Jason Byrne scored an injury-time winner against nine man Drogheda United to continue Bray Wanderer’s recent revival and create some daylight between themselves and the foot of the table with a 3-2 victory on Friday evening at the Carlisle Grounds.
It seemed as if the hosts would have to settle for a point despite playing the majority of the game with a numerical advantage after Gabriel Sava’s first-half dismissal but the veteran striker was in the right place to slot home in the final minute of stoppage time and compound Drogheda’s misery.
After an indifferent couple of weeks, Mick Cooke opted to make both tactical and personnel changes to the side that were narrowly beaten by Derry last week with United reverting to a 4-4-2 formation.
And the visitors started with real purpose as they had a penalty appeals waved away in the opening minute after Gavin Brennan’s well-struck shot hit Daire Doyle on the arm but it was a case of ball to hand.
However, it was the Seagulls who made the breakthrough as John Mulroy got in behind the Drogheda rear-guard before squaring for Jason Byrne to slot home from a couple of yards.
Bray’s defensive frailties have been exposed on various occasions this season and the Drogheda leveller came from a simple goal-kick. Sava’s long clearance wasn’t dealt with initially by Conor Earley before O’Brien got the better of Doyle to fire past Darren Quigley.
Urged on by a decent away contingent, Mick Cooke’s side came close to taking the lead on eighteen minutes but Dave Webster cleared David Cassidy’s goal bound shot off the line.
The turning point of the game came on the half hour mark as Sava rushed off his line after Byrne’s flick on and was adjudged to handle Kieran Waters’ shot outside the area and was sent for an early bath by referee Keith Callanan.
It didn’t take long for the home side to take full advantage as sixteen seconds after the interval they hit the front as Waters pounced on Michael Daly’s poor clearance to tee up Byrne once again.
However, the visitors hit back instantly as Gavin Brennan’s surging run and cross gave O’Brien the simple task of finishing into the empty net from three yards.
Inevitably, the Seagulls enjoyed the majority of the play but didn’t really look like finding a winner before David Cassidy conceded a needless free-kick on the right flank which resulted in his second booking.
After a short delay, Kevin Knight’s in-swinging set-piece was headed onto the post by Conor Earley but 35-year-old Byrne was on hand to send the Carlisle Grounds faithful into raptures.
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Daire Doyle, Dave Webster, Shane O’Connor, Conor Early; Kieran Waters, Gary Dempsey, Dean Zambra, John Mulroy (Kevin Knight 80), Ismahil Akinade; Jason Byrne.
Subs not used: Sean Holmes, Danny O’Connor, Peter Thomas, Ger Pender, Sean Hurley, Adam Cox.
Bookings: Daire Doyle (70)
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Shane Grimes, Alan McNally, Alan Byrne, Michael Daly; David Cassidy, Paul O’Conor, Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan (Jason Marks 80); Declan O’Brien, Peter Hynes (Michael Schlingermann 31)
Subs not used: Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand, Cathal Brady, Graham Rusk, Dean Gaynor.
Bookings: Daly (27), McNally (64), Cassidy (81)
Sent off: Sava (30), Cassidy (93)
Referee: Keith Callanan
Attendance: 600 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Jason Byrne (Bray Wanderers).