SHELBOURNE 2-0 BRAY WANDERERS
With Noel King standing in for Dermot Keely in the home dug-out, and a lack of consistency in their performance this season to date, Shelbourne looked a fair bet to face a tough task in holding on to three points from their visitors on this occasion. But Bray, too, have been blowing hot and cold since August, and while they’ve won a couple of matches despite poor performance, they have also lost in spite of playing well.
And so it proved on the coldest league night so far. A black cat which streaked from east to west the length of the pitch during the first half was clearly a northsider, and any luck that was going stayed with the home side.
Bray were without stalwart right back Maurice Farrell, serving a two-match ban, but their defence was still strong, with Wesley Charles clearly straining at the leash in search of a goal, as well as providing a strong presence in the back line - most of the time.
In the first quarter of an hour, both sides had attacking chances. Fenlon tried a narrow-angle shot on goal from a Shelbourne throw, only to see it tipped over by Bray ’keeper Matt Gregg for a corner which came to nothing. At the other end, Paul Keegan blasted a Colm Tresson cross high over Steve Williams’ bar while Paul Forsyth – better placed if further to the left – could only watch; and a few minutes later Forsyth harried the Shelbourne defence into conceding a corner which Eddie Gormley fired straight at Mick Doohan, who headed over.
On 13 minutes, Jason Byrne shepherded the ball out for a Bray corner, following which Gormley was wide from a Charles pass. And so it went. Despite superiority in possession for most of the rest of the half, and playing largely in Shels’ end, Bray’s strike force, even when supplemented by midfielders and defenders, was not on song.
It wasn’t much better for the home side. Richie Baker was clear in the box on a cross from the left, but even if he hadn’t been judged offside, failed to connect with the ball. On the half hour, Pat Fenlon tried a direct shot from a corner, but kicked it straight at Gregg. A minute later, John McDermott awarded Shelbourne a free against Philip Keogh, for hand ball; the kick was half cleared and fell to Fenlon again, but he blazed over the bar.
A few minutes later, Forsyth sent a blistering cross through the Shelbourne box, leaving both attackers and defenders stranded.
On 41 minutes, a Pat Fenlon corner led to a flurry of Shelbourne activity in the Bray box, and ultimately a fine save from Gregg, who had to re-position fast after a cross took a deflection.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Jim Crawford pounced on a rare Gregg error, and drove the ball well into the Bray net.
Even then, Bray weren’t giving up: a minute later, just before the whistle, Jason Byrne beat Williams to put the ball in the home net – but the offside flag was up.
In the second half, the football became a lot scrappier, and at times ill-tempered. Shelbourne’s substitution of Richie Baker by Wesley Houlihan was to prove decisive in the end, but even if neither goal was really against the run of play, Bray were still doing more attacking than their hosts.
Houlihan showed his determination early on. On 55 minutes, he delivered a well-judged cross to Fenlon, who shot wide.
Three minutes later, Paul Keegan followed a lobbed Eddie Gormley free right into the Shelbourne goal, looking for a header, but the ball landed on the top of the net, just an inch past the bar.
The action continued in the Shelbourne half, but nothing Bray did seemed to work for them: a sequence of scrambled moves in front of the Shelbourne goal, ending in a wide or a ball over the bar, was becoming a regular pattern.
With just under a quarter of an hour to go, Byrne was onside in front of Williams, but under pressure he shot wide, having moments earlier headed weakly into the Shelbourne ’keeper’s hands from a Gormley cross.
Five minutes later, another chance was missed when Forsyth kicked high from a Wesley Charles header following another Gormley cross. But worse was to follow. The Shelbourne attack from that kickout was fast and in numbers - 5 on 4, by the time they reached the Bray box. Bray’s attacking defenders were only arriving back when Jim Gannon rose to meet a Houlihan cross, and bury it in the bottom right corner of Gregg’s net.
The remaining minutes showed no diminution of Bray’s efforts to strike back – and no increase in their success rate. This was a first-rate opportunity for Bray to leave clear water between themselves and this year’s expanded relegation zone. The game’s not up yet, but every result of this sort makes the last third of the season more and more a difficult and a nervous prospect.
by Mícheál Ó hUanacháin
Bray Wanderers: 1. Matt Gregg; 2 Colm Tresson, 3 Philip Keogh, 4 Wesley Charles, 5 Michael Doohan; 6 Eddie Gormley, 7 Barry O’Connor, 6 Matt Britton, 9 Paul Keegan; 10 Jason Byrne, 11 Paul Forsyth