Christy Fagan 3' -
An early Christy Fagan strike proved vital in handing St Patrick’s Athletic a slender one-nil victory over a dogged Galway United side at Richmond Park on Friday evening.
Both sides came into the contest on the back of impressive results. The Saints edged closer to a second successive EA Sports Cup title, defeating Shamrock Rovers 3-1 in what was a captivating semi-final performance.
Galway, on the other hand, defeated Dundalk 1-0 handing the current Premier Division champions only their fourth league defeat of the season and first since the beginning of June.
Liam Buckley made four changes to the side that overcame Rovers on Monday night with Brendan Clarke returning to the nets for the Saints while Sean Hoare, Ger O’Brien and Conan Byrne replaced the injured trio of Darren Dennehy, Mark Timlin and Sam Verdon.
Buckley also handed on-loan Everton winger Steven Kinsella his first league start following a sturdy performance in the league cup victory.
United boss Tommy Dunne rather expectedly named an identical starting XI to the side that defeated Dundalk the week previous.
The Saints began the game with a flourish and within three minutes brought the game its opening goal. Kinsella played a beautiful precision pass into the feet of Fagan who took a touch to settle the ball before firing it low into the corner from the edge of the area for his seventh goal of the season and first in the league since April.
Pat’s continued to dominate the opening ten minutes with Hoare, Lee Desmond and Conan Byrne all coming close as Galway were left shell-shocked at the Saints’ speedy start.
The Tribesmen began to find their feet as the half grew on, however, with Hoare pulling off a fantastically timed tackle at the edge of the area to deny Gary Shanahan a clear path on goal before Ryan Connolly embarked on a bursting run from the middle and shooting just over the mark from 25 yards in what was a decent piece of play from United’s captain.
On 25 minutes, Galway were within inches of pulling the game back to level terms. Connolly sent a wicked corner ball into the danger zone where Vinny Faherty met the ball with a glancing header, forcing Clarke into a brilliant reflex save to push it off the line.
Ten minutes later, Connolly ensured Clarke continued to be kept on his toes when his free-kick from thirty-yards was bent towards the top left corner, catching most by surprise as it was the perfect position to float a ball towards a box ripe full of United attackers. Clarke was quick to run across his line and palm it into his arms to save the shrewd effort.
Jamie McGrath then came close on 37 minutes with a low drive from beyond the D but it was his glorious opportunity a minute later that should have really put the Saints two to the good.
Desmond skimmed a whizzing ball across the field into McGrath’s path. He then took a deft touch to bring the ball past Stephen Folan and into a one-on-one situation with Conor Winn, however, McGrath’s effort to bend it into the bottom corner was poor as it lacked any real venom, allowing the Galway net-minder to easily dive low and pull the ball into his grasp.
Before the half was out there was time for one more Galway chance when Connolly clipped a delightful ball towards Kevin Devaney who rather acrobatically shot on the turn, however, Clarke was on hand to make a confident stop and guarantee that the Saints took the narrow lead into the break.
The opening opportunity of the second period arrived 3 minutes into the restart. Again, Connolly was the man whipping the ball towards the box and again, it was Faherty who met it with his head. The headed effort seemed audacious at first as Faherty was placed just on the line of the box but it looped in the air and landed on the roof of the net, only slightly evading the crossbar.
Four minutes after the hour mark, Alex Byrne slipped a neat ball across the D for Paul Sinnott to strike first time. Although it certainly didn’t lack pace, it lacked direction and Clarke was able to make the solid stop without truly being tested.
Minutes later Sinnott came close with a header before a Connolly snapshot brushed the post on its way wide as Galway continued to drive for a leveler.
As the minutes ticked on, however, that drive seemed to soften and the Saints were allowed to enjoy a decent spell of possession throughout the best part of the half.
With the 90th minute fast approaching the game began to rediscover its spark. On 88 minutes Barker was unlucky to see his shot fall wide of the post following some good work by substitute Dinny Corcoran.
Up the other end, Faherty thought he was in on goal following a rampant run towards the box; however, Hoare came from seemingly nowhere to slide in and lift the ball away from Faherty’s feet.
Dunne’s side continued to pump long ball after long ball deep into the Pat’s half, however, the Saints backline stood firm to seal the hard-earned three points.
The Saints now move level on points with sixth place Galway, separated only by The Tribesmen’s superior goal difference.
Buckley’s boys travel to the City Calling Stadium on Monday night to take on Longford Town in their next fixture while Galway welcome Bray Wanderers to Eamonn Deacy Park next week.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke, Ger O’Brien, Rory Feely, Sean Hoare, Ian Bermingham, Michael Barker, Lee Desmond, Conan Byrne (Graham Kelly 62), Steven Kinsella (Darragh Markey), Jamie McGrath, Christy Fagan (Dinny Corcoran 80)
Subs not used: Conor O’Malley, Ciaran Kelly, Shane McEleney, Jack Bayly
Bookings: Sean Hoare, 88
Sent Off: None.
Galway United: Conor Winn, Colm Horgan, Armin Aganovic, Stephen Folan, Stephen Walsh, Gary Shanahan, Alex Byrne (Enda Curran 66), Paul Sinnott, Kevin Devaney (Marc Ludden 70), Ryan Connolly, Vinny Faherty
Subs not used: Sam Eamsbottom, Killian Cantwell, José Garcia, Andrew Connolly, Conor Melody,
Bookings: Kevin Devaney, 70
Sent Off: None.
Referee: Ray Matthews (Longford)
Attendance: 750 (estimate)
Extratime Man of the Match: Ryan Connolly (Galway United)