Resilient Bray Wanderers hold Dundalk in Premier Division opener

Dundalk FC 0-0 Bray Wanderers FC

A lot was made of Bray Wanderers’ 2017 struggles, preseason turbulence and ‘inevitable survival battle’ going into Friday night’s game at Oriel Park. In many ways it was fitting that a club like Bray would visit the home of Dundalk in their first game of the 2018 Airtricity League Premier Division. After all, it was Stephen Kenny’s Lilywhites who were subject to a takeover in 2017 from a consortium led by the backers of Bournemouth in the Premier League and AS Roma in Serie A.

As it turned out, a game between the second favourites for the league title and second favourites for relegation was even throughout the 90 minutes.

Dave Mackey sent out his men with a four-man defence in front of Aaron Dillon in goal. The defence – made up of Dan McKenna, Sean Heaney, Hugh Douglas and Kevin Lynch – was shielded by a midfield pairing of John Sullivan and Paul O’Conor. Further up the field, Aaron Greene was flanked by Cory Galvin and Ronan Coughlan while captain Gary McCabe floated just behind the Seagulls’ front man.

This set-up proved successful in frustrating Dundalk and their fanbase. Douglas and Lynch were superb at the back, restricting the Lilywhites forwards to scrappy half-chances. Dillon comfortably held efforts from Jamie McGrath and Dean Jarvis in the 4th and 19th minutes respectively before producing a good save to tip over a shot which had been struck into the ground with just over five minutes left in the half.

Aside from those three occasions, Dundalk were unable to breakthrough a stubborn Bray outfit enough to create clear-cut chances. In fact, it was Bray who produced the best chance of the game through the industrious and impressive Cory Galvin.

Galvin, making his league debut for the Seagulls, broke into the box on 30 minutes and looked to curl the ball into the left-side of Dundalk’s goal. Fortunately for the Lilywhites, Rogers was on hand to beat the ball away with a good save.

The second-half saw chances arrive at a premium for both sides. Dundalk looked to force a goal through a series of corners and crosses, only for Hugh Douglas and Sean Heaney to sweep the ball away time and time again at the back. Dundalk grew increasingly frustrated at their lack of potency, ultimately leading to a rash challenge on Gary McCabe which left the Bray captain in a heap on the turf.

Dundalk did manage to create one last chance when a strike from the edge of the box from Jamie McGrath went narrowly wide of Dillon’s left-hand post. Aside from that, Dundalk were starved of any meaningful opportunities to break the deadlock, which made it all the more agonising when Bray created the best chance of the game late on.

Daniel Kelly – brought on for Ronan Coughlan with a quarter of an hour to go – robbed the ball in midfield and broke forward with pace. He then fed Aaron Greene through one-on-one with Rogers with 10 minutes left in the game. Unfortunately for Greene, Rogers spread himself well to block the effort away.

The final 10 minutes passed by without any meaningful incident until one final throw of the dice from Dundalk. A cross from wide on the left hand side evaded Hugh Douglas only for the equally magnificent Kevin Lynch to flick the ball away and bring the game to an end as Bray Wanderers walked away with a deserved point from Oriel Park.

While it is far too early to suggest what kind of season Dave Mackey’s men will or will not have, if they are to go down as so many have predicted, they will be going down fighting to the bitter end.

Next up for Bray is a home tie against St. Patrick’s Athletic – the side that knocked them out of the Leinster Senior Cup at the Carlisle Grounds – next Friday at 7:45pm.

Bray Wanderers: Dillon; McKenna, Heaney, Douglas, Lynch; Sullivan (Noone 62′), O’Conor; Coughlan (Kelly 74′), McCabe (c), Galvin; Greene.

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