Poor year ends on low note
SSE Airtricity First Division Series 28: Longford Town 1 Wexford FC 0
The last game of an SSE Airtricity First Division season to forget for Wexford F.C. in City Calling Stadium on Saturday was a microcosm of what had gone before it.
Home side Longford Town were the dominant outfit from the off and deservedly won thanks to the sole goal of the game from striker David O'Sullivan in the 34th minute, but in reality the visitors were fortunate not to have been further behind at the finish.
They travelled to the Strokestown Road venue with a threadbare squad of 14, with plenty of room on the bench for reserve netminder Adam Dempsey to share with Thomas Croke and Dean George who both made appearances in the second-half.
Well-travelled Longford manager Neale Fenn opted for an adventurous 3-4-3 line-up, while Wexford's Ross Kenny was absent for only the second league game of the season owing to suspension.
Team captain Craig McCabe moved from right-back to left centre-half as a result, with Blackwater's Conor Sutton starting in the back four.
And the right flank was manned by Danny Doyle whose first senior goal was unfortunately chalked off the record after sub-standard administration resulted in the club being docked their hard-earned point from the 1-1 draw with Shelbourne in the final home game of the season.
Young Colum Feeney was inadvertently fielded as an ineligible player between the posts in that outing, with the FAI ruling that the Dubs should be awarded a 3-0 win as a result.
Thankfully this avoidable mess didn't impact on Wexford's final league placing, as they still finished two points rather than three above shambolic bottom side Athlone Town in a less than flattering seventh position.
The next team above them, Cabinteely, ended up with double their points total after a campaign which saw Wexford finish with a paltry 16 official goals from 28 outings.
Unfortunately the facts don't lie, with the team managing a mere four wins from 31 competitive outings since late February across four separate competitions.
That poor league form was matched by three first round cup exits, meaning that scraps of comfort were few and far between for everyone bar the most optimistic of onlookers and the management team.
Wexford did have the first half-chance on Saturday following a rare Longford error, with Aaron Dobbs shooting to the left and wide after a mere 28 seconds.
However, once the locals settled into a pattern they were clearly the better side, with Kaleem Simon posing a lot of problems down the left flank. He may not have made the grade at Premier Division level earlier in the season with Bohemians, but he is clearly very much at home in this type of company after returning to the midlands club.
It took almost twelve minutes before Longford created an opening, with Sam Verdon heading over from an Alan Kehoe left-wing cross.
Danny Bolger moved swiftly off his line to cut out Aodh Dervin's through ball intended for striker David O'Sullivan, but he was almost caught in no man's land in the 15th minute.
Longford worked the ball cleverly from right to left as O'Sullivan and Simon combined to pick out Verdon who rounded the advancing netminder, but the angle was too tight and his shot went wide at the near post.
The first of the home side's three opening half corners was then hooked clear by Aaron Dobbs, while Bolger again darted off his line to ensure Peter Hopkins didn't pick out Aodh Dervin.
Daniel O'Reilly found Kaleem Simon down the left in the 23rd minute, and he cut inside before testing Bolger with a shot that was saved with his feet.
There was a brief break from the pressure for Wexford when Dobbs was fouled on the left, with Mark Slater's free-kick caught in commanding style by Longford goalkeeper Jack Brady.
The only goal arrived in the 34th minute after Kaleem Simon delivered a cross to the far post and Seán Hurley knocked it out for a corner.
Simon played it short to Karl Chambers and, with Wexford slow to shut down the space in front of him, he crossed for an unmarked David O'Sullivan to head home a goal that didn't show the back four in a positive light.
Longford looked to hammer home their advantage as Chambers found O'Sullivan whose shot was saved by Bolger at the expense of another corner, but this time the striker headed over from the former's delivery.
Sam Verdon also drilled a long-range shot over the bar, while it took a timely block in the box by Seán Hurley to deny Peter Hopkins in the 41st minute.
