Fagan edges Saints one step closer to title glory
BRAY WndS 1 ST PAT'S ATH 3
ST PATRICK's Athletic completed step one of their five-point plan to claim the league title last night, but their visit to the Carlisle Grounds showed them that their road to glory is full of potential landmines.
The wind, rain and Bray Wanderers' stubborn resistance threatened to hold up Liam Buckley's title train as the league leaders needed a heroic 90th-minute save from goalkeeper Brendan Clarke to keep them ahead before Chris Fagan finally put the game to bed deep in injury-time.
Moving this kick-off forward by 24 hours for television reasons handed the league leaders an opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of their rivals' games tonight and they deservedly took it, moving six points clear of Dundalk and eight ahead of Sligo.
Their next step comes against UCD next Friday, followed by Sligo and Derry City at home before a potential coronation against Cork in Turner's Cross.
The Seagulls, meanwhile, continue to occupy the relegation play-off spot and they are in for a stressful time tonight with Bohemians, Shelbourne and UCD all looking to take advantage of their failure to win for the 13th game in a row.
Bray set up to cancel the Saints out with their midfield three going man-to-man and for 37 minutes it was desperate stuff, enlightened only by Killian Brennan going close from a free kick.
The St Pat's contingent at the Carlisle Grounds were growing increasingly restless as their side's frustration showed in a series of misplaced passes.
They were all released from their slow torture as half-time loomed when Brennan's corner came back to him from Ishmahil Akinade and his deflected second effort found John Russell at the back post. The Galway man failed to control the inch-perfect ball, but his blushes were spared by Anto Flood who took a touch and swept the ball home.
The goal lifted the players as well as the fans and Russell found himself in an almost identical position moments later, but he directed his header wide from Conan Byrne's cross.
Any sense of security was shattered moments later when arch-predator Jason Byrne emerged from nowhere at the other end to flash the ball over the bar after Dave Webster had won Kieran Marty Waters' cross, but it was the Saints who finished the half on a high as Flood curled the ball inches over after strong work from Daryl Kavanagh.
Whatever Buckley said to his troops at half-time, his side seemed keen to put this one to bed early and Russell drew a good save from Darren Quigley who recovered the rebound before Kavanagh could finish.
The Bray stopper then did brilliantly to turn another Flood effort around the post, before he denied the striker at close range after a fine Brennan pass.
Pat Devlin's side weathered the early storm as the conditions turned nasty and the play, again, grew increasingly scrappy until the visitors gave themselves some breathing space with 23 minutes remaining as the impressive Flood back-heeled the ball into the onrushing Ian Bermingham's path and the left-back dinked a cross on to the head of Russell who made it two.
Quigley denied substitute Fagan a chance to add to the lead, before Akinade pulled one back for Bray by latching on to Kevin Knight's ball and sweeping the ball past Brendan Clarke.
St Pat's responded by going for the jugular, but Quigley brilliantly denied Chris Forrester and Fagan cracked a low shot off the post as the Seagulls refused to go quietly.
Clarke had to superbly deny John Mulroy at the death and the sigh of relief that greeted Fagan's 93rd-minute goal was almost as audible as the roar that followed it.
BRAY WANDERERS – Quigley; Webster, S O'Connor, D O'Connor (Doyle 88), Early; K O'Connor, Dempsey (Mulroy 63), Zambra; Akinade, Byrne (Knight 63), Waters.
ST PAT'S ATH – Clarke; O'Brien, Kenna, Price, Bermingham; Brennan, Bolger, Russell; Byrne (Forrester 68), Flood (Fagan 76), Kavanagh.
Ref – N Doyle (Dublin)