Waterford United 2; Sporting Fingal 1
Firstly, let me say that Friday last’s First Division fixture – the second half in particular – was an absolute belter and a credit to both sides.
Some who berate the standard of domestic football haven’t been inside the gates of an Eircom League club for years and, frankly, don’t know what they’re talking about.
Quite why only 420 souls turned out for Waterford United’s latest victory is a tad mysterious because Gareth Cronin’s men are trying to gain promotion by playing attractive football.
The attitude of the Blues’ playing staff, given the recently reported off-field difficulties, has been top class, making the strops of millionaire ‘slaves’ across the channel even more shameful.
Back in second place, United are just three points behind First Division leaders Dundalk thanks to a brace of well-taken David Grincell goals.
Grincell, who had opened his season’s account in such glorious style the previous Friday against Longford, had the onion sack bulging after 21 minutes – and it was another beauty.
Full-back Stephen Quigley surged down the flank occupied by Fingal debutant and ex-Blues captain John Frost (on loan from Saint Patrick’s Athletic), swinging the ball into the path of Vinny Sullivan.
The Blues striker nodded the ball into the path of the onrushing Grincell who unleashed a superb half-volley from 14 yards into the top right-hand corner beyond the diving Steve Williams.
A more clinical Fingal could have scored twice before United hit the front; Robbie Doyle shooting straight at Packie Holden from close range just 60 seconds prior to Grincell’s opener.
Just two minutes in, Doyle latched onto a speculative ball lofted forward by Barry Ferguson, but Holden dashed from his goal-line to block the shot with his body on the edge of the penalty area.
A recurring theme of many a Blues game this season has been their tendency to sit on a lead rather than pressing on to force a decisive advantage.
And this ‘we’ll hold what he have’ pattern reared its head in the opening exchanges of the second half, contributing, with no great surprise, to a Fingal equaliser just shy of the hour mark.
Running unimpeded from the half-way line, Doyle cut inside Stephen Quigley on the left, and shot from the edge of the box, across Holden’s path and into the bottom left-hand corner.
Six minutes later, Doyle ought to have scored his 14th league goal of the season after Peter Hynes nodded the ball into his path just yards from the Blues uprights.
Instead, he lofted his shot over Holden’s crossbar, a miss compounded at the other end just moments later.
Quigley’s long-ball forward on 68 minutes was misjudged by Ferguson, who thought the ball was heading over the dead ball line for a Sporting goal-kick.
But the all-running Luke Fitzgerald never gave up the ghost, scooping the ball into the path of Grincell, who slid the ball beyond Williams to restore United’s advantage.
The goal provided enormous impetus to the Blues, and they produced excellent passages of play between then and the final whistle, with Grincell coming within a whisker of a glorious hat-trick.
Darting past three Fingal defenders in the 76th minute, Grincell controlled Robbie Clarke’s pass, forcing Williams off his line only to steer his effort just feet wide.
Before that, Williams had brilliantly denied both Vinny Sullivan and Kenny Browne from point-blank range as Waterford sought the guarantee a third goal would bring.
But in the end, it wasn’t required as the Blues deservedly took all three points to remain firmly in the promotion hunt.
Waterford United: Packie Holden; Stephen Quigley (Kieran Fitzgerald, 80 mins), Robbie Clarke, David Breen, Kenny Browne, Dave Warren, John Hayes (Joe Mulcahy, 86 mins), Luke Fitzpatrick, Vinny Sullivan (Willie John Kiely, 87 mins), David Grincell, Kevin Waters.
Subs not used: Michael Foley and Ben Spicer.
Sporting Fingal: Steve Williams, Derek Tyrell, John Frost, Chris Deans, Aidan Collins (Colm James, 39 mins), Barry Ferguson, Conan Byrne, Fiachra McArdle (Brian Morris Roe, 76 mins), Peter Hynes (Daniel Murphy, 73 mins) Paul Caffrey, Robbie Doyle.
Subs not used: Brian Gannon and Brendan Clarke.
Referee: Rob Rogers (Westmeath).