Bray's top flight status more fragile than ever
Limerick FC 2 Bray Wanderers 1
With two thirds of the season elapsed, Bray Wanderers' top flight status looks more fragile than ever following a morale-sapping defeat against relegation rivals Limerick FC.
With rumours abound that payments were not made as scheduled on Friday morning, the Seagulls travelled to Market's Field knowing that a victory would turn their season around but a tame defeat has left them with a mountain range to climb.
In all three meetings with the Shannonsiders, Bray have fallen to defeat with Dave Mackey, Graham Kelly and now Martin Russell all being undone by their fellow strugglers.
The three goals in this clash all flew in within the opening 20 minutes with the defences showing why they have the two worst goal differences in the league.
Wanderers' new signings Sean Harding and Craig Walsh maintained their places in the starting XI in their first game since the mid-season break but some players appeared to still be on holiday when Limerick struck first blood after 10 minutes.
Barry Maguire flicked the ball through into the path of Cian Coleman and he was able to slot a low shot into the bottom corner to give the hosts a vital lead.
Bray could have few complaints about the score but they drew level in a flash and against the run of play.
Sean Harding floated a long ball forward and Ronan Coughlan raced onto it.
He had the vision to spot Brendan Clarke off his line and the ability to execute the lob too as he restored parity. Clarke would quit Limerick the following day allegedly due to financial troubles at the club.
Three minutes was how long the visitors were level for. Frontman Connor Ellis held it up and put the ball into a dangerous area. Barry Maguire and Sean Heaney both contested it and the ball deflected in off one of them - Maguire claimed it and Heaney will be happy to let him have it.
In a lively opening to the match, there were a handful of other opportunities alongside the three goals. Cian Coleman saw his strike from the edge of the area claimed by Evan Moran, Karl O'Sullivan had two bites at the cherry - blocked initially before screwing the rebound wide, before Coleman latched onto a Billy Dennehy cross but his header was clawed around the post by Moran.
At the other end, Daniel Kelly showed off his pace again down the right flank but McCabe fired the cutback over from 20 yards.
With Bray trailing 2-1, there was a lot of head-scratching when Gary McCabe's number flashed up on the fourth official's board after 27 minutes to be replaced by Conor Kenna. He didn't appear to be injured and definitely didn't appear to be happy as he aired his views to Martin Russell but an alleged - and unspotted - off the ball elbow is believed to be the reason that Russell called the attacking midfielder ashore.
Despite the absence of their main lock-picker, Wanderers still created chances. A Kevin Lynch free in the 35th minute bounced around and fell to Craig Walsh but he failed to hit the target and spurned a wonderful chance.
Russell threw on Ger Pender for Jake Kelly at the interval. Pender was probably relishing the chance to get stuck in having witnessed a very lively first half but the second period - as with many movies - failed to live up to its predecessor.
There could have been a dramatic finish though and a sting in the tail for Limerick courtesy of Pender. He sniffed a goal chance in the 89th minute and from eight yards out he looked certain to bury the equaliser but he was denied by Clarke whose save - on his last game for Limerick - secured a behemoth three points and possibly even the Munster club's Premier Division status.
There are still 36 points to fight for between now and the end of the season and Wanderers have the sides in seventh and eighth next on their fixture list so four points must be an absolute minimum expectation for Russell's side if they are to have any hope of securing their top flight status on the pitch.
Limerick: 26. Brendan Clarke; 2. Shaun Kelly, 7. Eoin Wearen, 3. Killian Cantwell, 20. Billy Dennehy; 6. Cian Coleman, 77. Barry Maguire; 22. Karl O'Sullivan, 8. Shane Duggan, 16. William Fitzgerald; 10. Connor Ellis. Subs: Tony Whitehead for O'Sullivan (56); Danny Morrissey for Ellis (66); Shane Tracy for Maguire (79). Not used: Tommy Holland, Ger Barry, Colm Walsh O'Loughlen, Adam Foley.
Bray Wanderers: 29. Evan Moran; 31. Sean Harding, 14. Rhys Gorman, 5. Sean Heaney, 3. Kevin Lynch; 32. Craig Walsh, 6. Paul O'Conor; 17. Daniel Kelly, 21. Gary McCabe, 11. Jake Kelly; 19. Ronan Coughlan. Subs: Conor Kenna for McCabe (26); Ger Pender for J. Kelly (H/T). Not used: Mark O'Connor, Alex Rafferty, Byron O'Gorman, Calvin Rogers, Jake Ellis.
Referee: Ray Matthews.