Waterford United moved to within three points of league leaders Dundalk and just a point behind second-placed Shelbourne following a hard earned victory over Wexford Youths at the RSC on Friday night last.
The Blues were somewhat fortunate to beat Wexford on the opening day of the season at Ferrycarrig Park in March and it was always going to be an uphill battle to repeat the exercise. The mid-table visitors looked fit and disciplined and with inspirational manager Mick Wallace and advisor Pat Dolan in the dugout they were also very well organised.
That said, United were also in determined mood and kept their shape throughout. Manager Gareth Cronin made just one change from the starting eleven that hammered Monaghan the previous week with Kieran Fitzgerald coming in for Stephen Quigley.
Played at a fast pace throughout, both sides had opportunities to score before the deadlock was finally broken by Waterford on 58 minutes when Willie John Kiely headed home the game’s only goal at the far post following an inch perfect cross from the right by Vinnie Sullivan.
United might well have scored after only 7 minutes. Fitzgerald sent over a chest-high, tantalising ball from the corner flag but Joe Mulcahy opted to side-foot the ball and it zipped just wide of the far post when he might have been better to attempt a header.
Home defence dominant
Wexford were always dangerous on the break and, on 13 minutes, a nice move between Conor Sinnott and Paul Rossiter split the United defence but they then took too much out of the ball and the opportunity was lost as the home defence slammed the door shut.
On the quarter hour, Kiely found Sullivan with a good ball and his powerful, speculative shot from 25 yards went narrowly over the bar. Two minutes later, a delightful one-two involving Robbie Clarke and Paul McCarthy ended with a super cross for the waiting Kiely in front of goal but his downward header bounced off the pitch and safely into the arms of goalkeeper Jason Russell.
Meanwhile, the visitors had their own close encounters with the Waterford goal. On 21 minutes, Anto Russell had a golden opportunity to score but he headed wide from a good position following a free by Sinnott out of the left. Two minutes later, another free by Sinnott from 35 yards was powerfully struck and shaved the topside of Packie Holden’s crossbar.
The Blues had the ball in the Wexford net on 25 minutes following a long-range free by Michael Foley but, during the hectic goalmouth melee that ensued before the ball crossed the line, McCarthy was adjudged to have handled and the referee awarded a free out.
Probably, Wexford’s best chance of the game arrived on 37 minutes when Richie Fitzgerald broke clear along the left wing but, as he bore down on the target, he failed to spot the unmarked Sinnott in front of goal screaming for the ball and, instead, shot harmlessly from a difficult angle into the side netting.
Seconds before the half-time whistle was sounded, David Breen had the Wexford goal at his mercy but took the wrong option of passing to the offside Sullivan whose shot was saved by Russell even as the flag was raised.
For all their hard work, Wexford made little impact in the second half as the United defence remained rock solid. As well as the winning goal from Kiely, the Blues might also have scored through Foley (47 minutes), Sullivan (70 minutes) and Luke Fitzpatrick (74 minutes).
Following the poor gates of the two previous home matches, there was something of an improvement on Friday night with just over 900 fans paying through the gate compared to 400 the previous week. Mind you, about 300 of those were Wexford supporters so the United mentors still have a huge problem trying to make ends meet. Waterford are away to Longford Town this Saturday night and the next home game is against Athlone Town on Tuesday night, May 20th..
Waterford United: Packie Holden, Kieran Fitzgerald, Robbie Clarke, David Breen, Kenny Browne, Dave Warren, Paul McCarthy, Joe Mulcahy (Luke Fitzpatrick, 65 minutes), Vinnie Sullivan (David Grincell, 81 minutes), Willie John Kiely (Karl Bermingham, 71 minutes), Michael Foley. Substitutes not used: Kevin Waters, Ben Spicer.
Wexford Youths: Jason Russell, Anto Russell, Stuart Lawlor, Thomas Hawkins (Paul Murphy, 57 minutes), Patsy Malone, Martin Kelly, Gavin Doyle, Conor Sinnott, Darren Browne (Craigue McGuire, 67 minutes), Paul Rossiter, Richie Fitzgerald (Ricky Fox, 77 minutes). Substitutes not used: Joey Wadding, John O’Flynn-O’Connor.
Referee: Padraig Sutton, Clare.