Anthony Flood made an emphatic return to Richmond Park, with a goal and an assist on Friday night earning Bray Wanderers a first win of the new season with a 2-1 victory over the striker’s former club St. Patrick’s Athletic.
A Dylan Connolly masterclass was in session on the night. The 21-year-old winger was the Seagulls’ standout performer in 2016 and continued his fine form this campaign by setting up Flood’s goal in fine fashion in the first half.
Champions Dundalk were keen to replace star man Daryl Horgan with Connolly during the off-season. His dash down the right touchline leaving defender Michael Barker in his wake was reminiscent of the 2016 Player of the Year.
St. Pats’ absent defence was left to rue the space afforded to Connolly as he raced to the touchline. His cross met Flood, with the 31-year-old glancing the pull-back beyond Barry Murphy to give Harry Kenny’s side the lead.
It was a deserved lead, too, as the visitors continued to dominate proceedings with repeated balls into the box causing Liam Buckley’s side to lose the confidence they entered the game supplied with.
Former Shamrock Rovers captain Gary McCabe had earlier crashed a free-kick from distance off the top of Murphy’s crossbar and the home side could easily have went into the break two goals down.
Bray sensed a vulnerability in St. Pats as the second half kicked into gear. Anto Flood came close to doubling his tally when Barry Murphy was forced to come from his line and regain possession from the forward’s feet at the edge of the box.
Billy Dennehy and Graham Kelly were introduced for the hosts to try and work an attacking threat which was non-existent in the opening 45 minutes.
Their sole chance had come when Conan Byrne’s left-footed strike inside the area was deflected away from goal, as well as a litany of unambitious crosses into the box.
Much attention in the buildup to the season’s start was focussed on how the newly contracted Christy Fagan would lead the line again for the Saints. He endured a frustrating night where chances were few and far between to test Bray goalkeeper Peter Cherrie.
Fagan’s opposite number Connolly was not a popular man in Richmond Park on the hour mark as his rash challenge on defender Gavin Peers earned him a wave of animosity from the home supporters and a place in the referee’s book.
But the home supporters had more to worry about as the night’s second goal loomed. Goalscorer Flood held the ball up cleverly inside the box before finding a pocket of space where former Shamrock Rovers captain Gary McCabe stood unmarked for Bray.
McCabe trapped Flood’s cute pass inside, before aiming low and forcing a fine strike under the dive of goalkeeper Murphy and into the bottom corner of the net to double his side’s lead.
Two goals down, St. Pats responded with urgency in attack and had the ball in the back of Cherrie’s net with just under twenty minutes remaining. A flurry of shots bounced around the penalty area before substitute Kelly smacked the ball beyond Cherrie.
The goal did not stand as the referee earlier flagged a handball. But Kelly got his goal minutes later as the Bray box was again left in a state of panic, with Kelly picking up the pieces and the ball to fire St. Pats towards 2-1 with five minutes left on the clock.
The night would end in chaos as Aidan Keena’s sliding challenge saw the forward sent off just twenty-five minutes into his senior debut before both sides clashed in a heated scuffle in front of the St. Pats technical area which saw Darren Dennehy sent off as well amid a flurry of bookings.
The game ended in pandemonium as Conan Byrne thought he had scored the most dramatic of equalizers before referee Derek Tomney ruled it out, instead declaring a free kick for Bray who held on to record a 2-1 win amid relentless tension in the stands and on the field of play.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Barry Murphy (gk); Michael Barker, Darren Dennehy, Gavin Peers, Ian Bermingham; Alex O’Hanlon (Billy Dennehy 53), JJ Lunney (Aidan Keena 67), Patrick Cregg; Conan Byrne; Kurtis Byrne (Graham Kelly 53), Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Conor O’Malley (gk), Lee Desmond, Darragh Markey, Sam Verdon
Booked: Conan Byrne (7), Barry Murphy (90)
Sent Off: Aidan Keena (90)
Bray Wanderers: Peter Cherrie; Hugh Douglas, Conor Kenna, Tim Clancy, Kevin Lynch, John O’Sullivan, Keith Buckley, Gary McCabe (Ryan Brennan 83), Aaron Greene, Dylan Connolly (Karl Moore 95), Anthony Flood (Ger Pender (73).
Subs not used: Lee Steacy, Derek Foran, Alan Kehoe, Karl Moore, Mark Salmon.
Booked: Dylan Connolly (60), Tim Clancy (90).
Referee: Derek Tomney
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Anthony Flood (Bray Wanderers).