Shelbourne 0 – 1 Waterford United
An outstanding Waterford United performance saw them overcome Shelbourne at Tolka Park for the first time in 11 years, to firmly get their title challenge back on track. An immense display, matching their hosts attack for attack, working a superb goal to break the deadlock, and then keeping the Reds at bay as they threw everything at them in the closing stages, was rewarded with three points that keeps them in touch with league leaders Derry City, and six points ahead of third place.
In a pulsating first half, the two sides traded chances as play swung from one end to the other. Shelbourne had the better of the opening exchanges, and posted the first two shots in anger inside fifteen minutes, an Eric Foley effort from distance straight at Chris Konopka, and a dipping David McGill volley that didn’t dip enough. As the Blues began to impose themselves on the game, the best chance thus far fell to Willie John Kiely on 18 minutes. Seeming to expect the assistant referee’s flag when Timmy Purcell’s effort deflected into his path, the Blues striker fired straight at Dean Delaney from only eight yards out, the former United keeper somehow throwing up a hand to turn it over the bar.
Within two minutes the home side squandered a real chance in similar circumstances, as a Michael Clarke cross from the right found Marc Hughes through 1-on-1 against Konopka, but the Blues netminder made himself big and Hughes shot straight at him. Moments later, at the other end, good work from Vinny Sullivan set up Kevin Waters, who missed his chance but got the ball to the lively Purcell, but the 12-yard shot flew over the top.
As the game ebbed and flowed McGill fired a left foot effort just high and wide of the upright from a deep cross on 33 minutes, and shortly afterwards a quick 4-on-2 break saw George O’Callaghan set Kiely free, only to see his shot deflect behind from a prone defender. Shelbourne came closest of all on 38 minutes, when Foley’s flick on from a left-side throw in was met with a crashing volley by Ray Scully, no more than six yards out, producing a smart point-blank block from Konopka with his left foot.
The tempo continued into the second half, though it was the home side who were quickest out of the blocks, Marc Hughes firing across the face of goal and inches wide of the far post. On 55 minutes the Reds had a big shout for a penalty as the ball bounced up off David McGill and hit Paul McCarthy’s elbow, but the makeshift defender clearly knew nothing about it. At the other end, a fine run from Gary Dunphy set up a well struck effort across the face of goal that would have had Dean Delaney struggling.
Then just after the hour mark the deadlock was broken. In a superbly worked move, George O’Callaghan ghosted in from midfield through a static defence as Dunphy crossed from deep, and he was spotted beautifully by Willie John Kiely with a clever header, the Corkman getting in ahead of Delaney to prod home from six yards out.
Shelbourne set about the Blues with gusto, but the makeshift defence stood firm, in particular down the right, where Paul Carey was having a superb match in his full league debut. In fact it was only into the last few minutes, as United began to look at locking it up for the night, that the home side came close to levelling the scores, but how close they came! In the latter stages O’Callaghan, Dunphy and Vinny Sullivan all had half chances to extend the lead for the visitors, but as the clock wound down play shifted squarely to the United area, and in a mad scramble Philly Gorman looked to have poked home the equaliser only for Konopka to somehow turn it onto the post. From the resulting corner kick the big netminder somehow stretched to tip Gorman’s measured volley over the crossbar. Right at the death the pair duelled once more, as Konopka raced out to punch clear, with assistance from O’Callaghan, and with that went the home side’s last chance to salvage a point. The Blues now move into the second phase of games well positioned to maintain their challenge for the title.
Shelbourne: Dean Delaney, Sean Byrne, Michael Clarke, Ian Ryan, Gareth Whelan, Eric Foley (Dinny Corcoran 52), David McGill, Ray Scully, Paul Shiels, Philly Gorman, Marc Hughes – subs: Steve Williams, Robbie Clarke, Darren Forsyth, Mark Leech
Waterford: Chris Konopka; Paul Carey, Paul McCarthy, John Kearney, Liam Kearney; Timmy Purcell (James O’Sullivan 83), George O’Callaghan, Gary Dunphy, Kevin Waters; Vinny Sullivan, Willie John Kiely – subs: Kevin Burns, John Hayes, Gareth Cambridge, David Grincell
Goals: O’Callaghan 63
Referee: Paul McLoughlin