BRAY WANDERERS' Premier Division status is now all but a mathematical certainty despite a disappointing defeat at the hands of Shamrock Rovers on Friday evening.
Lady luck was nowhere to be seen at the Carlisle Grounds against the champions as the woodwork and referee Padraig Sutton conspired against the Seagulls whose safety hopes remain in limbo for another week at least.
Killian Brennan opened the scoring for Rovers in typical Killian Brennan-style after 17 minutes and Ken Oman used his head to double that lead going into the half time break.
Kieran 'Marty' Waters then flirted with disownment from his Hoops-mad family when he pulled a goal back with a neat finish early in the second half but a controversial penalty, which saw Adam Mitchell dismissed, was tucked away by Gary McCabe to kill off Wanderers' faltering hopes of an equaliser.
In recent seasons Pat Devlin's troops have proved something of an Achilles heel to Shamrock Rovers. The Tallaght side had a new face in the dugout though and Brian Laws is expected to lead the champions on a late charge into Europe.
Rovers' previous visit to the Carlisle Grounds this season threw up a scintillating 2-2 draw and Friday's encounter started promisingly with both sides creating chances.
Former Seagulls player of the year McCabe's sixth minute corner was thrusted over by Ken Oman shortly before Kevin O'Connor saw his feeble effort cleared off the line by Killian Brennan.
An Adam Hanlon corner kick then lead to the opener for Rovers. The visitors broke quickly and Mitchell took matters into his own hands as he chopped McCabe down 30 yards from goal, picking up a booking for his troubles. But Killian Brennan inflicted further punishment on the defender as his arrow of a free kick sailed into the top corner of Darren Quigley's net.
Quigley had dived in vain for Brennan's shot but the shot-stopper watched on helplessly as Oman powered home McCabe's left wing corner kick 15 minutes later. This contest was quickly slipping away from the home side.
Twinkle-toes Sean Houston attempted to amend that in the 35th minute and it was a minor miracle that he didn't succeed. He shuffled into the penalty area before teeing up Jason Byrne who forced Oscar Jansson into an impressive save. Houston followed up and smacked the rebound straight off the crossbar. The ball looped up and came back down and bounced on the top of the crossbar and Shams somehow survived.
Jansson was called into action twice more before the break but he proved a worthy opponent on both occasions; first keeping out a Houston volley and then claiming a Byrne header.
Rovers' charmed life at the back continued in the 52nd minute when the woodwork once again came to their rescue. Dane Massey and Dean Zambra worked a short corner kick, with the former eventually whipping it into the mixer. After a scramble, Danny O'Connor managed to poke the ball goalwards only to see it come back off the crossbar and his brother Kevin hoisted the rebound high over Jansson's crossbar.
Danny O'Connor's s Franz Beckenbauer antics continued and resulted in Bray's goal on 56 minutes when he found Waters inside the area and after a quick adjustment of his feet the winger was able to pass the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
However, with Rovers' plethora of attacking options they'll always provide a threat and a corner almost brought another goal for them in the 67th minute but Quigley was well positioned to turn Billy Dennehy's far post effort behind.
Dennehy should have netted on 74 minutes after Danny O'Connor's sloppy pass was cut out by Stephen Rice and the midfielder sent Dennehy racing clear. He failed to get his name on the scoresheet though as his low, well-struck effort crashed back off the foot of the post.
Controversy reigned supreme though when Gary Twigg was one-on-one moments later. Adam Mitchell enjoyed the gentlest of jersey pulls on the Scot, whose heavy touch saw the ball roll through to Quigley. Sutton didn't cast a second glance towards the incident but when he saw the frantic waving of his assistant's flag, he decided to award a penalty and send off Mitchell, who looked just as perplexed as Pat Devlin.
McCabe converted from 12 yards and then just to compound the Seagulls' misery, Pat Devlin was sent to the stands in the dying moments for comments that fell foul of the fourth official.
Top Form: Gary McCabe (Shamrock Rovers).