Bray Wanderers ran away with a 2-1 victory on Tuesday night as two goals in the space of three minutes from Ger Pender and Hugh Douglas saw St. Patrick’s Athletic succumb to a fourth league defeat in Richmond Park this season.
A weakened side took to the field of play for the Saints with four changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Shamrock Rovers last Friday night at Tallaght Stadium. Out were Billy Dennehy, Dinny Corcoran, Darren Dennehy and man of the match Conor O’Malley who produced an outstanding performance to deny Stephen Bradley’s Hoops time after time with repeated acrobatics between the sticks.
In his place came Brendan Clarke who himself provided an outstanding cameo for the injured O’Malley in the first half. On a night when Bray’s Dylan Connolly found himself constantly untracked behind enemy lines, Clarke provided that much needed safety net for a young defensive unit featuring 21-year-old Lee Desmond and 18-year-old Rory Feely.
Desmond again played in his newfound role in the anchor of midfield alongside Graham Kelly, compared with previous appearances in the left and centre of defence last season, while Feely was made to sweat throughout a promising opening half from Bray.
The in-form Connolly ran rings about Feely throughout the opening 45 minutes, his first chance being presented within the opening five minutes when the ball offered itself on a plate via a slack pass – Clarke stood his ground and allowed the ball to flawlessly bounce off his chest and away.
Next was another chance for Connolly when his run went untracked; left on his own by marker Feely, Connolly this time had a free shot at goal but again Clarke did brilliantly to dive low and save to his right to keep the game scoreless.
Christy Fagan borrowed a move straight from the training ground throughout the game up front for St. Pats. With Mark Timlin, Ian Bermingham and Graham Kelly as his allies, Fagan repeatedly provided an inspired flick over the top of the Bray defensive unit in the second part of a one-two.
While it did not pay dividends and though St. Pat’s grew more and more frustrated as the half wore on thanks in no small part to small lapses at the back allowing Connolly and Ger Pender unwarranted and needless shots on goal, the Inchicore club did in fact take the lead before referee Derek Tomney drew his whistle for halftime.
The move began as it almost ended with forward Jamie McGrath almost running out of steam after taking possession of the ball inside the box.
Following some creative twists and turns and with no other option the 19-year-old laid the ball off to the oncoming Graham Kelly who crashed an outstanding effort into the back of the net to run into the break with a 1-0 lead – his first goal for the club since moving from the Carlisle Grounds at the end of last year.
The second half brought with it a temporarily more confident Pat’s side. Mark Timlin almost doubled the lead following a mazy run from Fagan along the left wing which brought with it a dangerous cross at Peter Cherrie’s far post.
However panic was not far from the Pat’s defence, and Bray knew it. Some calamitous defending inside the home box failed to clear cross after cross bombarding it - the final one proving decisive as the ball dropped to the feet of striker Ger Pender.
Allowing the ball to bounce in order to use its forward momentum to set himself up for a half-volley, Pender struck the ball well with a fine connection.
He guided the ball exactly where he wanted into the back of the net for just his second goal of the season, staining Clarke’s clean sheet and drawing the scores level with just over half an hour to play.
Bad became worse minutes later when Ian Bermingham failed to wrap his foot around a Michael Barker pass across the defensive line.
The advancing Hugh Douglas seized on the opportunity and, motoring into the box, toe-poked the ball into the roof of the net to steal the lead, stunning Richmond Park into an uncomfortable silence.
Bray had bided their time well and were now looking at a fifth win in nine games. Meanwhile the players in red got on with the uphill task at hand, Graham Kelly’s movement into space as the crowd urged for him to repeat his magic from the end of the first half, but to no avail.
Never shying away from the crowd, captain Ger O’Brien stood up to the task at hand and constantly targeted Cherrie’s goalline with repeated shots, albeit on his weaker left foot to minimal success.
Billy Dennehy attempted to inject some life into a stilted Pat’s attack but it was the late chance of Chris Lyons, another of Bray’s forward runs gone unattended in the final third, who had the game’s closest chance at the death. He hammered an effort beyond the crossbar with minutes remaining.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Rory Feely, Michael Barker, Ian Bermingham; Lee Desmond, Graham Kelly, Conan Byrne, Jamie McGrath (Darragh Markey 85), Mark Timlin (Billy Dennehy 72), Christy Fagan
Subs not used: Pat Jennings (gk), Jonathan Lunney, Sam Verdon, Dinny Corcoran
Bookings: Ian Bermingham (82)
Bray Wanderers: Peter Cherrie; Hugh Douglas, Tim Clancy, Connor Kenna, Kevin Lynch, John Sullivan (Alan McNally 91), Karl Moore, Darragh Noone, Mark Salmon, Dylan Connolly (Jason Marks 86), Ger Pender (Chris Lyons 79)
Subs not used: Lee Steacy (gk), Sean Harding, Alan Kehoe, Gareth McDonagh
Bookings: Hugh Douglas (39), Chris Lyons (86)
Referee: Derek Tomney
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Hugh Douglas (Bray Wanderers)