Waterford FC 3 Bray Wanderers 1
The concession of a goal in the first minute of each period cost Bray on Friday at the RSC.
The Wicklow side bravely fought back after falling 1-0 behind after just 54 seconds to deservedly go in level at 1-1 at half time.
But the visitors fell 2-1 behind with 25 seconds of the second half.
Those moments undid a good team display that could have warranted more than a defeat at the final whistle.
From the team that went down 3-1 away the previous Monday to Athlone Town at the Athlone Town Stadium, the Seasiders made five changes to the first 11.
Goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness returned between the sticks while was captain Dave Webster came into the defence.
Luca Lovic was drafted into midfield while Darren Craven and Chris Lyons were restored to the attack.
On the bench, First Team Coach Lorcan Fitzgerald completed the substitutes.
The Blue’s hit the front inside the opening minute. Roland Idowu on the right wing, found Dean McMenamy inside the ‘D. He jinked away from two opponents to fire in low right footed.
But the Green and White’s went close to an instant reply.
From the tip-off, Craven played in Lyons who dragged his low drive from 20-yards narrowly wide.
McGuinness pulled off two excellent leg block saves to thwart both ex-Seagull Ronan Coughlan (6) and Idowu (10) before McMenamy pulled a low effort across the face of goal in the 14th minute.
Craven had a shot charged down in the box on 18 before Ben Feeney crossed from the right in the 26th minute. Lyons gathered then span only to fire low and wide of the target from 14-yards.
McGuinness smartly gathered Coughlan’s 34th minute header while Harry Groome’s 25-yard attempt was straight at Paul Martin.
Having regrouped, Bray restored parity in the 38th minute through a superb team goal – only Lyons failing to get a touch.
McGuinness bowled the ball to Cole Omorehiomwan who linked with Groome before the keeper was involved again with Webster talking over.
He chipped down the right channel for Feeney. Crowley took over and linked with Lovic before play was spread wide left to O’Sullivan. He returned the pass to Crowley who played onto Groome and Lovic before Craven found Max Murphy on the right. His cross picked out Feeney who registered his sixth goal of the season with a great lopping header.
It was surely a goal of the season contender – over 50 seconds of play involving 19 passes and 38 touches – without the hosts touching the ball.
The chances kept coming with Ryan Burke hooking a 44th minute half volley across the face off goal.
Then in injury time, Craven’s speculative halfway line lob almost caught out Martin, with the ball dropping just over the bar.
Disaster struck for the away team from the turnaround. Niall O’Keeffe lofted a pass down the right flank for Conor Parsons to chase. His low centre picked out the unmarked Coughlan to convert from eight-yards.
Five minutes later, McGuinness thwarted sub Thomas Oluwa with the ball finding the side netting.
On 57, the netminder smothered former Wanderer Killian Cantwell’s header off Burke’s free-kick.
Just before the hour, Bray spurned the opportunity to draw level just before the hour.
Started by O’Sullivan, Lovic and Craven linked and Groome burst forward. He found Lyons whose slide-rule pass put Craven in. But Martin stood strong to block.
Waterford notched their third score in the 66th minute.
A Wanderers clearance rebounded to Idowu. He played in Coughlan on the right of the box to angle a low shot to that far left corner of the net.
Feeney had a goal bound shot blocked before the line by the covering Burke on 73. Seconds later at the other end, McGuinness denied Coughlan a treble with a solid save.
Five minutes from the end of normal time, Oluwa set up Coughlan. McGuinness tipped onto the bar with Oluwa’ rebound going wide.
In stoppage time, home sub Christopher Conn Clarke blazed wide when one on one with man of the match McGuinness.
The result means Bray are fifth – in the last play-off berth after 19 league matches of the 2023 campaign.
Wanderers will return to action on Friday June 23 to host Kerry FC at the Carlisle Grounds.
Waterford FC: Paul Martin; Niall O’Keeffe, Giles Ene Malachi Phillips, Killian Cantwell, Ryan Burke; Shane Griffin (Tunmise Sobowale 63), Barry Crowe Baggley; Connor Parsons (Christopher Conn Clarke), Roland Idowu (Dean Larkin 82); Dean McMenamy (Thomas Oluwa 23); Ronan Coughlan.
Subs not used: Eddie Nolan, Matthew Connor, Thomas Donaghy, Ronan Mansfield, Darragh Power.
Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness; Max Murphy, David Webster, Cole Omorehiomwan (Jack Hudson 80), Len O’Sullivan; Conor Crowley, Luka Lovic, Harry Groome (Joe Power 69); Darren Craven (Callum Thompson 71); Chris Lyons (Jake Walker 80), Ben Feeney.
Subs not used: Conor Davis, Conor Knight, Lorcan Fitzgerald, Zach Donohue, Alex Moody.
Booked: Webster 19, Omorehiomwan 45 + 2.
Referee: Gavin Colfer (Wicklow).
Pictures: Michael P. Ryan (Sportsfile).