The season has finally started to sizzle for Waterford as they redeemed their automatic promotion ambitions and moved to the brink of new ownership.
Although Junior Quitirna’s penalty nine minutes from the end against 10-man Galway moved them to within nine points of Cork City, whom they travel to on Monday, equally vital is securing the club’s future.
Fleetwood Town owner Andy Pilley is spearheading a consortium in advanced discussions to purchase the First Division club.
Richard Forrest - who brokered a takeover agreement with Lee Power only 14 months ago - sought interest on a €1.3m offload in June through renowned English-based intermediaries Oakwell.
Pilley and two colleagues travelled over this week to meet Chairman Mitch Cowley and explore the acquisition, with the delegation among the 1,668 in attendance at the RSC.
Tilley has expanded his portfolio of clubs beyond English League One outfit Fleetwood, expressing his desire to establish a global network to share talent, both players and coaches.
That strategy began by creating start-up clubs to begin in the third divisions of leagues in United Arab Emirates and South Africa.
Pilley said in December: “We are experts at building football clubs and developing players and that’s something we are really excited to do in UAE and South Africa.
“We’re a forward-thinking club. It’s one thing Manchester City having a network of clubs, but who would have thought little old Fleetwood would go down the same route?” Mr Pilley and three others are due to stand trial on October 10. At a hearing three weeks ago, the 51-year-old pleaded not guilty to two counts of running a business with the intention of defrauding creditors, one count of false representation, and one count of being concerned with the retention of criminal property at Preston Crown Court. The list of charges relate to the running of Mr Pilley’s firm, Business Energy Solutions.
It’s understood that former Waterford manager Marc Bircham has been involved in the background assembling the consortium.
He was controversially sacked by Forrest four days ahead of their relegation playoff against UCD. Bircham complained of Forrest interfering with team affairs, specifically about the non-selection of his son George. He and his brother James both recently left the club.
Former QPR midfielder Bircham has since been headhunted by fellow Londoner Dennis Wise to work on the backroom staff at Como, the Italian club that recently recruited Irish U21 striker Liam Kerrigan and veteran Cesc Fàbregas for their Serie B campaign.
Pilley could witness for himself the potential of the Blues. Their failure to beat either of the two teams in front of them over five previous meetings this season left them adrift in third.
Nothing less than six points from facing both Galway and Cork over these three days would suffice to resurrect their title hopes and they achieved the first part by coming from behind to down John Caulfield’s Tribesmen.
It had all started so swimmingly for the visitors. Early pressure had a fragile Waterford defence all at sea and after Stephen Walsh fired a warning by nodding wide after three minutes, he was ruthless with his second chance nine minutes later.
Ed McCarthy produced the spadework by slinging a cross from the left that Rob Manley flicked on for the poacher to apply a close-range low volley from past Paul Martin.
Waterford soon drew level on 19 minutes. When Junior Quitirna’s near post shot was turned away by Conor Kearns for a corner, he and Phoenix Patterson were involved in teeing up Roland Idowu to rifle home from just inside the box.
Patterson then got in the way of Idowu crowing his dribble with a goal approaching the half but the Blues held the initiative at the turnaround.
Francely Lomboto, one of Caulfield’s interval subs, was denied by Martin on 55 minutes before Wassim Aouachria met an equally resolute wall in Kearns at the other end.
Then the tussle became a tale of two penalties. Conor McCormack’s 65th minute tug on Wassim Aouachria as he raced clear earned him a red card and penalty which Patterson blazed over.
The former Tottenham trainee wasn’t putting his hand up for the second penalty, again for a foul on Aouachria. Up stepped Quitirna to send Kearns the wrong way for the winner.
More openings followed in the dying stages. Martin stood firm to thwart Charlie Lyons four minutes later while Shane Griffin’s stoppage-time free was heading for the corner until Kearns dived full-stretch to keep the margin to the minimum.
P Martin; T Sobowale, K Cantwell, R Taylor, D Power; N O’Keefe, S Griffin; J Quitirna, R Idowu, P Patterson (Y En-Neyah 87); W Aouachria.
C Kearns; J Finnerty, D Portilla (M Dimas 61), C Lyons; M Hemmings (W Waweru 85), C McCormack, D Hurley, B Héry (A Thomas 46), E McCarthy ( O O’Reilly 83); S Walsh, R Manley (F Lomboto 46).
Alan Patchell (Dublin).