Waterford cruise to victory as O'Connor brace inflicts big blow on Saints' Europa League hopes

Two goals from the 21-year-old striker sealed all three points for Alan Reynold’s side at Richmond Park.

O'Connor struck twice in Inchicore on Friday night.
O'Connor struck twice in Inchicore on Friday night.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

St Patrick’s Athletic 0

Waterford FC 2

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC’S hopes of securing a European spot were dealt a big setback on Friday night, as goals from Michael O’Connor either side of half-time saw Waterford bag all three points at Richmond Park.

The 21-year-old striker was excellent throughout, opening the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty before sealing his side’s victory late on with a pinpoint header from close range on 81 minutes.

By all accounts the Saints have endured a poor and disappointing campaign throughout 2019, but came into tonight’s game in front of a home crowd in Inchicore with renewed optimism knowing a top four finish was still in their own hands.

With Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk set to battle it out for the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium, St Pat’s, Derry City and Bohemians each know that fourth place will be enough to clinch a place in next summer’s Europa League first qualifying round.

Three doesn’t go into two, though, and with this defeat on home soil Stephen O’Donnell’s side will now need results to go in their favour on top of big performances against Derry, Bohs and champions Dundalk in their final three games of the season — if they are to stand any chance.

ian-bermingham-protests-the-decision-to-award-bohemians-a-penalty St Pat's captain Ian Bermingham. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Waterford, turning in an energetic performance full of positive attacking play, were fully deserving of their victory. Alan Reynold’s men, too, have endured a tough season in 2019.

They controversially lost out on European football to St Pat’s on a technicality earlier this year, and have never been able to put a consistent winning run together at the RSC, where crowds have unfortunately declined in recent months.

The Blues were on top right from the get-go at Richmond Park. From tip-off, Walter Figeuira cut inside onto his right foot and fired a powerful effort just over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy. Travelling supporters to the capital didn’t have to wait too much longer to go ahead, though.

A challenge from defender Ciaran Kelly on Rob Slevin saw Latvian referee Edgar Malcevs point to the spot with just five minutes on the clock. Michael O’Connor was handed the responsibility of the spot-kick and made no mistake, sending Barry Murphy the wrong way with a sweet strike.

Now 1-0 ahead, Waterford pushed for a second. Former St Pat’s midfielder JJ Lunney fed the ball to meet the overlapping run of Kevin Lynch. He ventured towards goal and chipped Murphy brilliantly, only for Lee Desmond to race back onto his own goal-line before hooking the ball away heroically.

O’Donnell’s men knew even a draw tonight might not be enough if they are to successfully secure a top four finish. His side battled forward in search of an equaliser, Chris Forrester’s long-range effort on his right boot just skirting wide of the target.

Figueria, constantly a threat in attack for Waterford all night, beckoned again shortly later. He beat his maker with some brilliant, quick feet inside the box, before his strike at goal was blocked away again by his nemesis Desmond, who once more recovered onto his own line.

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alan-reynolds-after-the-game Waterford manager Alan Reynolds. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Reynold’s men were creating the lion’s share of chances and looked much more hungrier and clinical in the final third. Shane Duggan saw a long-range shot fly just wide of the target, while Lunney also tried his luck from distance only for Murphy to produce a brilliant save — palming the ball out of the top corner when a goal looked certain.

St Pat’s called upon their armoury on the bench at half-time, introducing strikers Jake Walker and Glen McAuley in search of a second-half leveller. It was more of the same, however, with the hosts struggling to carve out opportunities.

Waterford always looked the more likely to score again. Sam Bone cut inside onto his left boot and narrowly missed the bottom corner with a powerful strike across his body, while Figueira also nearly put the game to bed when he was gifted a chance right in front of goal.

A poor clearance from Desmond presented the ball on a plate for the 24-year-old former Chelsea youth striker. Figueira saw goalkeeper Murphy off his line and tried to chip the ball into the back of the net for 2-0, only to see his effort skim narrowly over the bar.

A third and final attacking substitution from O’Donnell saw Ronan Hale brought on to replace Ireland U21 midfielder Jamie Lennon. Only on the pitch a couple of minutes, Hale curled a dangerous shot inches wide of the bottom corner.

Hale had an immediate impact, bringing his team-mates back into the game and injecting a fresh impetus into the St Pat’s attack. Another Hale effort from distance forced Matthew Connor into a smart, diving save to his left.

It was as close as the Saints would come to grabbing a result, as a second from O’Connor sealed all three points for Waterford with nine minutes to go. A superb, raking cross into the box from Bone caused panic and O’Connor took advantage, rising high to fire a thumping header into the back of the net.

Gleeful chants of ‘You’re not going to Europe’ echoed out from the vocal contingent of Waterford supporters in the final few minutes, as their side strode confidently towards a 2-0 victory on the road.

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Barry Murphy; Ciaran Kelly, Lee Desmond, Ian Bermingham; Conor Clifford, Jamie Lennon (Ronan Hale 72), Cian Coleman (Glen McAuley 46), Darragh Markey, Chris Forrester; Dean Clarke, Mikey Drennan (Jake Walker 46)

WATERFORD FC: Matthew Connor; Sam Bone, Maxi Kouogun, Rob Slevin, Kevin Lynch; Tom Holland, Shane Duggan; JJ Lunney, Walter Figueira (Dean O’Halloran 89), Zak Elbouzedi; Michael O’Connor (Dean Walsh 91)

Referee: Edgar Malcevs (Latvia)

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher  / Reports from Richmond Park

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