Bray Wanderers and Cork City played out a stalemate on a sunny autumn evening at the Carlisle Grounds. In a game of very few chances until the final few minutes, Bray will be delighted to have picked up another important point as they edge closer to securing their place in the Premier Division for another season.
Mick Cooke's team were organised and resolute, playing the better football overall. They fully deserved their point, as they were an equal match for their title-chasing opponents. John Caulfield's men disappointed on the day, guilty of being tactically suspect, especially in midfield, where they were missing both Colin Healy and Liam Miller. Ultimately, Caulfield may look back upon this game as an opportunity lost to gain ground on Dundalk.
A largely uneventful first half which lacked any real clear cut chances, saw Bray looking livelier. Their midfield and attack linked well together, while Hugh Douglas especially offered a useful attacking option coming forward often as right full back. Graeme Kelly, Chris Lyons and David Cassidy were finding space and causing problems for the Cork defence, but most of their efforts were thwarted by good defending from Cork.
Karl Sheppard, Billy Dennehy and Mark Sullivan were looking dangerous in attack too. On a few occasions, Dennehy tried to break through the Bray defence from flick-ons but he was called offside. Sullivan slowly came into the game, using his strength and aerial ability to give Cork an outlet, while Sheppard's runs gave the Bray defence a lot to think about. Gary Buckley and Kevin O'Connor were industrious in midfield, but lacking genuine control on the game. Cork were happier to use full backs Ross Gaynor and Michael McSweeney as attacking outlets.
Forty five minutes flew by as Cork and Bray shared a number of free kicks and corners, none of which amounted to any genuine chance. David Cassidy's free kick late in the first half was headed over by Hugh Douglas, when he really should have at least put the ball on target having won the ball in the air uncontested.
Bray's positivity faded as the second half wore on, largely because Cork began increasing the tempo, but again there wasn't enough impetus from Caulfield's side. He was forced into a change at half time, with Billy Dennehy coming ashore due to illness for Alan Bennett. Dan Murray moved into midfield as a result, and although his presence there certainly gave Cork a platform to control the game better, that didn't materialise until much later in the game.
Chris Lyons saw a good shot saved by Mark McNulty in what was Bray's only notable effort on target all game, before he was eventually subbed off for Peter McGlynn. Bray's defence were beginning to see a lot more pressure on top of them, but in the form of crosses mainly, which Niall Cooney, Alan McNally and Douglas all dealt with finely, time and time again.
One such attack though did give Cork a good opportunity to score. A Sheppard cross from the left was chested down by Sullivan inside the box. He hit it on the volley but unfortunately it went narrowly wide into the side netting.
With time running out, Caulfield threw the dice and gambled. Attackers Danny Morrissey and John O'Flynn both came on for midfielders Steven Beattie and O'Connor. Suddenly Cork had four attackers going forward, and they began completely bypassing midfield and looking to score from crosses or hopeful long balls in behind the defence. Ross Gaynor was having most joy attacking down the left flank.
An excellent Buckley cross field pass to Gaynor released him into space as he pushed forward. He crossed the ball in to the four waiting Cork forwards, but Peter Cherrie just got to the ball before Sheppard. Cherrie was increasingly being called into action and equal to just about every cross and high ball.
With only minutes remaining the best chance fell to Cork to break the deadlock. Mark O’Sulllivan came forward and placed a very good shot on target, only for Cherrie to parry the shot away. The rebound fell invitingly to Sheppard who seemed destined to score from just inside the box. However, Douglas made an outstanding last-ditch stretch and block in the 6 yard box, and the ball somehow deflected just over the crossbar.
In stoppage time a Gaynor throw-in, was flicked on by Sheppard and Sullivan headed at goal only for Cherrie to dive to his right and save. As the game became frantic and end to end, Graham Kelly saw a speculative effort fly wide, while at the death, an O’Sullivan headed flick-on from a long ball sent O'Flynn through but he could only shoot wide.
The game ended without any goals and with very little to talk about until the final few minutes. Bray worked hard to earn their point and they can be proud of their team effort. They have come a long way in an otherwise very destabilising season, and right now they seem to be a team ticking and performing well. A big FAI Cup quarter final at home to non-league Killester United awaits.
Cork were disappointing in their overall approach to the game. There's no doubt Healy and Miller were missed, as Caulfield looks to nurse them better in time for the visit to Derry in the cup next Friday. Cork didn't test Bray enough in midfield and ultimately were tactically naive, leaving it too late to really push for a goal, and resorting to abandoning their midfield when doing so. One cannot help but wonder how good- Cork could be if they utilised their strengths in midfield a bit more.
Bray Wanderers: Peter Cherrie; Hugh Douglas, Daniel O'Reilly, Niall Cooney, Alan McNally; David Cassidy (Emeka Onwubiko 88), John Sullian, Ryan McEvoy, Graham Kelly, David Scully; Chris Lyons (Peter McGlynn 76)
Subs Not Used: Sean Fogarty, Adam Mitchell, Luke Gallagher, Adam Wixted, Luke Fitzpatrick.
Yellow Cards: Sullivan (29), Scully (55), Douglas (66).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Michael McSweeney, Ross Gaynor, Darren Dennehy, Dan Murray; Garry Buckley, Kevin O'Connor (John O'Flynn 81), Steven Beattie (Danny Morrissey 68), Karl Sheppard, Billy Dennehy (Alan Bennett 46); Mark O'Sullivan.
Subs Not Used: Alan Smith, Liam Miller, Danny O'Connell, Liam Kearney.
Yellow Cards: Murray (55), O'Connor (62), Gaynor (83).
Referee: Robert Rogers.
Attendance: 350 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Hugh Douglas (Bray Wanderers).