As if this comeback win for Waterford didn’t provide enough drama to be going on with, an extraordinary night ended with two players from each side and both managers being sent off in time added on as tempers boiled over at the RSC.
The chaotic scenes included Bastian Hery pushing John Caulfield to the ground after the City manager had crossed the white line to retrieve the ball after the Waterford player delayed releasing it for a Cork throw. The resultant free-for-all involving players and staff from both sides spilled over onto the adjacent running track and ended with red cards for Caulfield and Blues boss Alan Reynolds, as well as Hery and Stanley Aborah for Waterford and Garry Buckley and unused sub Steven Beattie for Cork.
And before all that, a crowd of 3,684 had seen the home side come back from one down to earn a 2-1 win which means Waterford have leapfrogged City to go level with Dundalk on points at the top of the table.
The Blues came into the game having won their four previous home league games this season, though City did get the better of them in their meeting at Turner’s Cross, the champions scoring twice in eight second half minutes to win 2-0.
This visitors showed one change from the starting line-up against Bray Wanderers last week, Garry Buckley replacing Jimmy Keohane in the central role behind striker Graham Cummins while, for the home side, ex-City man Gavan Holohan overcame an injury worry to start and Izzy Akinade was back to lead the line.
The full house signs were up again at the RSC as a crowd of just over 3,684 turned up for the resumption on Suirside of this old Munster rivalry, the faithful revelling in Waterford’s high-flying start to their first season back in the top flight after a ten-year absence.
But it was the travelling Rebel Army who were celebrating after just two minutes as City got off to a flier. Barry McNamee floated an inswinging free from the right to the far post where it was headed back across goal by Aaron Barry and, with the Blues defence caught cold, Conor McCarthy was in the right place to send the ball flashing into the roof of the net.
To their credit, Waterford’s response was simply to play as they always do, quickly getting into their familiar, fluent passing game and, with City showing plenty of pace and threat on the counter, it made for meeting of contrasting styles.
Still, for all the enterprise in Waterford’s play around the middle of the park, they were a little sloppier than usual in possession and distinctly lacking in a cutting edge upfront, with the result that fully 25 minutes had elapsed before Mark McNulty was called into action for the first time, the City keeper getting his body comfortably behind a long-ranger from Akinade.
At the other end, Cummins was having trouble keeping himself onside whenever Cork got forward on the break, invariably with Kieran Sadlier having led the charge up the left flank.
The first half finished with a spell of Waterford pressure, Paul Keegan posting a couple of corners almost under the crossbar as blue shirts crowded the goal-line but McNulty was composed under pressure and his safe hands in the air saw City retain their lead through to the break.
But just as Cork had gotten their first half off to a great start, so Waterford were back on level terms in the 51st minute. And it was very much a self-inflicted wound for the visitors, as poor defending invited pressure on McNulty’s goal, a comedy of errors ending with Conor McCormack deflecting Gavan Holohan’s low cross into his own net.
Not to be outdone, ten minutes later an undercooked and decidedly uncharacteristic Bastian Hery backpass put McNamee clean through on the Waterford goal but, with only ‘keeper Lawrence Vigouroux to beat, the City playmaker contrived to steer his effort the wrong side of the post.
In the 81st minute, Izzy Akinade wasn’t anything like as wasteful when the impressive Stanley Aborah put him into the penalty area on the right hand side, the striker’s looping shot probably en route to the net before Courtney Duffus supplied the finishing touch by heading it over the line.
That was the end of the main drama on the pitch but the red card cascade was still to come.
McNulty, McCarthy, Barry, McLouglin, Griffin, McCormack (Keohane70), Morrissey (O’Hanlon 84), McNamee, Buckley, Sadlier, Cummins (Sheppard 74)
Vigouroux, Comerford, Browne, Webster, Barnett, Keegan, Aborah (Puri 94), Hery, Holohan; Duffus, Akinade (Feely 86).
Robert Rogers (Dublin)
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