Waterford’s Willie John Kiely is held by Shels’ captain Damien Brennan.   | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Waterford’s Willie John Kiely is held by Shels’ captain Damien Brennan. | Photo: Jim O’Sullivan

Waterford United 0; Shelbourne FC 1

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Shelbourne, the Premier League Champions of just two years ago, took over as Division One league leaders as a result of this disappointing defeat for Waterford United at the RSC on Friday night last.

In racing parlance, the Blues had one more fence to clear before entering the straight in a three-horse bolt for the finishing line but they are now out of contention for promotion and condemned to another season in the lower division.

It could have been all so different. Even on Friday night, when Shelbourne were a goal ahead and dominating the proceedings, the fans never lost hope of an equalisier and a late winner to keep our promotion aspirations alive. Sadly it wasn’t to be but, in truth, promotion was not lost on Friday night last but in the vital games that United might have won while their main opponents were slipping up elsewhere.

The Reds and Dundalk will now contest next Saturday’s day of reckoning when the championship title and the single promotion place will be decided in the last games of the fixture list. Shelbourne will be at home to Limerick 37 while Dundalk travel to face Kildare County. Meanwhile, the Blues will travel to Monaghan with nothing but pride at stake.

The close season will be a time of reflection for everybody involved with United. Despite some very entertaining and exciting battles at the RSC, the fans, for the most part, stayed away. The poor attendances were not exclusive to Waterford because it was a similar scenario all over the country in both divisions. Without doubt, supporters have deserted the home leagues with a vengeance and nobody seems to know how to get them back.

Waterford United survived this season on a wing and a prayer thanks to the time consuming dedication of a brave and tireless group of volunteers who refused to let senior soccer die on Suirside. Praise is also due to the manager Gareth Cronin and his players. Form was often erratic but, from where I was sitting, there was always honest effort and pride in the shirt and club and that should neither be forgotten nor unappreciated. But, without wising to be pessimistic, it would appear that the future for Waterford United and many other clubs is precarious to say the least.

Vital goal

On Friday last, Shelbourne broke the deadlock on 34 minutes when David McAllister scored from the penalty spot following a period of intense pressure on the home goal.

United had failed to clear their lines from a David Freeman corner and, as the ball bobbled about in a crowded area, referee Robert Rogers adjudged that the Reds’ skipper Damien Brennan was upended by Dave Warren.

United enjoyed the best of the exchanges for the first fifteen minutes and David Grincell went close to scoring on two occasions. But then the visitors began to dominate, especially at midfield, and Anto Flood had the ball in the net on 24minutes only to be ruled offside. Minutes later, James Keddy unleashed a powerful blockbuster from 30 yards which Packie Holden did well to tip over the United crossbar for a corner.

Despite a lot of hustle and bustle from both sides, there were very few goalmouth incidents in the second half. On 72 minutes, Luke Fitzpatrick headed over the Shelbourne bar from a Robbie Clarke cross but that was about as close as the Blues got and one felt a stroke of good fortune was needed if the visitors’ strong defence was to be breached.

Shelbourne might have gone further ahead on 85 minutes when James Chambers followed up his own corner and only another good save from Holden kept his side in the hunt. Two minutes later, Keddy saw his close-range effort go harmlessly over the Blues’ crossbar when he should, at least, have hit the target.

United’s woes were compounded when Kenny Browne was dismissed on 90 minutes for a second yellow card offence.

Waterford United: Packie Holden, Stephen Quigley (Gary Dunphy, 58 minutes), Robbie Clarke, Luke Fitzpatrick, Kenny Browne, Dave Warren, Kieran Fitzgerald, Paul McCarthy (Karl Bermingham, 81 minutes), Vinnie Sullivan (Willie John Kiely, 78 minutes), David Grincell, Kevin Waters. Substitutes not used: Joe Mulcahy, Ben Spicer.

Shelbourne FC: Dean Delaney, Alan Murphy, Robbie Hedderman, Alan Keely, Damien Brennan, David McAllister, David McGill, James Keddy, Anthony Flood, David Freeman, Mark Rutherford (James Chambers, half-time). Substitutes not used: Franco Georgescu, Alan Byrne, Dean Lawrence, Vinnie Whelan.

Referee: Robert Rogers, Dublin.

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