dismissal.
And it also meant that Longford had work to do in order to make sure of three points that had appeared to be a mere formality after full-back Tristan Noack-Hofmann increased their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second-half.
Their new manager, the much-travelled Neale Fenn, brought sartorial elegance to the technical area, and he must have been relaxed about his side's prospects up to that double whammy of Croke's goal and the sending-off.
The tension levels also rose on the field, with Longford captain Kevin O'Connor booked for a foul on Mikey Byrne before Aaron Dobbs also saw yellow for flinging the corner flag away in an act of frustration.
In between Owen McCormack had strayed offside after an Andrew O'Connor free-kick from the left broke into his path, and two and a half minutes later the Kilkenny teenager was back to his defensive duties as he cut out a dangerous cross from the industrious Don Cowan.
Wexford lost top goalscorer Croke, now on four for the season, to injury before an Adam O'Rourke cross from the right was too long for Mark Slater who was lurking around the back post.
Slater then made a complete mess of a long-range shooting attempt as the game entered the closing five minutes.
Longford had a respite in the form of their tenth corner which Jake Kelly worked short to Don Cowan on the right before cutting in after the return pass and firing across goal and wide.
Slater took the third and final Wexford corner in the 88th minute but could only direct it at Dean Zambra who was manning Longford's near post, and nothing of note was created in added time.
Aaron Dobbs did well to track back and rob Wexford old boy Aidan Friel before releasing Slater, but he carried the ball over the byline under pressure from two defenders.
Owen McCormack then floated a long ball goalwards as we entered the last of the three added minutes, but Friel made amends with a cushioned header back to his netminder.
The Wexford starting eleven showed three changes from the win in Tolka Park, with A.J. Lehane, Conor Sutton and Eoin Porter dropping to the bench to be replaced by debutant Conor Dunne, formerly of Shamrock Rovers 'B' and Maynooth Town, Shane Dunne and Dean Kelly.
Captain Craig McCabe and Seán Hurley are still out with knee injuries, while Craig Wall will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder problem and Ricky Fox was serving out the last game of his suspension.
Aaron O'Connor was also unavailable on a night when the club's two most recent signings sat on the bench. Manager Damian Locke, a native of Tralee, now has a fellow Kerryman for company at Ferrycarrig following the signing of Adam O'Rourke who made his debut off the bench off the right wing.
And there was also a first appearance in the squad for new goalkeeper Danny Bolger who has arrived from St. Patrick's in Carlow and will step in to replace Corey Chambers whose last game for the club before embarking on his soccer scholarship will be next Friday against Cobh Ramblers.
Longford had won the last meeting of the sides in City Calling Stadium in May on a runaway 5-0 scoreline, a game that was followed by the bizarre departure of their manager, Alan Mathews, mere hours later.
The sides had played a scoreless draw in Ferrycarrig Park on April 7, and the visitors went into this game on the back of a narrow 1-0 defeat to high-flying Waterford when a goalkeeping error cost them dearly.
The game was preceded by a minute's silence for the late Cathal Mulhall, father of Longford player Cody, who died suddenly during the week.
Wexford fashioned the first opening in the eighth minute when Mark Slater found Dean Kelly to the right of the posts, but the Carlow lad sent his effort back across goal and wide.
Longford's first corner was cleared before the second was headed wide by Tristan Noack-Hofmann, while Slater whipped in a dangerous free-kick at the other end for the defence to deal with.
Dean Kelly tried to play Aaron Dobbs in with just shy of 20 minutes gone, but goalkeeper Paul Skinner was alert to the danger and advanced smartly.
Don Cowan had the ball in the net from a Sam Verdon through ball on the next attack of note, only to be flagged for offside.
It looked like Aaron Dobbs was about to break his scoring duck in the 25th minute when Shane Dunne played a neat ball from the right into his path. The Enniscorthy teen headed it in front of him and carried on his run, but there was too much pace on the ball and Skinner was out rapidly again to foil the chance.
Longford's Noel Haverty forced Skinner to concede a corner with a loose back pass, but Dobbs' glancing header across goal was cleared.
Dean Zambra shot high and over for the visitors before Dean Kelly did the same for Wexford after Mark Slater released him with a long ball.
Another Longford corner came to nothing before they took the lead in the 36th minute. Don Cowan delivered the ball from the right just under the crossbar, with Corey Chambers caught out by its trajectory as their recent arrival from St. Patrick's Athletic, Sam Verdon, applied the finishing touch with his head from the goal-line.
Both sides were caught offside twice from then until half-time, with the best opening denied to Wexford after Dean Kelly intercepted a poor pass before Mikey Byrne tried to thread the ball through to Dobbs.
Longford resumed on the front foot, and their second corner of the new half saw them double their lead.
It was swept in from the right by Jake Kelly, with Corey Chambers getting a fist to it as he was challenged fairly in the air. However, the ball fell kindly at the feet of full-back Tristan Noack-Hofmann who drilled it to the net with interest, and at that point it looked like Wexford hadn't a hope of recovering.
Eoin Porter and debutant Adam O'Rourke were introduced at the same time as fresh legs were sought, but Longford looked reasonably comfortable over the next ten minutes.
Indeed, they created the only real opening in that spell, with Jake Kelly shooting to the left and wide following a crisp passing move featuring Kealon Dillon and Karl Chambers.
Longford went from a convincing 2-0 lead to being one up with a man less in a very short space of time. However, Wexford haven't won two league games back-to-back since May, 2016, when last Friday's opponents and Shamrock Rovers were dispatched in a four-day period at the high point of their brief spell in the Premier Division.
The last quarter of games against their seven rivals will commence at home this Friday at 8 p.m. versus Cobh Ramblers who shipped a 4-0 hammering against Waterford in the R.S.C. last weekend.
The campaign will conclude versus Athlone (away), Cabinteely (home), U.C.D. (away), Waterford (home), Shelbourne (home) and Longford (away) in that order, while Wexford have also been drawn at home to non-league Crumlin United in the first round of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup.
That game is down for decision on the week ending Sunday, August 13.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Conor Dunne, Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny (capt.), Andrew O'Connor; Shane Dunne; Dean Kelly, Thomas Croke, Mikey Byrne, Mark Slater; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Eoin Porter for S. Dunne (59), Adam O'Rourke for Kelly (59), Danny Doyle for Croke, inj. (82), also A.J. Lehane, Conor Sutton, Dean George, Danny Bolger.
Longford Town: Paul Skinner; Aidan Friel, Noel Haverty, Daniel O'Reilly, Tristan Noack-Hofmann; Dean Zambra; Don Cowan, Sam Verdon, Kevin O'Connor (capt.), Jake Kelly; Karl Chambers. Subs. - Cody Mulhall for Verdon (64), Kealon Dillon for Chambers (69), Gavin Boyne for Cowan (89), also Jack Brady, Aodh Dervin, Rhys Gorman, Paul Finnegan.
Referee: Andrew Mullally (Waterford).