Dave Donnelly reports from Richmond Park
St Patrick's Athletic may taken their place in the Europa League but Waterford landed a decisive blow in the hunt for Europe next season with a clinical 3-0 win at Richmond Park on Friday night.
The Blues moved within three points of fifth-placed St Patrick’s Athletic with three second-half goals courtesy of Ishamhil Akinade, Zack Elbouzedi and Aaron Drinan.
Substitute Akinade broke the deadlock within three minutes of his second-half introduction before Ireland under-21 pair Elbouzedi and Drinan completed the rout.
Blues goalkeeper Matthew Connor made a string of outstanding saves as Pats looked to find a route back in but, despite their chances, the home side could have no complaints about the result.
Waterford were second-best for the majority of the opening hour’s play but a double substitution to introduce Lithuanian international Karolis Chvedukas turned the tie on its head.
The pair linked up in what was arguably the first passage of fluid attacking football from the visitors, Chvedukas backheeling into Akinade’s path and the striker did the rest with a fine low finish.
The Athletic dominated the opening half-hour without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances, though Waterford did have Connor to thank for one terrific stop.
Jamie Lennon floated a lovely ball across the box for Ian Bermingham, who met the ball on the volley, but his shot to the bottom corner was well-saved with his feet by Connor.
Waterford’s best chance of the half came against the run of play when Drinan was slipped in one-on-one but, with just Brendan Clarke to beat, he dragged his shot poorly past the post.
Alan Reynolds’ side enjoyed a purple patch towards the end of the half, and the outstanding Jamie Lennon threw himself bodily in the way of a furious Shane Duggan strike to keep the scores level.
The second half proceeded much the same as the first, with Pats having most of the ball but struggling to find space with the tireless Mikey Drennan isolated up front.
Harry Kenny brought on Gary Shaw for Forrester in an attempt to press home their advantage, and the striker showed a glimpse of why when he glanced Simon Madden’s cross past the post.
Reynolds had an ace of his own in the pocket and he brought on Chvedukas for the ineffective John Martin and bravely introduced Akinade when full-back Aaron Simpson was forced off.
His decision bore fruit within three minutes as Ciaran Kelly dived in on Chvedukas and his classy touch created the space for Akinade to leave Brendan Clarke with no chance from 20 yards.
The travelling support were in fine voice throughout, and they regaled the home side with chants of ‘you can stick your f***ing Europe up your arse.’
They had more reason to celebrate six minutes later as Cory Galvin, who had seen his shot drift narrowly wide moments earlier, played a through ball for Elbouzedi.
The classy winger, who had been tentative on a couple of occasions earlier on, had the vision to slow down, steady himself and curl a shot into the bottom corner past a helpless Clarke.
The Saints had to open up and that created space for Waterford on the counter, and Drinan drove wide once more after Conor Clifford was caught in possession by Shane Duggan.
A mistake from Damien Delaney, leaving a lofted ball for Connor, gave Drennan a chance to pull one back, but his shot was blocked, and Rory Feely turned the loose ball onto his own post.
James Doona and Jake Walker were introduced as the Saints went for broke and both were heavily involved in the deluge that followed, Doona pulling a shot wide before another was bravely blocked.
David Webster thought he’d scored against his former club but Connor again saved brilliantly, and Waterford moved the ball quickly up the pitch to Drinan, who finished emphatically across Clarke.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Dave Webster, Ciaran Kelly, Lee Desmond; Simon Madden, Jamie Lennon, Conor Clifford, Darragh Markey (James Doona 71), Ian Bermingham (Jake Walker 80); Chris Forrester (Gary Shaw 61), Mikey Drennan.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (gk), Paul Cleary, Kevin Toner, Cian Coleman.
Booked: Ciaran Kelly (12).
Waterford: Matthew Connor; Aaron Simpson (Ismahil Akinade 60), Rory Feely, Damien Delaney, Georgie Poynton; Cory Galvin (Scott Twine 89), JJ Lunney, Shane Duggan, Zack Elbouzedi; John Martin (Karolis Chvedukas 57), Aaron Drinan.
Subs not used: Hugo Keto (gk), Maxi Kouogun, Shane Griffin, Daryl Walsh.
Booked: Georgie Poynton (25).
Referee: Ray Matthews.
Attendance: 1,397 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Matthew Connor (Waterford).