Immaculata fight back from two goals down to stun Downpatrick
Titles are rarely won and lost in February, but there is little doubt that Immaculata have sent out a massive statement of intent to the rest of the Amateur League Premier Division with their spirited 3-2 victory over fellow contenders Downpatrick at the weekend.
For this was not only a victory over a team who have truly hit the ground running since their promotion back up into the top flight this season, but also a performance which showed just what the Grosvenor Road men are made of, and a reminder of what they can produce when their backs are against the wall.
From two goals down, and playing catch-up against a visiting side who looked to have the three points in the bag, Immaculata were able to regain firstly their composure, then control of this game, to bring themselves level on points with other front-runners Ards Rangers and Shankill United.
The stuff of champions? It’s much too early to say. But Immaculata manager Kevin Lawlor thinks this experience may have been a timely antidote to any threat of complacency within his ranks.
He admitted: “I ripped into them at half time, because Downpatrick looked like they wanted it more than our players. I think some of our boys were going out there thinking they just have to turn up to win games… well, it doesn’t work like that.
“Our heads could have dropped, or we could have lost our discipline, but thankfully none of those two things happened, and we ended up being the better team over the 90 minutes.
“That was a massive result for us today, against one of our biggest rivals for the league. We had heard a lot of good things about them, and they showed how good they are. We knew they would be, as they had only lost one league game, like us.
“Obviously we are sitting pretty and anyone would give their right arm to be in our position, but we have only played 10 (league) games so far. We are not even halfway there, and there is a long way to go.”
Downpatrick made the perfect start to their afternoon, as they surged into a third minute lead. Holding nothing back, Jamie Sharvin found the bottom left corner with a stunning drive from all of 25 yards.
The county Down side could have doubled their lead just four minutes later, as a Barry Tracey free kick was on target, but Gerard Smith tipped it out for a corner. The Immaculata keeper was just as quick to react when Tracey fizzed a dangerous ball into the area soon after this.
Billy McGovern was unable to test the keeper on two occasions when Immaculata were awarded free kicks in the period that followed, and that only served to increase their frustrations when they watched their opponents capitalise on another opportunity that fell their way, on 31 minutes.
A fantastic high ball from Tracey picked out Stephen Galbraith, who was able to head in from inside the box to further reward his team’s dominance.
Downpatrick were energetic and impressive, while Immaculata seemed out of sorts, and those frustrations increased as another Billy McGovern free kick was hit straight at Michael McKenna in the away goal.
It was clear something needed to change from the Mac’s perspective, and while there were no half time changes in personnel, the second half certainly saw a greater sense of urgency from Lawlor’s team.
This was underlined in the 55th minute, when at the end of a quick Immaculata counter-attack, John Boyce floated the ball across to Adrian Oliver, who steadied himself to drill past the diving McKenna.
Downpatrick had every chance to cut their hosts’ celebrations short, particularly so just seconds after the restart, when Galbraith was sent through by Tracey for a one-on-one with the keeper, but shot straight at him. When Tracey did the same for Galbraith soon after this, it was Billy McGovern this time who delivered a well-timed tackle to deny the striker.
It was as if the importance of the game’s fourth goal had dawned on the players, and Immaculata had Smith to thank for a sprawling save which kept out a sweetly-struck volley from Sharvin, to ensure Downpatrick didn’t get it.
Instead, the home side levelled the scores in the 65th minute, with Colm O’Riordan getting a foot onto the end of a well-delivered Tairnan McGreevy cross.
Downpatrick’s situation was not helped when only two minutes after his introduction to the game, substitute Peter Telford had to be replaced after sustaining an injury.
Meanwhile, all the momentum was with the Mac, and Billy McGovern’s persistence with free kicks was almost rewarded as he clipped the crossbar from 25 yards in the 72nd minute.
Four minutes later, the winning goal arrived. A long ball from deep looked just beyond Boyce, but to his credit, he beat the advancing McKenna to the ball and slid it past him.
And despite soaking up some set-piece pressure in the dying minutes, Immaculata closed out a vital win.
However, Downpatrick’s joint manager Joe McMahon was keen to not overstate the significance of the result afterwards.
He said: “We spoke before the game about the fact that today wasn’t a make or break occasion. I imagine Immaculata will see it as a great three points, but it was a real game of two halves.
“We put ourselves into a great position, but we just didn’t defend well enough in the second half. There were a few players who didn’t play to the standard we know they can.
“It is a defeat, but we will bounce back. There is plenty more from this Downpatrick team still to come.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: John Boyce (Immaculata). A fine example of a player who never let his head drop.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: John Boyce’s 76th winner completed a remarkable turnaround in this battle of early Premier Division title contenders.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Gerard Smith’s diving save from Jamie Sharvin’s 58th minute volley really stood out.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: If Stephen Galbraith had chosen to shoot either side of Smith on 56 minutes, he would surely have doubled his tally and put Downpatrick 3-1 ahead.
Gerard Smith: Not a bad day’s work. 7
Billy McGovern: Defended well, though set-pieces could have been better. 7
Michael Fisher: Did his bit for the team. 7
Daniel Largey: Good passing range. 7
Sean McGovern: Commanding defensive display. 8
Colm O’Riordan: Superb attitude and commitment. 8
Tony Heagney: Link-up play was a credit to him. 7
Tairnan McGreevy: Impressive work-rate. 8
Padraig Adams: Made a few promising runs. 7
John Boyce: Always on the move. 8
Adrian Oliver: Took his goal well. 8
Colm Carson: On for McGreevy, 83
James Haughey: On for Oliver, 74
Christopher Lawlor: Not used
Michael McKenna: Made several big saves on a testing afternoon. 6
Barry Fitzsimons: Sharp and alert. 7
Christian Holland: First to the ball more often than not. 7
Mark Holland: A good influence on those around him. 7
Niall Walsh: Gave his team-mates confidence from the back, in the first half. 7
Jamie Sharvin: A tricky customer with a powerful shot. 8
Barry Tracey: A real livewire, kept the opposition occupied. 8
Andy Baggley: Had a few decent passing moves. 7
Stephen Galbraith: Showed composure for his goal, but could have had more. 7
Philip Traynor: Good pace and a great engine. 7
Aaron McGarry: A gutsy performance. 7
Ruari Fitzpatrick: On for Telford, 68
Richard Kerr: On for Sharvin, 66
Peter Telford: On for Traynor, 66
Belfast Telegraph Digital