Danny O’Connor chose the perfect moment to score his first goal of the season as Bray Wanderers boosted their chances of survival with a determined 1-0 victory over ten-man Limerick at the Carlisle Grounds on Sunday afternoon.
The midfielder rose highest to head Kieran Marty Waters’ set-piece into the corner on the stroke of half-time after the hosts had enjoyed the majority of possession in a tight first-period before Samuel Oji was given his marching orders on the hour mark.
It was a decision which infuriated Stuart Taylor, with the Blues boss soon following his defender back to the dressing room on referee Graham Kelly’s orders.
However, Bray ensured they made their numerical advantage count and keep just their fourth clean-sheet of the campaign to collect three precious points in their quest for survival - the Seagulls are now three points ahead of Shelbourne with just two games remaining.
While Limerick can enjoy the last couple of games in the knowledge that their mid-table position is secure, the stakes were evidently high for Pat Devlin’s side as an air of tension hung over the Wicklow venue in the opening exchanges.
Devlin resorted to the experience of Jason Byrne from the outset, one of four changes from the side that comfortably lost to Shamrock Rovers, despite the veteran striker going through a barren run of form on front of goal.
However, it was the pace and directness of Waters which caused the Limerick rearguard trouble as the hosts looked for an early breakthrough to settle the nerves. Kevin O’Connor’s centre from the right just evaded the tricky winger before he was brought down by Oji on the edge of the area, with the hosts adamant the contact happened inside.
It was a half of few clear cut goalscoring opportunities as quality in the final third was few and far between at either end. Byrne squandered a glorious chance on twenty-one minutes, dragging his effort wide from ten yards, after good work by Ismahil Akinade before heading Waters’ free-kick over.
Limerick never really got out of second gear as they struggled to match the energy and determination of their opponents. Nonetheless, they could and probably should have gone ahead, albeit against the run of play.
Firstly, Oji powerfully headed Carel Tiofack’s corner wide before Rory Gaffney blazed over with only Darren Quigley to beat after incisive play by Tiofack down the right flank.
With just seconds remaining on the clock until the break, Stephen Folan recklessly conceded a free-kick after Akinade had pounced on a loose ball. The resulting set-piece was headed home by O’Connor with Shane Cusack in the Limerick goal left helpless.
As the visitors were seemingly re-grouping to mount a comeback after the interval, a careless and clumsy challenge by Oji made Bray’s task that bit easier. David O’Leary’s corner was headed away from under his own bar by Akinade before being clattered by the beefy defender.
In truth, the official had little option but to show the 28-year-old his second yellow card as an uncomfortable afternoon came to a premature end for the English-born enforcer.
Bray searched for the second goal to give themselves some breathing space but were unsurprisingly reluctant to throw bodies forward. Dave Webster did, however, set Byrne through on goal but once again the striker’s lack of confidence was evident as he squandered the chance, not even troubling Cusack.
The home fans were forced to endure a nail-biting last few minutes, during which Dave O’Leary saw his free-kick cannon off the bar, but Limerick could do little to deny Bray their first victory in fifteen games.
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; David Webster, Danny O’Connor, Shane O’Connor, Dean Zambra; Ismahil Akinade, Kevin Maher (Gary Dempsey 85), John Mulroy, Kevin O’Connor, Kieran Marty Waters (Kevin Knight 82); Jason Byrne (Daire Doyle 89).
Subs not used: Eoin Hyland, Kevin O’Leary, Niall Cooney, Shane Redmond.
Booked: Webster (91)
Limerick: Shane Cusack; Patrick Nzuzi (Tony Whitehead 85), Samuel Oji, Stephen Folan, Robbie Williams; Carel Tiofack (Shaun Kelly 73), Joe Gamble, David O’Leary, Jason Hughes, Daragh Rainsford (Barry Sheedy 43); Rory Gaffney.
Subs not used: Barry Ryan, Kieran Hanlon, Colm Murphy, Val Feeney.
Booked: Samuel Oji (33), Stephen Folan (45), Patrick Nzuzi (58)
Sent Off: Samuel Oji (60).
Referee: Graham Kelly
Attendance: 400 (estimate)
Extratime.ie man of the match: Danny O’Connor (Bray Wanderers).