Wanderers hammer Wexford
SSE Airtricity First Division: Wexford FC 1 Bray Wanderers 5
It goes without saying that there's never a good time to concede five goals at home, but Wexford F.C. chose a particularly inopportune moment to do just that as their miserable third season was marked by another low before 262 supporters in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday.
With a long trip to Derry at the weekend to face Premier Division opposition in the FAI Cup, it would have been nice to approach that game in high spirits after a positive performance.
Alas, the opposite is the case, because a truly awful display saw Wexford slump and sustain a heavy defeat to the side they had overcome on a 2-0 scoreline when they last visited the venue on March 22.
It was hard to credit how the losers could produce such a flat display seven days ahead of what should be looked upon as a chance to sample a big-match atmosphere against strong opposition.
This was their first game on home soil since July 12 after successive journeys to Cobh and Drumcondra, so they should have been eager to give the long-suffering members of their small fan base something to cheer about.
And having finished second-last in their first two seasons, there ought to be a strong determination to avoid the bottom with just four league matches now left at this stage.
That certainly wasn't evident in this clash, though, as Wanderers took the lead in the fifth minute and proceeded to cruise to the easiest of victories.
Wexford showed five changes from the visit to Tolka Park, with Corey Chambers, Darragh O'Connor, Lee Costello, Seán Roche and Emmet Nugent coming in for Jason McGuire, Conor Sutton, Darryl Walsh, Daibhid Corish and Conor English respectively.
The sole two corners of the opening half were won at an early stage by Bray and didn't amount to anything, but the visitors were gifted their first goal on their next attack.
Defender Luke Nolan lofted a long cross towards the far post, and Dean Williams was needlessly pushed in the back by Ricky Fox for a cast-iron penalty.
Captain Paul Keegan stepped up to dispatch the spot-kick low to Chambers' right, and Bray were on their way.
Danny Furlong did force Gabriel Sava into a save before Seán Roche lost possession in a dangerous area at the other end, leading to a Derek Daly cross and a turn and shot by Williams that Chambers had to deal with.
The second Wanderers goal in the 17th minute was simple in its execution, but the Wexford defence really should have done better.
Winger Jake Ellis delivered a cross from the right, with the ball headed down by Brandon McCann into the path of Dean Williams who took his chance with aplomb.
The striker certainly seems to enjoy playing against Wexford, having also scored against them in the Athlone Town colours on the first night of the 2019 season.
The response from the home side to that latest setback was non-existent, and it was no surprise to see Bray effectively wrapping up the points as early as the 25th minute with goal number three.
And it was a truly spectacular effort, one of the best finishes seen at the ground in a long time, and the perfect way for John Martin to announce himself to the Bray faithful after his recent arrival on loan from Premier Division Waterford.
Danny Furlong gave the ball away in the centre circle and seemed to admonish himself rather than trying to retrieve it. Martin was just inside the opposition half and looked up to spot Corey Chambers off his line, but his shot still had to be delivered with dead-eye accuracy to beat the netminder from that range.
He couldn't have hit it any sweeter, and even the Wexford fans had to admire the audacity of a sublime finish that underlined the player's obvious quality.
Lee Costello was booked for holding Dean Williams as he tried to latch on to a long ball, while Seán Heaney made a superb saving tackle as Danny Furlong and Thomas Croke attempted to link up at the other end.
Brandon McCann of Bray was next to enter the notebook for a foul on Shane Griffin, and the half ended with a flurry of goals, one at either end.
Wexford's was of the comical variety, arriving in the 44th minute in the form of an unexpected gift from Bray's best player.
Paul Keegan was put under unnecessary pressure, to be fair, when Gabriel Sava played the ball to him, and he scuffed his return pass into the air towards the netminder who waited for the bounce near the edge of his box.
That was enough for Danny Furlong to nip in and get the slightest of touches to roll it towards a gaping net, bringing his tally for the season to nine overall, including four in the last three games.
