Bray Wanderers 1-1 Dundalk
Dundalk will have mixed emotions following Friday afternoon’s predictably tough encounter at the Carlisle Grounds when they shared the spoils with Bray Wanderers. Having taken the lead after 42 minutes through a superb Declan O’Briel goal – Bray were afforded the opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot after a very poor refereeing decision. However, any feelings of injustice that Dundalk were denied three points have to be measured up against the fact that the hosts hit the woodwork on four seperate occasions. It was a bizarre ninenty minutes of football. Dundalk tried to play a passing game but all too often they lost possession far too easily. Bray appeared to be happy to take a point as they sat back and allowed Dundalk to dominate and attempt to strike on the break. It was not until the late stages when Simon Kelly received a second yellow card that Bray forced the issue and put Dundalk under pressure. By the final whistle most Dundalk supporters who had made the trip were grateful for the point. The team, however, will be disappointed not to have performed at a higher level.
Dundalk suffered a blow before the match with the news that Tiaran Mulvenna and Chris Bennion were unavailable for selection. Mulvenna suffered a groin injury while Chris Bennion was admitted to hospital overnight after feeling unwell. Chris is said to be not serious and hopes to be available for the next league match against Cork City on April 17th. This meant a debut for Ryan Coulter. The young keeper made a name from himself with some fine displays for the Youth team during their FAI Cup run last year and is now the club’s A-League keeper. Coulter can be satisfied with his first team debut and his calmness under pressure in the closing stages was particularly impressive. These late injury issues meant that Thomas Heary was drafted back onto the bench despite only returning to training on Thursday. Meanwhile, Michael McGinlay remained absent. Dundalk were therefore unable to have a full compliment of substitutes on the bench.
Dundalk were slow to start and Bray had went close twice within the first ten minutes. Gary McCabe was given a free sight of goal on the right and his low effort just went wide of the far post. After ten minutes Bray were very unfortunate not to ahead. Jake Kelly’s cross from the left caused chaos in the Dundalk penalty box with the ball ricocheting off John Flood onto the underside of the crossbar. Luckily the spin in the ball took it away from the goal line and Shaun Kelly was able to clear.
Dundalk picked it up after that incident and started pushing Bray further back. Darren Mansaram, who again worked tirelessly for ninety minutes, found space in the box but was forced to rush his shot and eventually it was cleared for a corner by ex-Dundalk player Chris Deans with keeper Chris O’Connor struggling to cover his post. Just a few moments later and Dundalk produced a superb passage of play with Harpal Singh and Declan O’Brien combining well on the left with the winger crossing for O’Brien to smack a powerful header off the Bray post.
For the majority of the remaining period Dundalk were well on top but were often let down by the final ball or by some slack passing. O’Connor was forced to make a decent save from Mansaram but despite dominating possession, Dundalk were unable to create many openings. This failure was almost punished after 39 minutes when Flood again rattled the crossbar with a powerful shot that had Coulter well beaten.
However, Dundalk were make the breakthrough after 42 minutes. O’Brien, who had just earlier seen a header saved by O’Connor, flicked a cross from O’Callaghan low into O’Connor’s far post to make it 1-0. It was a superlative piece of skill by O’Brien who had his back to goal when he made contact with the cross. It was also O’Brien’s first goal for Dundalk and in his joy he was booked for taking off his jersey. Ridiculous rule – but the referee had no option.
Bray upped the tempo before half-time to try to get an equaliser and were given the opportunity in injury time. Dundalk were caught with two Bray attackers charging in on goal with just one defender to take on. With Flood about to pull the trigger from the edge of the box, Simon Kelly came rushing back and made an heroic challenge to block his shot. The ball rolled up Kelly’s body and struck his arm and to the dismay of the travelling support the referee pointed to the penalty spot. There was quite simply nothing Kelly could possibly do to avoid the ball from striking his arm. He did not make any attempt to control the ball and had no way of avoiding making a purely accidental contact. However, the referee had made his decision and Jake Kelly sent Coulter the wrong way from the spot.
Dundalk started the second half in the mood to correct the injustice of the equalising goal. Shaun Kelly, who struggled throughout with an ankle injury, found himself in space in the box but his shot was deflected off target with Singh nearly connecting with a diving header. Unfortunately for the spectators, both sides went off the boil considerably and the game became very scrappy with few chances. Bray surprisingly took over Jake Kelly and John Flood while Thomas Heary was introduced for Shaun Kelly.
Then in the 67th minute, Chris Shields produced an superb long range drive from 40 yards that nearly broke the Dundalk crossbar again. Then, in the 80th minute Paul Byrne won possession in the Dundalk area and smacked another powerful shot off the post.
In the final ten minutes Declan O’Brien was replaced by Sean Mackle and Simon Kelly, having been booked a few moments earlier for what appeared to be persistant fouling, received a second yellow card for a foul on McCabe.
Michael Daly moved to right back as Bray finally showed some interest in taking the three points. It had been a quiet debut for Ryan Coulter but, in injury time, John Mulroy was able to get behind the Dundalk defence to test Coulter with a close range effort that that the deputy keeper did very well to push around the post. Bray piled on the pressure but Coulter was able to dominate his six yard box as Bray forced a series of corners. Coulter provided the calmness required to ensure that Dundalk held out for a point.
Bray Wanderers: O’Connor; Webster, Massey, Deans; McCabe,, Foran, Kelly, Brennan, Shields; Flood, Byrne
Dundalk: Ryan Coulter, Shaun Kelly, Dave Rogers, Simon Kelly, Liam Burns, Chris Turner, Michael Daly, George O’Callaghan, Harpal Singh, Declan O’Brien, Darren Mansaram. Subs: Sean Mackle for O’Brien, Thomas Heary for Shaun Kelly.