Saint Patrick’s Athletic claimed top spot in the Airtricity League after a hard-earned victory against Bray Wanderers in Richmond Park on Friday thanks to Danny North’s eleventh league goal of the season.
Following Adam Mitchell’s dismissal for a handball on the goal line, North’s 56th minute penalty proved decisive, though the Saints were made to sweat it out as Pat Devlin’s side battled till the end. The Saints were boosted by the return of Derek Pender and Brian Shortall from injury, while Daire Doyle came in for playmaker and former Pats man, Gary Dempsey.
The first half was a well contested affair, but failed to provide many clear cut chances and as a result, the home fans were often left frustrated with a game which was hugely affected by the adverse conditions.
Bray looked to wide areas to threaten the Saints’ defence, Dane Massey and Joe Kendrick linking well on the right, while John Mulroy always looked to test full-back Ian Bermingham. However, despite peppering the Saints’ box with crosses, Gary Rogers never looked under any great pressure. For the home side, the threat always came from their front two Danny North and Daryl Kavanagh, North shooting well over from a Stephen Bradley corner on 22 minutes, while Kavanagh’s deflected effort stung the palms of Bray keeper Matt Gregg.
After a scoreless 45 minutes, the second half was always likely to provide greater entertainment and this was proven to be the case just minutes after the restart. Joe Kendrick’s corner was met by Dane Massey at the near post, but the winger failed to get his shot on target.
Pete Mahon’s side remained on top for large parts of the second half, Derek Doyle and Danny North both going close as Pats showed their intent to open the scoring. However it wasn’t until the game reached its 55th minute when the score changed in favour of the home side.
Derek Doyle’s cross from the right found Danny North at the far post, who saw his effort acrobatically saved by Gregg. However Bray still failed to clear the danger, and Brian Shortall’s close range shot appeared to be blocked by the arm of Adam Mitchell.
With a certain goal denied, Neil Doyle was left with no option other than to send off the Bray defender, and award a penalty. After the lengthy protestations of the Seagulls fell on deaf ears, Saints’ top scorer North powerfully struck the ball past Gregg and gave his side the lead.
Less than a minute later however, North should have made it two, but after being put through one on one with Gregg, he flashed his shot wide from the edge of the box.
The Inchicore side had other chances to secure the points, but efforts from Evan McMillan, Anto Murphy and Paul Crowley went a-begging - the best from McMillan, whose 69th minute header was well tipped over the bar by Gregg.
However after the substitution of goalscorer North, and the enforced substitution of skipper Stephen Bradley due to an apparent ankle injury, the Saints lost their control of the game as ten man Bray fought their way back and twice came close to equalising.
Seán Houston’s dangerous cross across the Saints’ goal evaded everyone, but after Ian Bermingham cleared straight to Shane O’Neill, the substitute’s pull back to Danny O’Connor saw the midfielder’s effort miss Rogers’ top corner by the smallest of margins.
With the Saints hanging on for their dear lives, Bray’s final attack in the 92nd minute saw a scramble in the box with Derek Prendergast’s header being clawed away by Rogers, and Bermingham blocking Danny O’Connor’s shot on the rebound.
The Saints hung on to the delight of their fans, who left chanting “We are top of the league” at the final whistle.
Saint Patrick’s Athletic: Gary Rogers; Derek Pender, Evan McMillan, Brian Shortall, Ian Bermingham; Anto Murphy (Sean Stewart 93), Stephen Bradley (Shane McFaul 77), Paul Crowley, Derek Doyle; Daryl Kavanagh, Danny North (Dave McMillan 72).
Unused Subs: Chris Bennion, Jake Carroll, Neil Harney, Ian Daly.
Bookings: D Doyle (48), S Bradley (48).
Bray Wanderers: Matt Gregg; Shane O'Connor, Derek Prendergast, Adam Mitchell, Joe Kendrick (Shane O'Neill 84); John Mulroy (Sean Houston 84), Danny O'Connor, Daire Doyle (Danny McGuinness 84), Dane Massey, Chris Shields; Conor Murphy.
Unused Subs: Brian Kane, Stephen Last, Dean Zambra, Graham Kelly.
Bookings: J Kendrick (11), D O'Connor (55), C Shields (85).
Sent Off: A Mitchell (54).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Official Attendance: 1,072
Extratime Man of the Match: Danny North.