O'Connor strike enough to keep Bray in top tier
PAT DEVLIN'S Bray side will get to go a-Wandering in the Premier Division yet again next season after the dogged Wicklow outfit managed to outwit a brave Longford Town side 3-2 in the promotion\relegation play-off last night.
The curtain closed on the league season with the final whistle of the play-off second leg in Longford last night – there is of course action in the FAI Cup final to come on Sunday – with a dramatic finish to a truly thrilling game, Bray edging out Longford 3-2 on the night and 5-4 on aggregate, with a late goal from Kevin O'Connor the difference between the sides on the night.
Over 90 pulsating minutes last night, the sides traded goals, with Bray twice going ahead only to be pegged back by a young Longford side who looked, on last night's evidence, as if they deserved a shot in the top flight. But that honour goes to Bray who stay up, while Longford will have to endure a seventh season in Division One next term.
Bray had thrown away a 2-0 lead in the home leg, only to finish up with a 2-2 draw, and Wanderers seemed to have more intent and focus about them in the away leg. In fact, some of those in the large crowd in Longford were still settling into their seats when Bray took the lead in the third minute.
Conor Earley floated in a free kick from distance and while the Longford defence sized up the danger, Dempsey had time and space to control the ball and fire a shot past Chris Bennion.
There was an instant response from Tony Cousins' side, however, as their leading scorer, Davy O'Sullivan, forced a save from Darren Quigley in the Bray goal and Longford's attacking ethos caused Bray more problems, as Gary Shaw flashed a header just wide on 26 minutes.
But Bray's experience was giving them the upper hand as they made sure that Town keeper Bennion was a busy man.
On 22 minutes Bennion's foot kept out a certain goal from Dave Webster. Bennion was there again on 29 minutes to deny Kevin O'Connor and then prevented Kieran Marty Watters. Bray were leading 1-0 at half-time, but 12 minutes into the second half, Longford drew level, Daniel Purdy finishing well from a cross by Derek O'Brien.
The two sides traded more blows before Bray went 2-1 up on 73 minutes, Kieran Marty Watters claiming his goal with a well-placed strike after some clever link play from the old goal poacher Jason Byrne.
But five minutes later a gutsy Longford got level for a second time, again Purdy the scorer of a stunning individual goal.
Extra-time was looming large, but with five minutes of normal time left Kevin O'Connor came up with what must be the best, and probably most important, goal of his career as he lashed out with a 35-yard strike which was on target and sailed past Bennion.
The game ended on a sour note with Bray's Shane O'Connor and Town man Noel Haverty both sent off following a goalmouth scramble, as Devlin's Bray side celebrate the guarantee of another season of top flight football.