Waterford United\'s Willie John Kiely steals a march on Wexford Youths\' Anthony Sutton. Photo: Kenneth Sutton

Waterford United's Willie John Kiely steals a march on Wexford Youths' Anthony Sutton. Photo: Kenneth Sutton

Wexford Youths 1; Waterford United 2

Waterford made a successful return to First Division football on Friday night in the magnificent Ferrycarrig Park. Many Waterford supporters, and indeed Waterford players, were paying their first ever visit to the home ground of Wexford Youths, and it would be fair to say that all were amazed to see the facilities that are in place at the venue.

Three superb playing fields, an amazing clubhouse and an almost-built customized gym are part and parcel of this magnificent Model County complex. A 6,000-seater stand will be built very shortly to complement the 800-seat one that it is place at the moment. Mick Wallace is certainly the jewel in Wexford’s crown.

The main pitch is massive and due to the size of the playing surface the Waterford manager Gareth Cronin decided to line out with a 4-3-3 formation. That plan was also to try and counter Wexford’s 3-5-2 set-up.

A large crowd, something in the region of 2,500, turned up to watch the first South East derby game between the two sides and they had their moments to talk about following the 90-plus minutes.

At times some of the football was excellent but on the other hand it also became very scrappy. Waterford got off to a flying start by scoring after only 4 minutes but they drifted out of the game midway through the first half.

When the sides came out for the second period, it was the home outfit who looked the stronger team and it came as no surprise when they equalised on the hour mark.

The game was turned on its head two minutes later when the Blues were awarded a penalty kick, which they scored but when their captain John Hayes received a red card for a bad tackle on 72 minutes they had to hold on for dear life to take the three points on offer.

A win is a win and that is the bottom line, but it would be fair to say that this new-look Waterford team has a lot of hard work to do in the weeks ahead. Manager Gareth Cronin admitted as much after the game.

Dream start

Waterford United looked bright and sharp from the kick-off and they almost took the lead after 2 minutes. Conor Sinnott fouled Dave Warren just outside the penalty area. Kevin Waters took the free-kick and he saw the Wexford goalkeeper Jason Purcell tip the ball around his right upright.

The Blues took the lead in fine style after 4 minutes. Kevin Waters cut in from the left and played the ball to Paul McCarthy. He in turn laid it into the path of Karl Bermingham and the former Derry City player beat Jason Purcell with a super shot from 16 yards.

Wexford very nearly got back on level terms on 21 minutes when John Flynn-O’Connor played the ball down the right flank to Ritchie Fitzgerald who cut lose from 25 yards. The ball cracked off Pakie Holden’s crossbar before it was headed out for a corner-kick by David Breen.

Back down at the other end Dave Warren fed Karl Bermingham one minute later but on this occasion the goalscorer curled the ball wide of the target from a decent position.

A dreadful mix-up between the Wexford goalkeeper Jason Purcell and defender Gareth Larkin gave Paul McCarthy a chance to increase Waterford’s lead on 26 minutes but his weak shot was kicked off the line by the covering Stuart Lawlor.

Ritchie Fitzgerald ran on to a pass from Lawlor after 38 minutes but he lost his composure in front of goal and shot weakly wide. Waaterford finished the first half strongly with Dave Warren producing a good save from Jason Purcell with a well-struck free-kick and Warren then saw a long-range effort strike the top of the crossbar.

Wexford equaliser

Eight minutes into the second period Karl Bermingham had a glorious chance to score his second goal of the game and in doing so put the game beyond Wexford. Kevin Waters played him through a square home defence but with only the goalkeeper to beat he blazed the ball high over the crossbar.

That bad miss proved costly on the hour mark because the ‘Wexford Warriors’ equalised through Paul Murphy who ran on to a pass from Connor Sinnott and drilled the ball low past the stranded Pakie Holden.

Two minutes later however the Blues regained their advantage from the penalty spot. Kevin Waters floated a free-kick into a crowded Wexford area and the referee from Dublin Tom Connolly noticed that Gareth Cronin had stuck out a hand to try and stop the ball and he immediately pointed to the spot.

With regular penalty taker Vinny Sullivan suspended, Dave Warren took the kick and he drove it hard past the diving Jason Purcell.

Things looked good for Waterford at that stage but 10 minutes later John Hayes was sent packing after a very poor tackle on Gavin Doyle. Kenny Browne, who had replaced the out-of-sorts Michael Foley in the middle of the park after 61 minutes, went back into the centre of defence to partner David Breen for the remainder of the game.

Wexford launched a number of attacks from then right up to the final whistle. Stuart Lawlor had a header kicked off the line by Kevin Waters following a well-delivered corner-kick from the right by Conor Sinnott and in the dying minutes John Flynn-O’Connor cracked in an angled strike from the right which struck the outside of Holden’s post.

It was squeaky bum time for Waterford but they held out for three precious opening points.

Wexford Youths: Jason Purcell, Thomas Hawkins, Stuart Lawlor, Gareth Larkin, Conor Sinnott, Patsy Malone, Gavin Doyle, John Flynn-O’Connor, Anthony Russell, Ritchie Fitzgerald, Paul Murphy. Subs: Liam O’Loughlin for O’Flynn-O’Connor (78 mins), Marty Kelly for Doyle (87 mins).

Waterford United: Pakie Holden, Kieran Fitzgerald, Stephen Quigley, David Breen, John Hayes, Luke Fitzpatrick, Michael Foley, Paul McCarthy, Karl Bermingham, Dave Warren, Kevin Waters. Subs.: Kenny Browne for Foley (61 mins), Willie John Kiely for Bermingham (71 mins).

Referee: Tom Connolly (Dublin).