Wexford beat nearest rivals
Peamount United 1 Wexford Youths 2 2
A masterly, controlled Wexford Youths performance proved too good for Peamount United in the Continental Tyres Women's National League in Greenogue on Saturday.
Tom Elmes' side came into the contest one point ahead of their title rivals with a game in hand. That advantage meant a win would have been wonderful but a point wouldn't have been the end of the world either.
Yet, as the season moves towards the midway point, draws aren't really statements. Youths needed another statement victory, to prove to everyone else that the away win against Shelbourne was no anomaly. They got it with two Rianna Jarrett goals.
But they got so much more. Unlike the meeting between the sides in Ferrycarrig Park earlier in the season, where Peamount bossed possession and played the tidier football, it was Wexford who were more comfortable on the ball, the classier footballing team.
It's not since the middle stages of Will Doyle's last season in charge that Youths went toe-to-toe with a real title contender and passed the ball around them with the confidence that should come from being champions.
There's now no doubt that Elmes' side are heading in the right direction. The triangles around the midfield, between defenders, the moving the ball out from the back, it was all impressive.
Everyone is comfortable on the ball again, there are no jitters in possession, and realistically the work these players are putting in is only going to see their improvement continue.
Youths' back four were all outstanding. If Wexford were a little vulnerable down the flanks earlier in the season, that's no longer the case.
Peamount had no answer to their quality. In games gone by the quick ball in to Amber Barrett would have done the trick, but not this time.
Never this time. United looked to isolate their international striker on Orlaith Conlon but she got no joy chasing long through-balls down the channels in the searing summer sun. When Conlon shepherded Barrett out of the way, Lauren Dwyer cleaned up, and their understanding and reading of the game was superb.
Ahead, Kylie Murphy has slotted into a deeper, sitting position to allow Edel Kennedy the chance to be more impactful further forward.
It's an unselfish captain's move that has given the Ferrycarrig Park side a real lease of life in that area of the field.
Maybe the secret of this side's unbeaten start to the season - now at eleven games in all competitions - is the unselfishness of players doing a job to make the team function better. Playing in the wide right position, Claire O'Riordan is another one that is giving the team a better balance with her versatility.
It's also allowing Rianna Jarrett to butcher defences in far and away her strongest spot, right though the middle. The Wexford woman simply can't stop scoring; they are coming in twos and threes and it's fantastic to see.
Jarrett couldn't make telling contact on an Aisling Frawley cross in the fourth minute as Youths started brightly. They continued to probe and the Wexford striker crossed for Edel Kennedy to control and fire across the face of goal in the 17th minute.
Áine O'Gorman flashed wildly off target from distance and it would become a pattern. When Peamount couldn't break Wexford down, they continually resorted to hopeless long-range shots that never troubled Ciamh Dollard in the visitors' goal.
Frawley got to the left byline in the 25th minute but her pull back from a great position couldn't find its target.
Peamount created their only real chance of the half in the 28th minute. O'Gorman played a one-two with Heather Payne on the edge of the box but her shot was hit under pressure and Dollard wasn't unduly troubled.
The Wexford stopper almost presented United with the opening goal when she dropped the football and picked it up moments later. It was after referee Paula Brady told her to 'use the ball', which was hardly necessary when she wasn't looking to gain any advantage by holding it too long. Barrett fired the free-kick wide.
At least when Brady was called on to make a big decision in the 37th minute, she got it correct. Aisling Frawley robbed the ball from Niamh Barnes high up the field and broke in on goal.
She was about to shoot and was tackled to the ground from behind. Jarrett coolly slotted home the resulting penalty.
Eleanor Ryan-Doyle saw a shot easily held by Dollard in the 42nd minute, while Jarrett and Claire O'Riordan missed the target at the other end before the interval. Undoubtedly, Youths would have been the happier at the break.
Things looked to be going against Wexford early in the second-half, Brady managed to talk herself into giving a yellow card to Edel Kennedy, who then had to watch on as the lineswoman denied her a clear corner-kick.
However, in the 52nd minute Becky Cassin's ball over the top was misjudged in the Peamount defence. Rianna Jarrett sauntered onto it and lofted it over the onrushing Niamh Reid-Burke.
Despite the ball coming off her foot perfectly, Jarrett still had to watch nervously as it took a weird little hop towards the post before just brushing the inside of the woodwork and entering the net.
Pot shots from distance from Claire Walsh, Karen Duggan and Ryan-Doyle didn't trouble Dollard as the game moved into the final quarter. Weak efforts at the other end by Jarrett and Kennedy were meat and drink for Reid-Burke.
Then, with the game into the last 20 minutes, Youths started to wilt. Peamount finally managed to get their foot on the ball but they couldn't create a single clearcut chance. They had a few set-pieces but Wexford defended them superbly.
The substitutions that were desperately needed kicked a little life into Wexford in the final ten minutes, and Katrina Parrock in particular did an excellent job of holding up possession on the right-hand side.
When Barrett won Peamount a penalty with three minutes of normal time left it was out of nothing and she was going nowhere across the edge of the box. She converted from the spot herself to set up a tense finish.
O'Gorman had an injury-time header from another set-piece but Dollard was again comfortable, like she was all evening, and Wexford took a fully-deserved three points with them back to the south-east.
Wexford could hardly be in a better position in the table. They now have half of their six games against Peamount and Shelbourne played, and the three they have left are all at Ferrycarrig Park. Of the twelve league games remaining, only five are away and two of those are against Kilkenny.
What they will not want to do is take any game for granted and that starts tomorrow (Tuesday) when they travel to face Kilkenny. Youths are back on home soil on Saturday when they welcome Galway to Ferrycarrig Park (6.30 p.m.).
Wexford Youths: Ciamh Dollard; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Orlaith Conlon, Becky Cassin; Kylie Murphy (capt.), Edel Kennedy; Claire O'Riordan, Orla Casey, Aisling Frawley; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Becky Conroy for Casey (80), Katrina Parrock for Jarrett (83), also Maeve Williams, Amy Walsh, Cliodhna Ní Shé, Aoife Slattery, Rachel Hutchinson.
Peamount United: Niamh Reid-Burke; Lucy McCartan, Niamh Barnes, Claire Walsh, Chloe Moloney; Karen Duggan, Niamh Farrelly; Áine O'Gorman, Eleanor Ryan-Doyle, Heather Payne; Amber Barrett (capt.). Subs. - Megan Smyth-Lynch for Barnes (66), Lauryn O'Callaghan for Ryan-Doyle (80), also Naoise McAloon, Lauren Kealy, Louise Masterson, Jade Reddy, Louise Corrigan.
Referee: Paula Brady (Dublin).