Wexford stay top of the pile
Wexford Youths 2 Cork City W.F.C. 1
Wexford Youths kept up the pressure on the chasing pack with another hard-earned Continental Tyres Women's National League victory, this time against Cork City in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.
The result left Laura Heffernan's side top of the pile. With just seven games to go in their league schedule, the prospect of regaining the title that Shelbourne ripped from their grasp last season becomes ever more likely for the Youths.
Back in May, there were few positives to take from the shuddering 4-1 defeat to the Leesiders in Bishopstown Stadium. That result was the straw that broke the camel's back and set off a run of three losses in a row for Wexford in all competitions.
Yet football works in mysterious ways. Back then Wexford still had Jess Gleeson in midfield and were no real threat in wide positions; Cork took full advantage that day and came south-east with similar in mind on Saturday.
City manager Frank Kelleher sent out his team with three central defenders and two high wing-backs and Wexford ate it up in the early stages. The eyes of wingers Linda Douglas and Aisling Frawley must have lit up at the sight of it and they quickly took advantage.
Right now, Wexford are far more dangerous when they get the ball wide than when they try to force it through the middle. Frawley was a menace in possession and Douglas easily put in her best performance since she moved back onto the wing.
The problem is getting them the ball in good positions often enough. Youths started the game with Kylie Murphy deeper, next to Becky Cassin in a 4-2-3-1 formation. There was a lot to like about it, as they were able to move the ball wide with more regularity and that's a plus for this team.
However, they later reverted back to Heffernan's preferred 4-1-4-1, a system that sees her players constantly cough up possession. It's easier for a central midfielder to play deep, as there's less pressure, fewer bodies and everything you want to do is in front of you.
When Wexford go to the two in front of the single holder, possession is sucked there but too often the players can't cope with the intense pressure that comes at them from in front and behind.
Kylie Murphy's pass accuracy must be at a career low this season, as she rarely has possession without an opponent in her face. The ideal type of individual to play in that position is someone who is nimble, can create a yard of space quickly and can see a pass.
A fully-fit Emma Hansberry is probably capable of slotting successfully into that position. Yet the most natural fit to flourish in a 4-1-4-1 system beside Murphy was Rachel Hutchinson, which makes it even more mind-boggling that she was allowed to leave for Kilkenny last week.
Orla Casey was called from the bench for Jarrett early in the second-half as Wexford flipped formation. The former Kilkenny Gaynor Cup player is talented, there's no doubt about that, but her movement in tight spaces is something she needs to work hard to improve.
When Murphy and Cassin sat initially, Douglas and Frawley were beautifully advanced, either side of Claire O'Riordan. Rianna Jarrett made her first start of the season but, after putting herself about, was blowing pretty hard early in the opening half.
It took just 35 seconds for Wexford to hit the front. Douglas got deep on the right wing, dragged defenders out of position and played the ball back to Nicola Sinnott. The Youths full-back chiseled an ugly-looking ball across the edge of the area but it was majorly effective as O'Riordan swept it high to the City net.
A weak Aisling Frawley shot was saved in the sixth minute. However, Wexford didn't have to wait long for their second goal as Kylie Murphy sent over a left wing corner, Jess Gleeson worked it back across goal, and Sinnott whipped an overhead kick from six yards out past Amanda Budden.
Murphy snapped a long-range shot over in the eleventh minute as Wexford continued on the front foot. Slowly the hosts' intensity eased and Cork kicked into gear. Sophie Lenehan made a solid stop at the back stick from Ciara McNamara's drilled shot.
Make no mistake, Cork's front two, Saoirse Noonan and Claire Shine, are a handful. Shine got away down the right and crossed, Katie McCarthy flicked on, and Ciara Desmond rattled off a shot that Nicola Sinnott bravely blocked.
Noonan was next to try her luck from the edge of the area but her effort was deflected behind for a corner that came to nothing. With the storm weathered, Becky Cassin drilled over from 30 yards out in the 24th minute.
Twice Noonan missed the target with half-chances as the game moved past the half-hour mark. Wexford ended the half stronger, putting together their best move of the evening just before the break down the right. Jarrett and Frawley combined to feed O'Riordan but Youths' top scorer was just offside before cracking her right-foot shot narrowly wide.
Cork brought on Danielle Sheehy at the break but it was Wexford who had the first chance when Douglas got to the byline and crossed for Jarrett to nod wide. Taking off Jarrett shortly after was the correct call but Wexford were soon struggling to keep possession.
The odd time they got the ball wide it proved fruitful. Frawley swept it out to Douglas and the Waterford native pulled back for Nicola Sinnott to drill over the crossbar from 25 yards out.
Five minutes later Frawley got deep on the right and crossed. Douglas controlled and, devoid of a shooting opportunity, laid-off back to Frawley who looped onto the top of the crossbar. Douglas headed wide from Kylie Murphy's deep free-kick as the game entered the final quarter.
With the space between Cassin and those in front stretched far too often, Noonan nipped in and used it to perfection, floating a ball over the top for Clare Shine, and the Cork striker smacked a perfect volley past Sophie Lenehan who had no chance.
At that stage a less determined outfit would have crumbled as Cork dominated possession but there are too many dogged, unrelenting footballers in this Youths side. They defended superbly and limited Cork to a single Shine effort from distance in the final 20 minutes.
In fact, Wexford came closer to adding a third than Cork did to nabbing an equaliser. Lenehan booted long, Hansberry flicked on, but O'Riordan was bundled away from goal in the 86th minute.
Hansberry floated over a corner that Kylie Murphy didn't quite connect properly with in the 89th minute and it drifted harmlessly out for a throw-in. Hansberry, as well as Jenny O'Keeffe, came on to shore up the wings late on and those moves worked a treat for the Youths boss.
Wexford have this weekend off but return to action on Saturday week when they host Galway. With a game against Kilkenny to follow, there's every chance that Laura Heffernan's side can open up a decent lead heading into the last five league games.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon, Lauren Dwyer; Becky Cassin, Kylie Murphy (capt.); Linda Douglas, Claire O'Riordan, Aisling Frawley; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Orla Casey for Jarrett (51), Emma Hansberry for Douglas (81), Jenny O'Keeffe for Frawley (90+1), also Katrina Parrock, Aoibhín Webb, Siobhán Doolan, Edel Kennedy.
Cork City: Amanda Budden; Kate O'Donovan, Nathalie O'Brien, Maggie Duncliffe, Ciara McNamara (capt.), Danielle Burke; Katie McCarthy, Stacey Paul, Ciara Desmond; Claire Shine; Saoirse Noonan. Subs. - Danielle Sheehy for Desmond (46), Tara O'Gorman for Paul (72), Christina Dring for O'Donovan (75), also Courtney O'Keeffe, Eve Badana.
Referee: Mick Farrell (Wexford).