Waterford United 1 - 1 Athlone Town
At the RSC last Friday night Waterford United were left frustrated by their inability to break down a determined Athlone Town side who were down to ten men for more than half the game.
After an even opening quarter hour where Noel McGee and Jason Hughes, for the visitors, and Paul Phelan, for the home side, had traded efforts off target, the Blues burst into life with a stunning strike from Gary Dempsey. Seamus Long began the move, bringing the ball out of defence before finding the midfield playmaker, who controlled and struck in one fluid movement to bend the ball inside the left post from 20 yards.
Daragh Walshe might have doubled the lead on 29 minutes as he raced clear onto Paul Carey’s ball over the top, but Pat Jennings was equal to his low shot. Sadly for the home side that was to become a feature of the second half. Before that though, the visitors made themselves the centre of attention all the way to the break. They got back on terms on 36 minutes with a goal of simple quality, Niall Scullion swinging over a pinpoint cross from the right that McGee buried with a bullet header. Three minutes from the whistle a seemingly stonewall penalty claim for a foul in the box on Mark Sherlock by Craig Burns was waved away. McGee’s vociferous complaints earned him a yellow card, but when he turned his ire on the near-side assistant referee it was replaced by a straight red. Undaunted, the visitors almost took the lead on the stroke of half time, Hughes forcing a fine save out of Packie Holden from the edge of the area, with Long making a superb saving block to deny Sherlock an open goal from the follow-up.
The second half was a much different affair, though, as the Town seemed to have decided that they already had as much as they were going to get from the game, arranged themselves into two banks of four, and invited the Blues to come break them down. On the few occasions the home side did get through they found Pat Jennings in inspired form, and so a frustrating night played out to a finish.
Gary Dempsey went close from distance early on, and Ben Ryan headed over when well placed on the hour mark, but for all their possession it was not until the introduction of Sean Maguire five minutes later that the Blues really began to turn the screw. The young striker almost made an immediate impact with a delightful reverse ball which put Peter White in the clear one-on-one against Jennings, but the Athlone keeper stood up well to make a great save with his legs. Minutes later Dempsey could have capped a sweeping move when a raking Gary Dunphy pass found Paul Carey wide on the right, but he side-footed the low cross well over the top. And three minutes later again another thrusting move through the middle saw White presented with a chance from even closer range, but again Jennings was equal to the shot with another stunning stop.
So (and here’s that word again) a frustrating night for the Blues, but a performance that they can take some positives from, as yet more players get some game time under their belts having come back from injury. It was also a significant game for a great Waterford footballing dynasty, as Conor Coad, grandson of the legendary Shamie, and the first of the family to play for the Blues since his uncle Gary in 1996, made his senior debut. Onwards and upwards now to the long-awaited chance to avenge the opening night debacle against Wexford next Friday!
Blues: Packie Holden; Paul Carey, Craig Burns, Seamus Long, John Frost; Paul Phelan (Conor Coad 85), Gary Dempsey, Peter White (Peter Keegan 88), Gary Dunphy, Ben Ryan; Daragh Walshe (Sean Maguire 65) - subs: Sean Whitty, Thomas Whitty, Dylan Mernagh, Peter Higgins
Goals: Dempsey 15
Booked: Walshe, Carey
Athlone: Pat Jennings, Niall Scullion, Ross Kenny, Paul Danaher, Brian McCarthy, Mark Walsh (Brian Gill 90), Darren Coleman, Jason Hughes, Garvan Broughall (Kevin Williamson 59), Mark Sherlock (Tommy Barrett 72), Noel McGee – subs: Brian Collopy, Sean Guerins, David Brookes, Warren Conroy
Goals: McGee 36
Sent Off: McGee 42
Referee: A Reale (Kildare)