Youths humiliated by Sligo
Rovers avail of schoolboy errors to inflict 5-0 thrashing
It has been common practice on these pages to praise Wexford Youths for some encouraging performances thus far this season, even after games when the result didn't go in their favour.
Wexford Youths 0 Sligo Rovers 5
Therefore, in the interests of fairness and balance, it must be stated that the second-half display in Friday's 5-0 home defeat to Sligo Rovers in this SSE Airtricity Premier Division mis-match was nothing short of pathetic.
Goals were handed to the grateful visitors on a plate following a succession of basic errors, juvenile defending, and the general disarray witnessed within the ranks of a shapeless Youths eleven who simply got worse as the game progressed.
The aggregate score in the two league meetings between the sides so far this season now stands at 9-1 in favour of the Bit o'Red, and it remains a mystery why Wexford once again struggled so badly against a mid-table team who have only hit the net 14 times in their other 18 outings.
Would the outcome have been different if Chris Kenny's powerful header had rattled the net rather than the crossbar in the 31st minute at a stage when Youths trailed 1-0? One will never know, but what cannot be disputed is the fact that Shane Keegan's side need to step up their efforts considerably if they want to have any sort of decent home support to help them through the final third of the league.
The last of the three eleven-game series begins this Friday in Ferrycarrig versus Longford Town, the team lying five points behind Youths at the foot of the table. Given the backdrop to this match, it goes without saying that it could be season-defining for both sides, and Youths will be in very serious trouble if they don't arrest this latest slide.
Their home form is poor, with just seven points accrued for a possible 33 to date and only seven goals scored. And with a trip to Tallaght next Monday to face Shamrock Rovers, it's not going to get any easier for Youths who will entertain Sligo Rovers once again in the third round of the FAI Cup on the following weekend.
Hopefully they won't be as accommodating to their western rivals on that occasion though. There was disbelief among local followers less than two minutes into the game when Liam Martin won the ball before fellow front man Raffaele Cretaro finished off the simplest of goals to give the visitors a perfect start.
Youths were on the back foot from the off, something similar to the very game of the season when they conceded early to Longford Town and never recovered. There was an interesting positional switch for Paul Murphy on his return from suspension, starting on the left flank while Andy Mulligan continued in a more central position, with Aidan Friel dropping to the bench.
Conor O'Keeffe replaced Craig McCabe in a direct swap at right-back, with Eric Molloy still sidelined owing to injury to lessen the options elsewhere.
In the early exchanges after that Sligo goal, it was clear that the best chance for Youths to hit back would come through the inventiveness of Shane Dunne who repeatedly tried to pick out Danny Furlong.
The centre-forward didn't get hold of a third-minute shot before goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann advanced smartly to cut out another Dunne ball over the top.
However, there was no excuses for Furlong's miss in the eighth minute after Dunne gave him the perfect pass. One-on-one with the netminder, he hit a poor shot lacking in power straight at him, making the save a lot easier than it should have been.
Chris Kenny had strayed offside when his weak header from a Jonny Bonner cross briefly unsettled the Sligo defence in the eleventh minute, while Dunne and Kenny didn't get hold of shots before Furlong drilled one low effort across goal and wide from an Andy Mulligan pass.
Once again Furlong didn't unduly trouble Schlingermann from a long ball by left-back Lee Grace, with Youths going on to be punished severely for failing to make the most of a relatively bright purple patch.
Sligo lifted the siege in the 24th minute when centre-half Mick Leahy headed over from a Daniel Kearns cross, and the defender then did well at the other end to cut out Jonny Bonner's attempted through ball to Furlong.
That best chance for a Youths leveller arrived in the 31st minute, with Conor O'Keeffe whipping in a sweet cross from the right for Chris Kenny whose powerful header rattled off the bar.
Paul Murphy forced the only corner of the first-half in the follow-up, but Danny Furlong was surrounded as he attempted to get on the end of Bonner's delivery and the ball was cleared.
A Bonner free-kick went off the head of Gary Delaney and drifted harmlessly wide before goalkeeper Schlingermann caught an Andy Mulligan cross.
