Galway United claimed a crucial point in their title charge as they drew 2-2 with promotion rivals Waterford FC on Friday night at the RSC.
A dramatic late Francely Lomboto strike earned the Tribesmen a memorable point in Waterford after the league’s top goalscorer Ronan Coughlan had put the hosts ahead with goals either side of a Killian Brouder equaliser in the first half. The point sees United remain 16 points clear of the Blues with just one round of fixtures to play.
John Caulfield made three changes to the side which defeated Treaty United on Monday night with Regan Donelon, Rob Slevin, and Aodh Dervin replacing Oisin O’Reilly, Maurice Nugent, and Wassim Aouachria.
Waterford found themselves 16 points behind United coming into this fixture and looked to chip away at that deficit from the outset as Christie Pattisson charged down the right wing and brilliantly picked out Ronan Coughlan who struck first time into the bottom corner to give the hosts the lead after just 20 seconds.
Despite a nightmare start to the game, the Tribesmen didn’t drop their heads and began to fight back with multiple corners testing the Blues defence in the opening five minutes of the contest, with one of these deliveries striking the crossbar direct from Ronan Manning’s corner kick.
Coughlan thought he had doubled the hosts lead after 11 minutes when he met a corner unmarked at the back post, but a vital goal-line clearance kept United within touching distance.
Just five minutes later, United found the equaliser. Some trickery from David Hurley on the left wing created space for a cross which Waterford couldn’t deal with and it fell to the feet of Killian Brouder who swept the ball into the bottom corner to get United back on level terms.
The sides weren’t level for long however, as with 22 minutes on the clock Waterford’s talisman Coughlan put the Blues back in front. Barry Baggley did well down the left to pick out Coughlan in the box and his header left Brendan Clarke with no chance as he grabbed his record-breaking 31st league goal of the season.
The Tribesmen looked to peg Waterford back once again and came close to equalising with 29 minutes played. After some great skill from Stephen Walsh, Hurley played a defence-splitting pass down the left to Regan Donelon who looked to pick out the onrushing Ed McCarthy at the back post, but Sam Sargeant did well to come out and claim the cross.
Coughlan was almost gifted his hat-trick on 36 minutes after a defensive mix-up left him with a chance to score, but after cutting inside he couldn’t direct his effort on target.
After an end-to-end first 45 minutes, United went in at the break with a one-goal deficit to overturn and John Caulfield looked to the bench at half time to turn the game around. Francely Lomboto and Wassim Aouachria were introduced, replacing Aodh Dervin and Ronan Manning.
The attacking changes certainly made an impact as United went on the front foot from the start of the second half. In the 52nd minute, McCarthy got the better of two Waterford defenders down the right wing before aiming a cross towards Hurley at the back post, but the cross had just too much power on it for Hurley to control.
Moments later, Aouachria looked to be in behind the defence and he unselfishly pulled the ball back into the danger area, but there was nobody there in maroon to meet it.
The pressure from the visitors continued to mount as the game approached the hour mark. McCarthy looked to pick someone out at the back post once again and this time Walsh was there to head back across goal to Aouachria, but his header went agonisingly wide of the post with Sargeant rooted to the spot in the Waterford goal.
Despite the Tribesmen’s push for the equaliser, Coughlan kept United on their toes throughout the second half as he tested Clarke from range with 61 minutes on the clock.
The Waterford faithful were demanding a penalty in the 66th minute as Coughlan was released on the counter-attack and played the ball inside to Roland Idowu who went down under the challenge from Conor McCormack, but the referee waved away the appeals.
Idowu almost scored from an improbable angle moments later when he tried to catch Clarke out at his near post with a strike from near the corner flag, but it flew into the side netting.
McCarthy continued to trouble the Waterford defence down the right-hand side when, with 15 minutes left to play, he slipped the ball through to Aouachria who looked set to score on his return to the RSC but a brilliant tackle from Baggley thwarted the United striker.
Coughlan almost put the game to bed in the 83rd minute when he charged through on goal but Brendan Clarke produced a great save to deny him his hat-trick and keep the game alive for United.
United continued to push for the equaliser deep into stoppage time and committed everybody forward for a free kick which Clarke stood over on the half-way line in what seemed to be one last throw of the dice. Clarke delivered the set piece into the box and the breaking ball fell to the feet of Francely Lomboto who hammered a half-volley into the back of the net to send the travelling support into raptures. The jubilation in the stands was matched in the away dugout as the Galway United bench spilled out onto the pitch to celebrate with the fan favourite Lomboto who had just produced one of the biggest goals of United’s season so far.
Despite a late attempt from Waterford to get back in front, United held on for the 2-2 draw to secure an invaluable point which sees them maintain their 16-point lead at the top of the First Division table with nine games left to play.
Manager John Caulfield spoke to the media after the game:
We felt at half time we were right in the match, and that we had more in us. In the second half we were outstanding, we really took the game to them. There’s great fighting spirit in this team. We are in a strong position, but we have to make sure we can manage it out. It’s brilliant for the supporters at the end, sending them all home happy. They can feel and sense that this is a real gutsy team and they have been outstanding all season. We have nine games to go, one more round, we must drive on for the last nine games.”
WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS HERE
Waterford FC: S. Sargeant, R. Burke, N. O’Keeffe, S. Perry, E. Nolan, B. Baggley (S. Atakayi 77’), C. Pattisson (R. Akachukwu 69’), G. Phillips, C. Parsons (K. Cantwell 90’), R. Idowu, R. Coughlan (C. Cresswell 90’).
Galway United: B. Clarke, C. Horgan (E. O’Connor 41’), R. Slevin, K. Brouder, R. Donelon (O. O’Reilly 80’), A. Dervin (F. Lomboto 46’), C. McCormack (R. Manley 86’), E. McCarthy, R. Manning (W. Aouachria 46’), D. Hurley, S. Walsh.
Next up, Galway United travel to Dublin to face UCD in the Sports Direct Men’s FAI Cup Second Round on Friday August 18th, kick off is at 7:45pm.