Wexford's set-piece shambles
Soccer SSE Airtricity First Division Series 15: Shelbourne 4 Wexford FC 1
Wexford FC undid a lot of good work in the third quarter of the game by conceding a shambolic three goals from set-pieces as they slumped to a 4-1 defeat to a much-improved Shelbourne side in this SSE Airtricity First Division clash in Tolka Park on Friday.
The defending was non-existent as the Reds struck first from a corner in the eighth minute, before adding a second sourced from a free-kick to leave them with a commanding, and fully deserved, 2-0 lead at half-time.
However, Wexford did step it up considerably on the re-start and, indeed, played some of their brightest football of the campaign for a spell as Dean Kelly's second goal in successive games in the 51st minute left them entertaining high hopes of an all-out comeback.
That positivity was crushed though when Shels centre-half Derek Prendergast got on the end of another free-kick to head home his second goal which was a carbon copy of the first.
And just to rub more salt in the wounds, the division's leading scorer, David O'Sullivan, pounced for his twelfth goal of the season near the end to leave Wexford with a record of one win and six straight losses since that opening night success versus Cabinteely in their seven away games thus far.
The team was unchanged from the drawn encounter with Finn Harps, the first time that manager Damian Locke has selected the same eleven for successive league outings since two games against Longford Town and Cobh Ramblers in April of last year.
He was still without left-sided centre-half and captain Ross Kenny, who is recovering from a broken toe, while the suspended James English was a notable absentee up front for a Shels side looking to complete the double after their 1-0 win in Ferrycarrig Park at the end of March.
The return of Mark Slater, John Morgan and Mikey Byrne to fitness after recent injury setbacks increased the options for the boss, and all three were introduced in the course of this defeat.
Shelbourne are staying in contention with the top two of U.C.D. and Drogheda United, and they certainly played to their strengths in a 4-2-3-1 formation in a team packed with experience.
Alan Byrne was as wily as ever in one of those holding midfield roles, while the threat posed by Adam Evans on the left wing is very familiar to the Wexford contingent at this stage.
While his end product wasn't always the best, with Owen McCormack cutting out several of his crosses, his young colleague down the opposite flank, Shane Farrell, turned in a lively performance too as the storied Drumcondra venue rocked to the sound of an early goal celebration.
Evans was the instigator, playing the ball past Liam McCartan on his inside and then haring past him on the outside to get on the end of it again.
His low delivery was knocked out by McCormack for a corner on the left, and it led to a gift goal as Cian Kavanagh's delivery was met with a glancing header by the unmarked Farrell who turned it into the far corner of the net on his first league start of the season.
Prior to that, Wexford did have good cause to be aggrieved as early as the second minute when Dean George released Danny Doyle with an astute diagonal pass from left to right, only for referee Adriano Reale to call the play back for a free-kick to the visitors.
Doyle had got the ball under control and there was a lot of open ground in front of him, so he would surely have tested veteran netminder Dean Delany at the very least but it wasn't to be.
Instead, Wexford found themselves on the back foot, and they struggled to defend the next free-kick too when Lorcan Fitzgerald floated one towards the far post from the right and Alan Byrne's powerful header was only slightly off target.
Byrne also shot over after nice build-up play by Fitzgerald and Farrell, before the first real sign of life from Wexford saw a low drive from outside the box by Aaron Dobbs saved by Delany close to the left post in the 21st minute.
Shane Barnes beat three men on a mazy run, only to lose control as he entered the box, while Danny Doyle collected the game's first yellow card after a foul on the rampant Evans whose next cross missed the head of Cian Kavanagh by a matter of inches.
Shelbourne were pressing hard for a second goal, and David O'Sullivan's turn and snapshot from a long Lorcan Fitzgerald ball forced Kealan Gaffney into a decent save against his former club.
However, the teenager was picking the leather out of his net once more in the 32nd minute as the team-mates in front of him failed dismally to deal with another set-piece.
This time full-back Fitzgerald floated in a free-kick from the right and Derek Prendergast rose highest, and unchallenged, to direct a forceful header into the corner for a 2-0 lead.
There was almost a quick response when Aaron Dobbs nicked the ball beyond Dave Mulcahy after the veteran was plunged into trouble by a poor back pass.
Wexford's top scorer made it into the box but then pulled his shot across goal, to the right and wide.
Dobbs went on to drill another low ball into the danger zone before half-time, but there was nobody close enough to make the most of it.
Mark Hughes had headed wide from a Shane Farrell delivery at the other end beforehand, and it looked like there would be worse to follow for Wexford after the teams took their half-time breather.
However, they resumed full of fight to give them their due, with John Morgan introduced at left-back and Conor Sutton moving to the right to pick up Adam Evans, as Liam McCartan was withdrawn.
Dean George tested goalkeeper Delany with an instinctive volley when he latched on to the break from a Kealan Gaffney kick-out in the 48th minute, and the Carlow lad also played a central role in their goal which arrived shortly afterwards.
A surging run by George across field from the left opened up the Shelbourne defence, even though Shane Barnes had his subsequent shot blocked.
The ball fell invitingly for Dean Kelly seconds later, and the force and instant timing of his shot from outside the box seemed to take Delany by surprise as it flew into the roof of the net before he could raise his hands.
It was a third goal of the league season for Kelly, and the second in the space of seven days, and for a while Shels looked vulnerable as they became sloppy in possession and their supporters started to grow restless.
Danny Doyle was unable to get any power behind a header from an Aaron Dobbs cross, but his replacement by Mark Slater brought fresh legs to the right flank and almost led to an equaliser.
Just under 66 minutes had elapsed when Slater robbed Lorcan Fitzgerald of the ball and produced a low left-footed shot that went narrowly wide on the right.
Yellow cards followed in separate incidents for Wexford's John Morgan and James Brown of Shels before that brighter start to the second-half was completely undone.
It came about in somewhat odd circumstances, as the home crowd got on the back of referee Adriano Reale when he decided not to award a penalty when Cian Kavanagh went down under what looked to be a fair challenge in the 72nd minute.
Sixty seconds later, Adam Evans embarked on a menacing run, and the referee's whistle was greeted with an ironic cheer this time when the winger went to ground.
The set-piece was slightly to the left of goal, and Kavanagh stepped over it initially before a delay of a few seconds prior to Lorcan Fitzgerald knocking it into the box.
Wexford had been forewarned of the danger in the first-half, and that's why it was particularly frustrating to see centre-half Prendergast rising unhindered again to head home the game-clinching goal.
The visitors created nothing of note thereafter, with Conor Sutton blazing one volley well off target.
The Blackwater lad was booked for dissent in the dying embers of the game, and by that stage Wexford had conceded a fourth goal.
Cian Kavanagh released top scorer David O'Sullivan whose instinctive low shot was saved by Kealan Gaffney's feet, but he got a second opportunity in the follow up and drilled calmly to the far corner of the net from a fairly tight angle close to the byline.
The next assignment for Wexford in the league is away to Cobh Ramblers in St. Colman's Park this coming Saturday at 7.45 p.m., and the kick-off time is the same for the Leinster Senior Cup clash with Premier Division outfit St. Patrick's Athletic in Richmond Park on Tuesday, June 12.
The last match before the mid-season break will come three nights later at home to Galway United, a contest that is sure to carry some added spice given the return to the south-east of manager Shane Keegan and striker Danny Furlong.
Wexford FC: Kealan Gaffney; Liam McCartan, Owen McCormack, Seán Kelly, Conor Sutton; Danny Doyle, Dean Kelly, Thomas Croke (capt.), Dean George; Shane Barnes, Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - John Morgan for McCartan (HT), Mark Slater for Doyle (59), Mikey Byrne for Barnes (86), also Owen Wall, Aaron O'Connor, Ryan Nolan, Colum Feeney.
Shelbourne: Dean Delany (capt.); James Brown, Derek Prendergast, Dave Mulcahy, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Alan Byrne, Mark Hughes; Shane Farrell, Cian Kavanagh, Adam Evans; David O'Sullivan. Subs. - Dayle Rooney for Farrell (65), Gavin Boyne for Kavanagh (88), also Reece McEnteer, Aidan Collins, Arran Molloy, Dylan Grimes, Lee Steacy.
Referee: Adriano Reale (Kildare).