Youths drop a precious place
Pressure mounts after very poor display away to Bray
All involved with Wexford Youths travelled to the Carlisle Grounds on Saturday fully aware of the significance of the game.
SSE Airtricity Premier Division Series 17 Bray Wanderers 3 Wexford Youths 0
This was more than a run-of-the-mill SSE Airtricity Premier Division encounter; it was the type of contest that could well define the entire season as Shane Keegan's side faced the team directly below them in a basement battle with precious points up for grabs.
And given the circumstances, it was a crushing blow to see the visitors perform so poorly as their 1-0 interval deficit was turned into three inside 12 minutes of the re-start to ensure the first-ever league meeting of the sides at the venue was wrapped up by the locals.
While it wasn't the heaviest defeat of the season (the 4-0 reversal to St. Patrick's Athletic still leads the way), it was surely the weakest display given the quality of Saturday's opposition in comparison to the Inchicore crew.
Youths haven't gathered any points now since that fine 2-0 home win on May 13 against Shamrock Rovers who parted company with manager Pat Fenlon after their weak performance in the Europa League during the week. Even allowing for the three-week break since, this is a very poor record.
This loss was their fourth on the trot in the games played since that supposed morale-booster in Ferrycarrig Park, and the team hasn't scored since those two strikes from Paul Murphy and Eric Molloy that almost secured a shock win away to champions Dundalk on May 29.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like getting any easier either as second-placed Cork City, powered by Curracloe's Kevin O'Connor and their midfield enforcer from New Ross, Greg Bolger, will be paying them a visit on Sunday at 5 p.m. The game was moved from its original Friday date as the Leesiders are at home to Linfield in their Europa League second leg on Thursday, taking a 1-0 lead into that tie.
Youths' brightest spell in Bray came in the first quarter, and Danny Furlong tested goalkeeper Peter Cherrie in the fifth minute after a perceptive pass from left to right by attacking partner Paul Murphy.
They forced the first of their three corners (Wanderers had two) in their next attack, but Eric Molloy fired over after Jonny Bonner's delivery was eventually cleared following an initial header in the box by Murphy.
Bray centre-half Hugh Douglas headed over after their own first corner was originally cleared by Ryan Delaney but quickly returned into the danger zone.
Youths were holding their own though, and Paul Murphy forced Peter Cherrie to get down low and make a competent save from a free-kick in a central position in the eleventh minute.
Ryan Delaney entered the notebook for a challenge on Andrew Lewis shortly afterwards, but Murphy cleared the resultant setpiece. The offside flag greeted Dean Kelly's header from a Seán Harding cross from the left in the 14th minute, but it was a poor effort at any rate that didn't trouble Graham Doyle.
Paul Murphy saw a cross headed clear by Wanderers captain Conor Kenna while Jonny Bonner failed to make the most of a free-kick on the right, directing it to goalkeeper Cherrie.
Ryan Delaney dealt well with a dangerous ball in from full-back Seán Harding in the 20th minute, while Graham Doyle made a good save from Dean Kelly's free-kick when he beat the two-man wall of Andy Mulligan and Jonny Bonner after Chris Kenny fouled Andrew Lewis on the left.
Mulligan had a very good chance in the 23rd minute, but he blasted over after Danny Furlong had headed Paul Murphy's cross from the right into his path.
Peter Cherrie fisted another Bonner free-kick clear but a brace of poor crosses in quick succession from Mulligan as Youths started to lose their way.
A Paul Murphy shot was blocked on the edge of the box, but disaster struck in the form of the first Wanderers goal in the 32nd minute. It came after Graham Doyle did well initially to tip a Ryan Brennan shot out for a corner.
The setpiece was defended poorly though, and Youths paid the price. Brennan's delivery was originally headed away by Ryan Delaney, but the ball wasn't fully cleared and Dean Kelly pounced to direct his shot into the corner of the net via the post past a diving Doyle's left shoulder.
Given the high stakes, whoever scored the first goal was always going to derive great energy from making the breakthrough, and so it proved as Wanderers went on to largely control proceedings.
Doyle fisted a Hugh Douglas header away in the 41st minute, while a couple of Youths half-chances before the break saw a Jonny Bonner shot blocked before Danny Furlong failed to connect with Paul Murphy's cross.
Eric Molloy collected an early yellow card on the re-start before schoolboy defending cost Youths a second goal in the 48th minute. Gareth McDonagh crossed from the right and Andew Lewis ghosted in between two defenders to head unchallenged past a helpless Doyle.
It was a crushing blow, but Youths had the opportunity to cancel that goal out in the 55th minute. It will rank as a super save from Wanderers' point of view, but a poor miss as far as the visitors are concerned. Jonny Bonner floated in a lovely cross from the left, but Gary Delaney's point-blank header from the edge of the six-yard box was palmed out superbly for a corner by Peter Cherrie.
Delaney headed over from Bonner's setpiece, and less than two minutes later Wanderers were celebrating their third goal. Dylan Connolly whipped in a cross from the left, and linesman Trevor Cotter adjudged that Karl Moore's effort had crossed the line although Graham Doyle scooped it out.
It should have been 2-1 but instead it was 3-0, and there was no way back for a demoralised and deflated Youths after that.
Hugh Douglas collected a yellow card for a foul on Danny Furlong on the edge of the box, with Paul Murphy firing over after Furlong's free-kick was beaten away by Cherrie.
Graham Doyle was tested again from a Dean Kelly setpiece and also seemed to get a touch on a Karl Moore shot although no corner was given.
There was no structure to the Youths' defending at this stage, and they were lucky not to be punished again in the 65th minute when an Andrew Lewis shot was saved.
Gary Delaney stopped the strong-running Dylan Connolly unceremoniously and picked up a yellow card, while poor crosses in quick succession from Eric Molloy and substitute Shane Dunne summed up the visitors' evening.
A Dunne pull back from the endline was then intercepted by Mark Salmon after an initial Paul Murphy pass, while Gary Delaney's speculative long-range effort was comfortably saved in the 80th minute.
The inspired Cherrie also denied Eric Molloy after good work by Danny Furlong, while a Jonny Bonner corner was cleared and led to a breakaway which ended with Bray's Ryan Brennan firing wide. A Gareth McDonagh effort also cleared the bar before the end as the win moved Wanderers ahead of Youths on the table on scoring difference.
Both sides are on twelve points, now a clear eight behind Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps, with Longford Town still bringing up the rear on eight.
It's a worrying situation for Youths who will follow up the visit of Cork City with another home clash with St. Patrick's Athletic on Friday, July 15.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Conor O'Keeffe, Gary Delaney, Ryan Delaney, Craig McCabe; Eric Molloy, Chris Kenny, Jonny Bonner, Andy Mulligan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Shane Dunne for Kenny (54), Danny Ledwith for Molloy (90), Aidan Friel for Mulligan (90), also John Peare, Conor Whittle, Stephen Last, Matt Connor.
Bray Wanderers: Peter Cherrie; Gareth McDonagh, Hugh Douglas, Conor Kenna (capt.), Seán Harding; Karl Moore, Ryan Brennan, Mark Salmon, Dylan Connolly; Andrew Lewis, Dean Kelly. Subs. - Ger Pender for Kelly (72), Daragh Noone for Salmon (82), Seán Noble for Moore (85), also Seán Fogarty, Kieran Butler, Jason Marks, Daniel Blackbyrne.
Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork).