THE WEXFORD Youths League are revelling under their new management as they maintained their one hundred per cent record in clinching a quarter-final spot with this resounding victory over the Wicklow League in their final FAI Inter-League group game played in Bunclody on Saturday afternoon last.
WEXFORD YOUTHS LEAGUE 4 WICKLOW LEAGUE 1
The impact of new manager Michael Larkin, his son Gareth as coach, along with Darren Browne, has seen the side emerge as serious title contenders, but there's no doubt that more daunting tasks lay ahead as they now enter the knockout stages of the competition.
Midfield and their front players have been the mainstay of the team, although their back four looks somewhat suspect, never seeming comfortable when defending. Indeed, their poor quality ball from the back had their side under pressure during the opening 20 minutes. And while they improved considerably in the secondhalf, it's an area which will get a lot of attention from the management team over the coming weeks as they look ahead to the quarter-finals.
For Wicklow it was a must-win game as they had only one point going into this clash. They opened impressively with a couple of very good attempts on goal before they deservedly took a 24th-minute lead. Unfortunately for them they were unable to build on this as they were eventually over-run in midfield as the home side took control, snatching a levelling goal before the break.
Wicklow teased and tormented the Wexford back four through the opening exchanges, with Jack Watson forcing a fine save out of 'keeper Dylan Cloke inside 30 seconds of the start. A lot of football was played in midfield through the following minutes before Dale Flynn headed over a Mikey Rowe cross from in front of goal. Seven minutes in, Killian Dove was presented with a good chance for the home side but somehow over-ran the ball at his feet, leaving the visitors to hack it away to safety.
Wicklow were still securing lots of possession, looking quite comfortable on the ball, before they had a twelfth-minute goal ruled out for offside after Jack Watson's free kick was powerfully headed home by Ryan Murray. The Garden county boys continued to build some good moves as Darren Dempsey got on the end of some quick inter-passing out of defence through midfield, only to see his shot go narrowly wide from an acute angle.
Wicklow, not surprisingly, eventually broke the deadlock after 24 minutes. Ryan Murray played a delightful ball through to Darren Dempsey, who showed great composure in controlling it before shooting across 'keeper Cloke into the opposite corner of the net, making it 1-0 to the visitors.
Undaunted by this setback, Wexford Youths League now stepped up the tempo of their game, getting back level with a 33rd-minute close-range strike from Mikey Rowe, sending the sides in 1-1 at the interval.
With a lot of pressure now taken off the Wexford boys, they went on to control the secondhalf, establishing a 63rd-minute lead when Seán Ryan pounced on a breaking ball inside the area to find the corner of the net. Rowe went on to complete his hat-trick with two goals in the closing 20 minutes.
His second, and the side's third, came in the 72nd minute with a fine left-footed effort from the edge of the area, while two minutes later he availed of slip by Wicklow 'keeper Thomas Sullivan to tuck the ball away from close in. While Wicklow battled to the end, they never looked like adding to their first-half tally as they were over-run in midfield, with their front players seeing little quality ball as a result.