Sunday 19 November 2017

Bray edge Longford in playoff thriller to retain top-flight status

Bray Wanderers players, from left, Kevin Maher, Jason Byrne and Gary Dempsey celebrate in the dressing room after the game
Bray Wanderers players, from left, Kevin Maher, Jason Byrne and Gary Dempsey celebrate in the dressing room after the game

Garry Doyle

Kevin O’Connor was the Bray Wanderers’ matchwinner on a night when the Wicklow side preserved their Premier Division status for a tenth successive season.

Seemingly in trouble – after Longford had levelled the tie for a third time in four days – O’Connor’s late strike proved to be the game’s decisive moment. And so, Bray survive, deservedly so on the evidence of the two legs, even if there was a touch of controversy about the winner.

There was no doubt about the quality, though. O’Connor, from 30 yards, fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner of Chris Bennion’s net when just four minutes remained on the clock.

While Longford complained about the fact referee, Derek Tomney, had not blown for a foul on Keith Quinn just seconds earlier, no one can dispute the fact that on the night, it was the Bray players who delivered the big performances, none more so than Gary Dempsey, who followed up his man of the match display in Monday’s first-leg with yet another superb show.

Opening the scoring in the third minute, with a dipping, thunderous 25-yard-volley that left Town keeper Bennion a frustrated onlooker, Dempsey went on to dictate events from the middle of the park.

And with Kieran Marty Waters preoccupied by his personal dual with Longford’s best player, Noel Haverty, Dempsey’s influence was a crucial factor in deciding how this game unfolded.

That Longford’s best player was their goalkeeper tells its own story. Only for Bennion, the Midlanders would have been dead and buried by half time but two saves from Dave Webster and further ones from Kevin O’Connor and Waters kept them within reach.

At the other end, a couple of openings came Longford’s way – but David O’Sullivan and Gary Shaw failed to convert them. 

Aware his team were in the middle of a mini-crisis, Tony Cousins, Longford’s manager, was relieved to have the chance to re-organise his men at half-time.

And what followed was remarkable, a complete turnaround in attitude and performance by the hosts who came close to an equaliser in the 52nd minute – Haverty missing that opportunity – before they did get back on level terms five minutes later, Daniel Purdy scoring.

Yet, from Bray’s perspective, it was a goal they should have prevented, especially as Purdy’s initial cross from the right was troubling no one until Daire Doyle headed the ball straight to O’Brien, whose cross was met by Purdy’s low, accurate shot.

Once again, the pendulum had switched and within 10 minutes, it shifted again, Waters firing in a superb low strike on 73 minutes which seemingly had settled the argument.

But it was not to be. Within five minutes, Longford were level again, Purdy scoring again with a brilliant half-volley. While that goal impressed, O’Connor’s trumped it, before a player from each side, Haverty and Shane O’Connor were sent off in injury time.

Teams: Longford Town: Bennion; Haverty, Deans, Gorman, Quinn; O’Brien (O’Hanlon 62), Connolly, Doyle (Tyrell 64 ), Purdy; O’Sullivan, Shaw (O’Neill 84)

Bray Wanderers:Quigley; Doyle, Webster, S O’Connor, Earley; Dempsey, K O’Connor, Maher (Mulroy 72), Waters; Akinade; Byrne (Mitchell 90)

Referee: D Tomney (Dublin)

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