Longford Town 1 Bray Wanderers 2
It is hard to feel there are must-win games three matches into a season but with three defeats in the opening rounds, a win was needed to lift the mood around the club.
With very little time to reflect on Friday’s defeat to Galway United, Pat Devlin’s men delivered with a dogged SSE Airtricity League First Division performance in Longford on Monday. Despite falling behind to an early goal at Bishopsgate and playing a team with far less minutes in their legs, the Wanderers showed great resolve to see off ‘De Town’ on the heavy Midlands pitch.
The Green and Whites had a full debut to Conor Levingston in central midfield as veteran Dean Zambra slotted in at right-back. Stephen McGuinness returned between the posts with Zak O’Neill and Rob Manley making the starting XI. That meant Michael Kelly, Kieran Marty Waters and Dan Blackbyrne dropping to the bench.
Both teams started with chances, eager to impose themselves on a match with plenty of familiar faces, as ex-Bray manager Gary Cronin stood in the Longford dugout and seven players having played for both clubs. The ‘Town’s first chance came after just four minutes when Sam Verdon headed wide from a Darren Craven cross. Bray were quickly on the hunt for a goal of their own and almost had one on eight minutes when Rob Manley’s header from a Kurtis Byrne corner was cleared off the line.
The danger quickly moved up the pitch as the Midlander’s launched a counter. The ball found it’s way into the box with Sam Verdon popping up to apply the finishing touch past Stephen McGuinness during the scramble. The Seagulls kept their composure as they looked to get back level. They were almost rewarded on 18 minutes when a Manley flick fell to Kevin Knight who was denied by Luke Dennison at close range.
They travelling fans did not have much longer to wait for their equaliser which came after 21 minutes. Zak O’Neill, despite being barrelled over, released Manley who controlled with his chest before shooting. Dennison’s save was not dealt with and met by a charging Byrne who rolled the ball into the net. There were worrying scenes for the Wanderers after 27 minutes when Conor Clifford had to be carried off the pitch and be replaced by Vilius Labutis.
Yet again Bray had to show their resilience as Longford applied the pressure but were unable to get their efforts on target. Paul Fox’s work ethic was rewarded with just over five minutes left in the half. His ball into the box was deflected to Manley whose shot was parried by Dennison before Fox followed up to hammer home off the underside of the bar.
A nervy second half ensued as Longford pushed to get level. Twice in the half McGuinness was called into action to deny Verdon on the hour mark and Aaron Robinson with ten minutes to go. Late on, Longford’s pressure came to nothing with Verdon again having an opportunity, but he could only head wide with a minute to play. Bray did almost deal the killer blow in added time as Byrne shot across Dennison who put the ball out for a corner with a diving hand.
The Wanderers left the Midlands with a very welcome and hard earned three points. Once again there is little time to reflect as the Seagulls head on the road to Cobh this Friday to take on a side no doubt on a high after their late winner against Athlone.
Longford Town: Luke Dennison; Ben Lynch, Dylan Barnett, Michael McDonnell, Michael Barker; Ryan Graydon, Aaron Robinson, Dean McMenamy, Eric Molloy (Callum Warfield 82’), Darren Craven, Sam Verdon.
Subs not used: Lee Steacy, Shane Elworthy, Matthew O’Brien, Karl Chambers, Joe Power, Matthew Dunne, Adam Hayden.
Booked: Michael McDonnell 48’, Michael Barker 64’, Ben Lynch 74’.
Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness, Kevin Knight, Hugh Douglas, Jack Hudson, Dean Zambra; Paul Fox (Darragh Lynch 86’), Conor Clifford (Vilius Labutis 27’), Darragh Levingston, Zak O’Neill (Dan Blackbyrne 66’); Kurtis Byrne, Rob Manley
Subs not used: Mick Kelly, Kieran Marty Waters, Eoin Massey, Dean Casey, Eoin McPhillips, Conor Knight.
Booked: Zak O’Neill 33’, Darragh Levingston 37’, Kurtis Byrne 51’, Eoin Massey 83’, Vilius Labutis 90’, Darragh Lynch 90’.
Referee: Alan Patchell.
Report by Kevin Dooney.