Bray Wanderers moved to fifth in the SEE Airtricity League table after edging out Limerick 1-0 at the Carlisle Grounds thanks to Adam Hanlon's late strike.
The substitute produced the game’s only moment of quality ten minutes from time to clinch all three points for the Seagulls, who now move in the top-half of the standings on the back of their fourth win of the campaign.
After a first half that produced few moments of inspiration, as both sides’ rigid formations cancelled each other other, the hosts wrestled control of proceedings in the second period before landing the knock-out blow.
Graham Kelly drove at the Limerick rearguard before slipping in Hanlon down the right before the winger showed great composure to cut inside and drive past Shane Cusack at the near post for his first goal of the season.
It was also Bray’s seventh clean sheet of the season as they continue to flourish under Mathews. Here, they were rigid in defence and dynamic going forward and thoroughly deserving of a victory that underlines the steely determination now engrained under the new management.
For Limerick, it was another disappointing outing as the failed to take advantage of several golden opportunities, in the first half in particular. The visitors, who without three players through suspension, were disjointed during the opening exchanges as both sides cancelled each other out in the central areas.
As the half wore on, the visitors began to find pockets of space in between the lines and it was Patrick Nzuzi’s marauding run from left-back that created the first significant opening of the game. His cross, after jinking inside two defenders, picked out the unmarked McManus but the striker mistimed his jump with only the ‘keeper to beat.
With Prince Agyemang acting as a shield on front of the defence, Limerick committed bodies to attack and they should have gone in front just before the half hour mark. Stephen Folan got away from his marker but couldn’t direct his header goal wards after rising highest to meet Shane Tracy’s free-kick from the left.
After a slow and disjointed start, the Munster side had assumed control but were unable to find an end product to match some fluent approach play. Samuel Oji’s knock-down from another set-piece created the opening for McManus but the 33-year-old, on his first start of the campaign, couldn’t keep his effort down from 15-yards.
The hosts came out of their shell after the interval as they looked to give Limerick’s rearguard something to think about but for much of the evening, Ismahil Akinade was outmuscled and outnumbered by Oji and Folan.
At the other end, however, it was the former who should have broken the deadlock. Danny Galbraith’s in-swinging corner wasn’t dealt with and when it fell to Oji from five yards, he fired over recklessly.
For the small crowd in attendance, quality was few and far between and as heavy rain swept in from the coast during the second period, conditions didn’t assist free-flowing football with neither side able to take a strangle hold of proceedings.
Bray, however, managed to up their game when it mattered most. Shane O’Neill’s cross narrowly evaded the in-rushing David Scully before Graham Kelly and Dean Zambra tested the handling of Shane Cusack in quick succession.
With a quarter remaining, O’Neill made way for Hanlon and his impact was immediate. Kelly drove at the Limerick defence and slipped in the substitute, who cut inside from the left and drove home to take the spoils.
Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness; Niall Cooney, Dave Webster, Adam Mitchell, Jamie McGlynn; Shane O’Neill (Adam Hanlon, 71), Dean Zambra, David Cassidy, Graham Kelly, Dave Scully; Ismahil Akinade.
Subs not used: Shane Redmond, Shane Byrne, Danny O’Connor, Gary Curran, Michael Brown, Ciaran Byrne.
Limerick: Shane Cusack; Shaun Kelly, Samuel Oji, Stephen Folan, Patrick Nzuzi; Shane Tracy (Ross Mann, 88), Prince Agyemang, Shane Duggan, Jason Hughes, Danny Galbraith (James McGrath, 81); Thomas McManus.
Subs not used: Ali Abass, Michael Leahy, Darragh Rainsford, Colm Murphy, Tony Whitehead.
Referee: Ben Connolly