Homepage image courtesy of Peter Fitzpatrick
Sligo Rovers’ march towards the 2012 league title was temporarily checked at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night as a thoroughly deserving Bray Wanderers held them to a scoreless draw.
It didn’t take long for the dynamic of this game to establish itself and after a quiet opening five minutes, the league leaders soon began to look extremely comfortable. Dominating possession, the champions elect were the epitome of patience, choosing when to launch diagonal balls behind Bray’s back line.
It all looked rather easy, but there was a lack of bite to Sligo’s approach that offered Bray occasional opportunities of their own, and hinted at an element of entitlement that is not yet theirs to claim.
The first real opportunity came in the tenth minute when a ball over the top bamboozled Bray defender Adam Mitchell and sent Mark Quigley clear on goal. From just outside the box Quigley poked the ball past his namesake Darren, in the Bray goal, and could only watch as his effort rolled agonisingly wide.
Three minutes later came the first of two strong penalty claims when Mark Quigley was sent through by Lee Lynch and, cutting inside his man, was brought to ground by an outstretched leg. Six minutes later Raffaele Cretaro appeared to be clearly impeded by Dane Massey. On both occasions referee Anthony Buttimer waved play on.
With half an hour played Mark Quigley showed his predatory instincts, latching on to a loose ball and executing an instant lob from 18 yards that Darren Quigley was forced to tip acrobatically over the Bray bar.
Eleven minutes from the half time whistle Bray almost made their illustrious visitors pay for their choosy attitude in front of goal. Jason Byrne, fighting tirelessly as the lone front man, dug out a shot out from under his feet and forced Gary Rogers into a relatively comfortable save.
Moments later a similar act of opportunism from Byrne brought a more impressive reaction from Rogers who tipped the striker’s effort over his bar while at full stretch. You had to credit Rogers’ powers of concentration and he came to his side’s rescue again on 42 minutes with a terrific reaction save when a snap shot from Daire Doyle was superbly deflected on target by Kieran Waters.
Bray created the first genuine chance of the second half too. Mitchell played a ball out to the right where Shane O’Connor headed on to Jason Byrne. He sent the ball back into O’Connor’s path and his low shot cut across the Sligo box before slipping out of play not far beyond the back post.
One minute later and Cretaro was on the end of a third penalty appeal for Sligo, again waved on by Buttimer, though the foul appeared to be just outside the area. But this came against the run of play. Bray were clearly a much hotter proposition than they had been in the first half and when Daire Doyle clattered a thirty yard shot narrowly wide of the Sligo goal it came at the end of a sustained period of pressure.
Sligo’s efforts to breach the home side’s resolve with clever balls over the top had come asunder with through balls regularly missing their targets and drifting into harmless space. At the other end, meanwhile, a delightful through ball for Waters might have yielded an opener but for Rogers’ continuing diligence, the keeper racing from his goal to smother the danger.
It wasn’t until the 69th minute that Sligo next threatened, Mark Quigley throwing himself at a cross from the left by Ross Gaynor. Just six yards out he did well to make controlled contact, but the ball squeezed wide at the near post.
Ian Baraclough’s attempts to spice up his attack by sending on Pascal Milien almost paid immediate dividends when the Haitian wide man flashed a ball across the face of the Bray goal from an outlandishly tight angle. Moments later Jason Byrne almost snatched the initiative for Bray, snapping a shot over the bar after Kieran Waters had failed to control Shane O’Connor’s pass.
With ten minutes remaining Sligo had regained some sense of imperative and both sides looked capable of landing a late killer blow. Sean Houston and Jason Byrne battled excellently for the home side, while a delicate ball from Mark Quigley released David Cawley for a fierce drive that Darren Quigley parried out to Lynch. His header drifted into the Bray keeper’s hands.
When it came the final whistle signalled a share of the spoils that both sides deserved and a result that saw both teams edge towards their ultimate goals.
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Shane O’Connor, Danny O’Connor, Adam Mitchell, Dane Massey; John Mulroy (Adam Hanlon 84), Daire Doyle, Dean Zambra, Sean Houston, Kieran Marty Waters; Jason Byrne.
Subs not used: Brian Kane, Conor Earley, Paul Moffatt, David Webster, Dean Marshall, Yani Georgiev.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Seamus Conneelly, Jason McGuinness, Jeff Henderson (Ryan Connolly 85), Ross Gaynor; Joseph Ndo, Danny Ventre (Pascal Millien 71); Lee Lynch, David Cawley, Raffaele Cretaro; Mark Quigley.
Subs not used: Richard Brush, Martin Owens, Jake Dykes, John Dillon, Liam Buchanan.
Bookings: Lynch (15).
Referee: Anthony Buttimer.
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate).
Extratime Man of the Match: Sean Houston (Bray Wanderers).