Mervue United beat Wexford Youths three times last season and scored five times on their last visit to Ferrycarrig. So it’s a measure of the new look Youths revival this term that their visitors from Galway returned home with nul point and not even a goal to reward the night’s endeavour after this latest encounter.
With skipper Mike Elwood suspended and the experienced Damien O’Rourke only just returning to full fitness, Mervue’s frailty in central defence was further exposed by the departure of another central defender, Stephen Walsh, on a red card in the 69th minute.
The visitors were the first to show, with some slack defending in the opening minute offering opportunity but when that was spurned Wexford began to impose themselves on the game with some slick incisive football that saw them take the lead after 10 minutes.
The initiative came from Danny Furlong and when he was flattened, the ball fell to his co-striker Tom Elmes who had the goal at his mercy with only Ronan Forde to beat. But a heavy touch as he rounded the keeper took the ball wide and the chance seemed to have gone. But flanker Dean Broaders, in space on the edge of the box, seized on the loose ball and rammed it past Forde. A minute later it was Broaders again firing in a low sizzler from a narrow angle on the left which Forde deflected behind with his foot. And when Furlong did get the ball in the net again after a quarter of an hour he was off side.
Indeed Youths were offside on no fewer than nine occasions, a testimony to their tactical naivety and a very square Mervue back four who were easily filleted by Elmes, Furlong and Broaders. But, having failed to make the game safe, Youths were forced on the back foot as their opponents showed they had more to offer than it might at first appear. Yet a combination of resolute defending and the occasional slice of good fortune saw home keeper Graham Doyle relatively untroubled.
There was a heart stopping moment for the Wexford supporters in the 27th minute when a corner from the right fizzed across their goalmouth at crossbar height with Doyle getting the slightest touch and protesting vociferously to referee Mulally that he had been impeded. It was his defenders who got an ear bashing five minutes later when Pat Hoban rose first to a free kick from the left to head narrowly past the far post. Instead it was Wexford who scored just before the interval, Broaders slide rule pass releasing Furlong who slipped through the Mervue back line and showed how to finish when one on one with the keeper.
Mervue returned for the second period with their sleeves metaphorically rolled up and the energetic Philip Keegan on for Gary Kelly. But, with thirty fouls awarded by Mr Mulally there was little hope of any continuity, with poor first touches and unforced errors contributing to stalemate. To be fair, and to speak heresy, it must be very difficult to play fluid football on such a poor surface as the once peerless Ferrycarrig has become. The punishing schedule of so many matches with the season extended to twelve months a year must be impossible to resist but if Youths want to continue to preach the beautiful game something will surely have to be done to reduce the load on the main pitch.
It looked as though Mervue might have been thrown a lifeline when Keegan, with C.J. Browne in close attendance, went down in the box as he bore down on goal but, for once, Mr Mulally did not raise his whistle to his lips. That was after 64 minutes and when, just five minutes later, Walsh departed after foolishly pushing over an opponent who had already been penalised for fouling him, the writing was on the wall.
And so it proved, but not until Graham Doyle had earned his clean sheet with four fine saves one, to thwart Hoban at close range, a demonstration of razor sharp reactions. Forde also displayed the keeper’s craft, saving bravely at point blank range from Furlong at the expense of a corner.
An attendance figure of 327 may not sound exceptional but it was more than attended the Premier Division game at UCD and is an indication of growing support for manager Shane Keegan’s initiative. Youths, now third in the table, should not really be a match for the big guns of their next visitors, Limerick. But I, for one, aim to go along and see how they do.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle; Brian Nolan, C.J. Browne, Jamie Carr, James Dermody; Aidan Keenan, Shane Dempsey, Shane Nolan (Paul Malone 81), Dean Broaders (Shaun Corocoran (90+1); Tom Elmes (Craig Wall 68), Danny Furlong.
Subs not used: Mark Phelan, James Scallan, Thomas Croke, Cormac O’Brien.
Bookings: Browne (50, S Nolan (78), Malone (83).
Mervue United: Ronan Forde; Barry McEntee, Damien O’Rourke, Stephen Walsh, Kenny Farrell; Pat Hoban, Shane Keogh, Jason Molloy, Gary Kelly (Philip Keegan 46); Etanda Nkololo, Michael Collins (Mark Ludden 73).
Subs not used: Patrick Carrig, Conor O’Malley.
Bookings: Kelly (12), Keogh (35).
Sent Off: Walsh (71).
Referee: Mr Andrew Mulally.