Shelbourne surrendered their lead at the top of the Airtricity First Division table after a Kenny Browne goal saw them lose 1-0 to Waterford United at the RSC. The visitors wasted a number of first-half chances before coming off second-best to a much-improved second-half showing from the hosts.
The away side began by far the brighter in front of a less than capacity crowd on Suirside. Just nine minutes had elapsed when John Sullivan’s inch-perfect ball over the top of the Waterford defence was excellently controlled by David Cassidy, but the Shels skipper could only fire against the onrushing Kevin Burns. On fifteen minutes, Philip Gorman headed just wide at the back post from Brendan McGill’s right-flank cross before Waterford managed their first attempt on goal one minute later. Paul Walsh fed Willie John Kiely on the edge of the box – the striker turning to fire tamely into the arms of Dean Delaney in the Shelbourne goal.
The Dublin outfit had been carrying a lot of threat in the opening stages and should have taken the lead after 20 minutes. Gareth Matthews launched a searching ball out of defence and the Waterford back-line were caught too high, allowing Philip Hughes to race through on Burns. With the goal at his mercy however, the striker could only poke wide of the far post. Immediately following this gilt-edged opportunity, Shels carved out another as Cassidy slid Barry Clancy through on goal but once again Burns reacted brilliantly to close down the angle and block the shot on goal.
The closest the Blues came to taking the lead came after 25 minutes when Kiely hammered Delany’s near post from a tight angle after Sean Maguire’s blocked cross fell kindly to the striker. The key moment of the half however was yet to come. Just shy of the half-hour mark, Philip Gorman escaped beyond the Blues defence and was dragged down as he rounded Burns. The referee showed no hesitation in awarding the penalty but Hughes’ spot-kick hit the left-hand post before flying across the face of goal and wide. The Shels fans, who up until then had been quite vocal, were stunned into silence for the rest of a frustrating half of football for the league leaders.
The second-45 was a much more even affair than its predecessor. Indeed the first real chance of the half was created by the home side, who appeared to be growing in confidence the longer the game wore on. Thirteen minutes into the second-half Brian Nolan’s corner was cleared into the air, allowing Kenny Browne to head the ball back to the young midfielder on the left touchline. Nolan turned his defender well before cutting a left-footed cross back across the box where it was met in space by Paul Walsh – but the winger could only blast over. The Blues were now really imposing themselves on the game and were doing so by playing attractive football; an effort which was well appreciated by the home fans in attendance.
Those fans were soon to have a much bigger reason to be appreciative as they saw their team take the lead on 82 minutes. The impressive Sean Maguire was allowed time to cross from the right and his delivery was subtly met by Kenny Browne as he glanced the ball beyond Delany into the far corner of the Shelbourne net. An entertainingly even and competitive half had taken on a decidedly Blue complexion after a rare piece of goalmouth action, and now Paul O’Brien’s side had something to hold on to.
The Waterford defence stood resolute in the face of continued Shels pressure as they desperately attempted to pepper the Blues’ box with cross after cross. They found no breakthrough however and could even have lost by more than a solitary goal had Seamus Long’s audacious attempt from the half-way line crept under the Shels crossbar with Delany frantically attempting to reach his line. Into the 92nd minute Delany was required to intervene as Paul Phelan’s curling effort from just inside the box needed to be beaten away from the far post.
The final whistle, when it finally came, was met with delirious celebration from those of a Waterford persuasion and confirmed a hugely disappointing result for the visitors. For the Blues, this was a vindicating outcome to a game that all involved with the club will feel should come with more meaning. Waterford’s dreadful form this season has meant that they are not in the running at the top of the table, but they have, at least, now had a say in its destination.
Waterford United: Kevin Burns; Paul Carey (Adam Heaslip 74), Kenny Browne, David Breen, Michael Coady; Paul Walsh (Dwayne Wilson 80), Brian Nolan, Paul Phelan, Seamus Long; Willie John Kiely, Sean Maguire.
Subs not Used: Balevicius, Dunphy, Hayes, Keane, Murphy.
Shelbourne: Dean Delaney; Lorcan Fitzgerald (Stephen Paisley 40), Gareth Matthews, Kevin Dawson, Andrew Boyle; Brendan McGIll (Conan Byrne 82), John Sullivan, David Cassidy, Barry Clancy; Philip Hughes, Philip Gorman (Chris Mulhall 74).
Subs not Used: Skinner, James, da Silva, Byrne.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Kevin Burns. The Blues 'keeper kept them in the game in the first-half and was never found wanting.