And the territorial advantage turned towards the visitors in the ten minutes before half-time as Paul Murphy cleared a Kieran Sadlier free-kick, Liam Martin struck an aimless shot wide, and Sadlier then skipped past Conor O'Keeffe but there was nobody to get on the end of his inviting cross.
Youths resumed with Mulligan on the left wing and Murphy back in the central supporting role for Furlong.
Referee James McKell ignored an early plea from Sadlier that he was fouled on the byline by Gary Delaney, but disaster struck for Youths in the 52nd minute.
Right winger Daniel Kearns beat Stephen Last with far greater ease than ought to have been the case and, though his first shot was saved by Graham Doyle, the rebound left him with a simple tap-in and Sligo's lead was doubled.
It was a very cheap goal to concede, and it set the tone for a nightmare second-half as Youths ended up shipping their heaviest defeat of the season.
It was all Sligo as Gary Delaney cleared a Sadlier free-kick before Conor O'Keeffe gifted Raffaele Cretaro possession from a throw-in but the veteran's long-range shot didn't test Graham Doyle.
Liam Martin couldn't get a strong connection on a Sadlier cross, while the ball went wide off his heels after Doyle flapped at another delivery from Daniel Kearns.
Sligo had signed Frenchman Achille Campion from Port Vale United earlier in the day, with the clearance for him to play only arriving hours before kick-off. And what a dream debut he enjoyed, scoring just under four minutes after his introduction late in the third quarter.
Gary Delaney gave the ball away under strong pressure and it was quickly transferred to the right for Cretaro whose cross to the far post found an unmarked Campion, who gleefully drove the ball to the roof of the net.
Less than two minutes later the nightmare intensified when Delaney fouled Tobi Adebayo-Rowling as the left-back embarked on a skilful run infield, and then collected a yellow card after arguing his case for longer than was advisable with referee McKell.
Former West Ham United schoolboy Kieran Sadlier stepped up to take the free-kick in a central position and his finish was sublime, with Graham Doyle rooted to the spot as the midfielder's sweet strike nestled in the corner of his net.
Aidan Keenan had come on just before the third goal on the left up front, with Andy Mulligan going back into his central position. And after the fourth a double substitution saw a straight swap in Shane Dempsey for Jonny Bonner, while Waterford lad Andrew O'Connor came on for his debut at left-back, with Lee Grace moving to the middle and Gary Delaney making way.
Youths did manage to force two corners in quick succession, almost pulling a goal back from the first. It had been created after a Dempsey free-kick, and when he arrowed the ball in from the right it was met by a strong header from Stephen Last whose goalbound effort produced a fingertip save from Micheál Schlingermann.
Dempsey went on to collect a yellow card before Sligo increased their lead to five in the 82nd minute. Raffaele Cretaro, who was a real thorn in Youths' side in the Showgrounds too, provided his second assist of the night to embellish his early goal as he picked out Kieran Sadlier who doubled his tally after a confident drag back.
Conor O'Keeffe also entered the referee's notebook before Sligo earned their only corner on a night when Youths had three.
It was about the only area where the home side bettered their opponents, leaving a lot of soul-searching for the squad and backroom team alike before that crunch tie with Longford takes place this Friday.
This display simply wasn't good enough, and the loyal fans among the home crowd deserve to see a lot better.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Conor O'Keeffe, Gary Delaney, Stephen Last, Lee Grace; Shane Dunne, Chris Kenny, Jonny Bonner, Paul Murphy; Andy Mulligan, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Aidan Keenan for Murphy (65), Andrew O'Connor for Delaney (71), Shane Dempsey for Bonner (71), also Craig McCabe, Aidan Friel, Peter Higgins, Gavin Dowling.
Sligo Rovers: Micheál Schlingermann; Pat McCann, Mick Leahy, Gary Boylan, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling; Daniel Kearns, Craig Roddan (capt.), Kieran Sadlier, John Russell; Raffaele Cretaro, Liam Martin. Subs. - Achille Campion for Kearns (63), Phil Roberts for Russell (77), Mikey Place for Cretaro (84), also Ciarán Nugent, Gary Armstrong, Paul Doyle, Jason Hunt.
Referee: James McKell (Tipperary).