Waterford United maintained their unbeaten run and moved into second place in the league table on Friday night last following a deserved victory over high-flying league newcomers Sporting Fingal who were paying their first visit to the RSC.
A big, bustling team full of familiar names it is easy to understand why the Dublin side has made such an early impression but, on the night, the Blues absorbed the best they could throw at them and the three points gained saw them leapfrog over their visitors in the table.
There was a lot of unspoken pressure on the manager and team going into the game. Though unbeaten in the league, the performances had been less than impressive and the defeat by the Kerry League in the League Cup raised more than a few eyebrows. However, on Friday night, there was a quite determination about the Blues and it was clear from the kick-off that, for them, this was a must-win encounter.
Manager Gareth Cronin made two changes to the eleven that achieved a goalless draw against Athlone Town the previous Friday. Kevin Waters and Luke Fitzpatrick returned to the substitutes’ bench to be replaced by Willie John Kiely and Michael Foley who each played a vital part in the night’s victory. Both goals came from excellent corners delivered by Foley and Kiely was the first to score.
United broke the deadlock on 25 minutes following a period of sustained pressure.
An in-swinging corner from the right by Foley was grabbed by goalkeeper Steve Williams but he dropped the ball and the ever dangerous Kiely pounced and drilled an unstoppable shot to the net from six yards.
The Blues wrapped up the points on 76 minutes from another hard to defend Foley corner, again from the right flag, when Vinnie Sullivan found the net with a superb glancing header at the near post.
Sporting Fingal went close to opening the scoring on 14 minutes when Karl Byrne intercepted a back-pass from Kieran Fitzgerald but goalkeeper Packie Holden rushed off his line to get a late touch that deflected the ball out for a corner.
Two minutes later, United put together a flowing, five-man move that finished with David Breen unleashing a fierce, 15-yard drive but the strike was straight at Williams and he held the ball well.
Just before United opened the scoring, Kenny Browne was unlucky not to have found the net but his header from yet another Foley corner shaved the top side of the crossbar having beaten the goalkeeper.
The Blues almost increased their lead five minutes into the second half but the alert Williams did well to save a blistering header by Breen from a Foley free.
From that kick-out, the visitors changed up a gear and launched a sustained offensive on the home goal forcing four corners in three minutes. On 54 minutes, Dave Rogers beat the defence to get his head to a Colm James corner but Holden did well to tip the ball out for a corner.
Despite the intense burst of pressure the Blues defence held firm and they were not subjected to the same level of pressure for the remainder of the game although Holden did have to be at his best to rise above a packed six-yard box and safely gather a Paul Caffrey corner on 68 minutes.
United should really have scored a third goal six minutes from time when the unmarked Luke Fitzpatrick headed a Robbie Clarke cross over the bar from close range but, by then, the game was won and the points were in the bag.
United are at home again this Friday night when they face Limerick 37 who are fourth in the table and just two points behind the Blues so a royal tussle is expected. It has been a long time since there was a Munster derby between these two old rivals promises to be a thriller.
Waterford United: Packie Holden, Kieran Fitzgerald, Robbie Clarke, David Breen, Kenny Browne, Dave Warren (Luke Fitzpatrick, 40 minutes), Karl Bermingham (Stephen Quigley, 63 minutes), Paul McCarthy, Vinnie Sullivan, Willie John Kiely (Gary Dunphy, 89 minutes), Michael Foley. Substitutes not used: David Grincell, Kevin Waters.
Sporting Fingal: Steve Williams, Derek Tyrell, Brian Kelly (Brian Bannon, 78 minutes), Dave Rogers, Aidan Collins, Jim Crawford (Daniel Corcoran, 53 minutes), Paul Caffrey, Colm James, Joe O’Neill, Karl Byrne, Peter Hynes. Substitutes not used: James Hussey, Paul Malone, Stephen Caffrey.
Ref: Graham Kelly, Cork.