Waterford United 1; Wexford Youths 2
Unbeaten in the league in nine games, a win or draw against Wexford Youths at the sun-soaked RSC on Saturday night last would have given Waterford United a clear lead at the top of the table.
But our South East neighbours have always been difficult opponents and they spoiled the Suirside party by serving up a display of fast, attacking football that troubled the Blues from the outset. Gavin Doyle, in particular, proved to be a handful for the home defence.
Also inspired by superb performances by former Blues goalkeeper Packie Holden, and defender David Breen, Wexford Youths opened a two-goal lead and stoutly survived a fierce onslaught from the home side before ending on a high with a breakaway attack that almost earned them a third score.
United remain on top by virtue of goal difference but, without doubt, they missed a golden opportunity to advance before 615 fans who paid in at the turnstiles, the biggest attendance at a home game for quite a while.
The opening goal arrived on 27 minutes when Gavin Doyle was fouled just outside the area. He took the free-kick himself and his glorious drive soared into the roof of Michael Devine’s net.
Wexford Youths doubled their lead on 72 minutes when Gary Sheehan latched on to a long ball down the middle from Conor Sinnott and got past Kevin Murray before finding the corner of the net with a low, hard shot from close range.
The Blues pulled one back within a minute when an Alan Carey corner kick was headed back across the goal by Murray at the far post and Willie John Kiely back-heeled the ball into the net.
Holden pulled off two magnificent saves from Paul McCarthy and Graham Cummins to deny United a draw and, in the 93rd minute, Martin Kehoe almost scored a third goal for the visitors but Devine got down well at the near post to turn the ball out for a corner.
In the first half, Sinnott went close to scoring on several occasions and his 21st minute effort from a Liam O’Loughlin header drew a magnificent save out of Devine. Breen also had a pop that went straight into the arms of Devine while Kiely, Cummins and Waters might well have opened United’s account.
The Blues moved up a gear after the break and John Kearney fired off a snap-shot that went inches wide and, on 67 minutes, a goalmouth melee ensued following a Carey corner but the visitors managed to scramble the ball to safety. At the other end, Wexford continued to be dangerous. O’Loughlin failed to connect with the goal at his mercy on the hour while, two minutes earlier, Doyle looked odds on to score but the ball took a bad bounce just as he was about to pull the trigger.
After Kiely scored, United fired everything they had at their opponents in search of an equaliser. On 76 minutes, McCarthy unleashed a fierce shot but Holden dived full length to save and he repeated the exercise two minutes later to deny Cummins.
With just seconds remaining, Martin Kehoe got on the end of a counter attack and only a good save by Devine at the near post kept his name off the score-sheet.
Waterford United: Michael Devine, Kieran Fitzgerald (Gary Dunphy, 60 mins), Alan Carey, Kenny Browne, Kevin Murray, Declan Woodgate (David Grincell, 74), Paul McCarthy, Kevin Waters, Willie John Kiely, Graham Cummins, John Kearney. Subs not used: Joe Mulcahy, Paul Carey, Kevin Burns.
Wexford Youths: Packie Holden, Anto Russell, Peter White, David Breen, Liam O’Loughlin (Garret McCurtin, 63 mins), Paul Rossiter, Conor Sinnott, Patsy Malone, Robert Vickers, Gary Sheehan (Martin Kehoe, 87), Gavin Doyle (Shane Dempsey, 81). Subs not used: Shane Sinnott, Richie Fitzgerald.
Referee: Keith Callanan, Cork.