The improved mood of home fans only lasted until 26 seconds into added time, and the failure of the team to keep their goal intact before the interval summed up the abject nature of this performance.
John Martin was the provider on this occasion, passing to Dylan McGlade whose low shot from outside the box nestled in the left corner of Corey Chambers' net.
For the record, it was the 50th goal conceded by Wexford this season, with the 4-1 interval deficit a more than adequate reflection of their unacceptable performance.
Seven nights earlier, the third quarter showing away to Shelbourne had been very bright, as Danny Furlong scored twice to eat into a 3-0 deficit, while Thomas Croke and Shane Griffin also forced the goalkeeper into good saves.
In contrast here, the second-half was a pretty pedestrian affair as one would expect in the circumstances, with Croke firing over early on before Seán Roche robbed Derek Daly but pulled his shot to the left and wide in the 59th minute.
The experienced Philip Gannon was introduced for Bray to replace Brandon McCann, and it certainly bore the hallmark of an inspired change from manager Gary Cronin as he scored with his first touch after 68 seconds.
The move started down the left flank and featured Dylan McGlade and Martin, with the latter finding the new arrival in space just outside the box.
Gannon had time to take a touch and then pick his spot with a composed finish, putting Bray into a 5-1 lead after 65 minutes.
And that's how it stayed, although one got the distinct impression that Wanderers could have pushed on for more if they really desired.
While Paul Keegan had a negative part to play in that sole Wexford goal, that didn't detract from the quality of his overall performance directly in front of his back four.
The veteran's willingness to work, in particular his constant closing down of opponents, was something the losers would do well to learn from, and it's no surprise that part of his long club career was spent cross-channel.
The only thing Wexford 'won' was the second-half corner count which was 2-0 in their favour, but neither bore any fruit before full-back Ricky Fox sent a shot from distance to the left and wide.
A triple substitution on the 73-minute mark saw Conor English, John Peare and Danny Doyle enter the fray, and it was followed soon after by a pretty regular occurrence at this stage, with Thomas Croke booked once more for a late challenge on Seán Heaney.
A Bray penalty appeal for an Andrew O'Connor tackle on Dean Williams was turned down in the 78th minute, while centre-half Darragh O'Connor later cleared a John Martin header off the line.
The only time Gabriel Sava had to look busy was 20 seconds from the end of normal time when he had to deal with a free-kick after Paul Keegan was booked for handball from a Shane Griffin shot.
The latter stepped up to the set-piece and his low shot beat the wall, but Sava had his body behind it and made a solid save.
On all known form, Wexford will be lambs to the slaughter when they line out in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium versus Derry City in the FAI Cup on Friday at 7.45 p.m.
After that, the fourth-last league tie will be away to Drogheda United on August 16, followed by Longford Town at home (August 30), Limerick away (September 13), and finally Cabinteely at home (September 21).
Given that the Drogs, the Town and Cabo all have their eyes on the play-offs, it's nigh on impossible to see how Wexford can bridge the five-point gap to Athlone Town and Galway United who are both on 16 at present.
Wexford F.C.: Corey Chambers; Ricky Fox, Darragh O'Connor, Lee Costello, Andrew O'Connor; Paddy Cahill (capt.), Shane Griffin; Seán Roche, Thomas Croke, Emmet Nugent; Danny Furlong. Subs. - Conor English for Furlong (73), John Peare for Fox (73), Danny Doyle for Nugent (73), also Jason McGuire, Daibhid Corish, Darryl Walsh, Stephen Lawless.
Bray Wanderers: Gabriel Sava; Luke Nolan, Killian Cantwell, Seán Heaney, Derek Daly; Paul Keegan (capt.), Brandon McCann; Jake Ellis, John Martin, Dylan McGlade; Dean Williams. Subs. - Philip Gannon for McCann (64), Hugh Douglas for Nolan (70), Darragh Gibbons for Daly (77), also Adam Hayden, Luka Lovic, Dylan Thornton.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork)