Malone's delight as Lurgan Celtic cruise to victory over Bangor
Lurgan Celtic have surged up into mid-table security after an eye-catching 3-0 triumph at Bangor on Saturday that suggests they may well climb higher – but winning manager Collie Malone insists the only thing on his mind is keeping the club in Championship One for next season.
The Hoops’ fifth victory of the campaign has pushed them into eighth, just three points off a top-three place, and now only two behind the side they so comfortably crushed at the weekend.
This was a quality display from a side still celebrating their promotion to local football’s second tier, and they looked more than a match for the Seasiders, who missed out on a promotion of their own after losing the end-of-season play-off against Warrenpoint Town.
And Malone, for one, was not surprised to see Celtic emerge victorious from this encounter.
“I’m delighted,” he beamed. “We played well, but then, we have been playing well all season. We looked good against Larne the other week, but came away with nothing.
“I have been telling the players that if they keep playing well, the results will come. Our energy levels were the key today – everyone from one to 11 worked really hard and we deserved the result.
“Every game is a big one for us, with four teams going down this season, so we will be more than happy to settle for survival this year.”
With top two Ards and Harland & Wolff Welders out of league action, and the potential to move within two points of the summit, Bangor set out to impose themselves on the game early, with a string of clear-cut chances.
Colin Nixon rose well to head Mark Cooling’s free kick into the side-netting, Gerard McMullan was denied only by a great last-ditch challenge from Daniel Wilson and Tommy Wray was left kicking himself after volleying over from an Andrew Long corner.
However, Aaron Haire was much more clinical with his opportunity in the 20th minute, as he was able to get plenty of power on his near-post header from Adam Rodgers’ cross to leave Bangor keeper Chris Johns helpless.
The away side could easily have been two to the good less than 10 minutes later, but Joshua Barton’s clean-struck volley from a Stephen Hutchison corner flew over the target.
In the 37th minute, Paul McDowell drew groans from the home support as he attempted to flick on a header to Andy Morrow from Barry Walsh’s ball in, when they would have preferred a more direct effort from him.
Those supporters were frustrated once again, seconds after this, when Morrow collected the ball from just inside the box, swivelling to drag the ball past the left post.
The chances continued to come and go for the Seasiders, with McDowell teeing himself up on the edge of the area before firing marginally over.
At the other end, Raymond Fitzpatrick shot goalwards after a promising run, but Nixon threw himself in the way to take the sting out of the attempt.
On the stroke of half-time, Conor McCorry dropped the ball from a Long free kick, but quickly regathered himself to bring the ball to his grasp.
Had that spillage resulted in an equaliser, this may have been a different game, but from here, Celtic went from strength to strength. Barton extended the Hoops’ advantage in the 57th minute with a moment of sheer individual brilliance. Busting down the left, he rode a couple of challenges before sending an exquisite chip from wide, beyond the reaches of Johns.
A few minutes later, Barton attempted to repeat the trick, but this time, Johns was able to parry his powerful shot over the bar.
The simple fact was that the more this game went on, the more dominant Celtic appeared to be. In the 70th minute, Barton whipped the ball across the face of goal, but Haire couldn’t stretch quickly enough to make a connection.
Bangor, on the other hand, having started so positively, were now doing little to trouble the opposition goal. A Cooling free kick in the 78th minute, lacking power and direction underlined as much.
Lurgan Celtic showed the greater purpose and desire, and Fitzpatrick was unlucky not to score as he crashed an 86th minute header from a Dale Malone free kick against the bar. A minute later, however, and they had claimed their third of the match – Haire charging through untroubled to smash home his second.
In the end, the result was no flattery to the reigning Championship Two champions, and Bangor’s Garth Scates admitted as much after the final whistle.
He said: “They were better than us, they worked harder than us, and they fully deserved their win.
“People may say you should win this game or that game, but anyone can beat anyone in this league. The truth is that we haven’t been playing well at home, but we have still been coming away with results – but not today. ”
Such results can shape seasons for clubs, and it will be interesting to see in the weeks ahead whether Bangor bounce back quickly from the setback, and also whether this could be the start of a great run of form for Malone’s impressive side.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Joshua Barton (Lurgan Celtic): Edges it just ahead of team-mate Aaron Haire, as he looked like he would make something happen every time he touched the ball.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Joshua Barton's 57th minute strike was technically brilliant, from the build-up to the finish.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Chris Johns' excellent stop from Barton's attempt on goal just minutes after scoring that belter.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Conor McCorry's drop from Long's free kick on the stroke of half time could have proved costly, but thankfully he regathered the ball straight afterwards.
Chris Johns: Endured a difficult day despite making a couple of pleasing saves. 6
Gareth Beattie: Rushed his clearances on a few occasions. 6
Dean Youle: Had a quiet afternoon. 6
Tommy Wray: Put in a few decent tackles. 6
Colin Nixon: Without him, the scoreline could have been worse. 7
Barry Walsh: Held nothing back. 7
Andrew Long: Drifted in and out of the game. 6
Mark Cooling: Struggled to get a foothold in this encounter. 6
Andy Morrow: Good acceleration, but few chances. 6
Paul McDowell: Would have liked to have tested the keeper more. 6
Gerard McMullan: One of the more battling displays. 7
Stephen Curry: On for McMullan, 45
Aidan Watson: On for Nixon, 65
Jordan Lucas: On for Long, 65
Kris Pike: Not used
Richard Gibson: Not used
Daniel Wilson: Looked in control at all times. 7
Adam Rodgers: Won the ball well throughout the game. 8
Stephen Hutchison: Intelligent movement off the ball. 8
John Cochrane: Held his own. 7
Dale Malone: A composed display. 7
Aaron Haire: Two goals to his name and plenty more besides. 9
Joshua Barton: The complete individual performance. 9
Raymond Fitzpatrick: Strong and assured. 8
Declan McVeigh: Provided good defensive cover.
Ronan O'Hara: Did the simple things well. 7
Johnnie McAtavey: Not used
Shane McCabe: Not used
Caolan Lavery: Not used
Aaron Rodgers: Not used
Belfast Telegraph Digital