More trouble followed when a Conor Sutton pass was intercepted by Verdon who raced into the area, but he tried to be too clever and his back-heel was claimed by Danny Bolger.
Mikey Byrne was booked in added time, losing the ball and then fouling Kaleem Simon as he burst forward on a breakaway. Simon's free-kick flew into the air off the boot of Owen McCormack, with Daniel O'Reilly heading over for the home side in the last action of a generally one-sided half.
Both teams were off target from snapshots on the re-start, with Karl Chambers firing across Bolger's goalmouth before an Aaron Dobbs effort went to the left and wide at the other end.
Another quick advance by Bolger prevented David O'Sullivan from getting on the end of a Kaleem Simon through ball, while the first of two Wexford corners was won by Danny Doyle in the 56th minute. Dean Kelly played it short to Shane Dunne whose cross was cleared.
A foul by Conor Sutton on the left edge of the box close to the byline put pressure on Wexford, but Seán Hurley got the ball away to safety.
Simon continued to probe for the home side, and it took a well-timed tackle by Craig McCabe to curb the menacing O'Sullivan in the 67th minute.
The next Longford attack almost yielded a second goal, with captain Dean Zambra and Sam Verdon combining to pick out substitute Cian Byrne.
His lofted shot was aimed for the far top corner but Bolger got a vital hand to it, with a free conceded by the attacking team before Simon availed of the breaking ball.
A second Wexford corner arose after a poor Longford back pass, but Mark Slater's effort from the left was cleared and Craig McCabe sustained an injury in the process which thankfully wasn't game-ending.
Slater saw the sting taken out of a free-kick when it was deflected and then claimed by goalkeeper Jack Brady who was fouled, and that was the last time Wexford managed to get the ball anywhere near the Longford goal in a threatening capacity.
David O'Sullivan cut in from the left to a central position in the 79th minute but blasted his shot high and wide, while he then squared the ball from an Alan Kehoe cross to Kaleem Simon whose attempt on goal was blocked.
Strong runs from Simon then led to yellow cards in quick succession for centre-halves McCabe and McCormack, with Daniel O'Reilly's low free-kick well saved by Danny Bolger after the first incident.
Simon beat Thomas Croke and Conor Sutton down the left flank with some super skill before crossing for O'Sullivan who couldn't control the ball, while Bolger saved a near-post volley from the striker after a Karl Chambers cross.
Cian Byrne headed wide at the far post from an O'Sullivan delivery, with Sutton making a good tackle in the box on Longford's scorer before referee David Dunne sounded the final whistle on a season to forget.
The services of the youthful pairing of manager Damian Locke and his assistant, Carl Grehan, have been retained by the club for 2018 despite the poor results, and the onus is on them now to bring about a vast improvement before the team returns to the pitch next year.
They will have to plan without the services of Shane Dunne though, as the midfielder announced after Saturday's defeat that he is leaving the club.
Given the nature of the game at this level, one can rest assured that the changes in personnel will be plentiful before the next First Division campaign comes around early next year.
Wexford F.C.: Danny Bolger; Conor Sutton, Owen McCormack, Craig McCabe (capt.), Seán Hurley; Mikey Byrne; Danny Doyle, Dean Kelly, Shane Dunne, Mark Slater; Aaron Dobbs. Subs. - Thomas Croke for Kelly (62), Dean George for Doyle (75), also Adam Dempsey.
Longford Town: Jack Brady; Daniel O'Reilly, Tristan Noack-Hofmann, Alan Kehoe; Karl Chambers, Aodh Dervin, Dean Zambra (capt.), Sam Verdon; Peter Hopkins, David O'Sullivan, Kaleem Simon. Subs. - Cian Byrne for Hopkins (67), also Paul Skinner, Aidan Friel, Kealan Dillon, Jake Kelly, Rhys Gorman.
Referee: David Dunne (Dublin).
New Ross Standard