Shankill wreck Comber's dream but United focused on beating drop
Comber Rec 2 Shankill United 2 (Shankill win 6-3 after penalties)
The tantalising prospect of an all-Shankill Clarence Cup final remains very much alive, but after watching his side book their semi-final place with a dramatic penalty shootout win over Comber Rec on Saturday, Shankill United boss Robert Robinson had only one thing on his mind.
For while the club’s players and supporters will inevitably dare to dream of a May showdown with fellow semi-finalists Lower Shankill, Robinson is staying focused on the more sobering task of keeping their place in the Amateur League Premier Division.
At present, a total of nine points separate the Agnes Street men from the safety of 12th place, currently occupied by Kilmore Rec, who have played four more games than their relegation rivals.
And crucially, Robinson believes he is beginning to see encouraging qualities in his side at just the right time to give them a hope of top flight survival.
He said: “There will be a lot of talk about the chance we have to play Lower Shankill in the final, and it would be great for the area, but we have ten games left in the league to save our season, so as far as I’m concerned, that’s potentially 12 cup finals in front of us.
“Of course it’s nice to be in with a chance of winning some silverware and medals – that’s what everyone’s in football to do – but my priority is to make sure we stay in the Premier Division.
“I felt we showed a lot of character today. A few months ago, when I came into the club, we lost 5-0 here at Comber on our first match, but the boys didn’t let their heads drop when Comber were on top today. They fought back.”
Comber began the game with great attacking intent, and the only thing stopping Jason Walls from scoring after he breezed through, straight from the kick-off, was a tepid finish.
Meanwhile, at the other end, the only thing that prevented Darren McNamee from hitting the net was the quick thinking of keeper Gerard McVeigh, who darted off his line to steal the ball from the feet of Luke Briers, who had been sent through by Stuart Conlin.
Midway through the first half, the ball rippled the back of both nets in a four-minute spell; Conlin poking in from the back post for Shankill, and Walls slotting home from a promising Brannigan through ball. There was little dispute in referee Glenn Taylor’s first decision, but in the latter case, the Park Way support were incensed, as they felt their man had beaten the offside trap.
Shankill had their chances, with a Gary Young shot saved, while another shot from Luke Briers would only have needed the faintest touches from Young’s outstretched boot to redirect it in, but the connection didn’t arrive.
Yet it was Comber, overall, who seemed to have the more threatening possession, and in the 31st minute, home cheers turned to groans of despair, as a seemingly goal-bound effort from Jonathan Jess bobbled just wide of the mark.
Two great pieces of defensive work kept the game scoreless going into the break, with Neil McGrath throwing his body in the way of a powerful Jess strike, and Stuart Moore putting in an excellent sliding tackle to deny Jordan Doherty at the crucial moment.
Comber re-emerged with a determination to get themselves in front, and their wish was granted in the 49th minute, as Doherty collected a through ball from Andrew Scott before steadying himself to slot with ease behind McVeigh.
However, 10 minutes later the sides were level once more, as Curtis Black burst through, shrugged off his marker then somehow managed to guide the ball into the top right hand corner from an extremely tight angle.
Following this equaliser, Shankill looked invigorated, and enjoyed a strong spell of possession as the game entered a vital stage, with Young having outmuscled two approaching defenders only to shoot straight at the keeper.
It looked as if the visitors’ efforts were to be in vain when the ball was passed through from Liam Judge and caught with a neat half-volleyed finish from Walls to give Comber a timely lead.
There were just five minutes on the clock, and Comber knew if they could just hold out, a place in the last four was theirs. But to their credit, Shankill showed that fighting spirit, and by the 88th minute, it was 2-2, as Christopher Watters picked out Young, who in turn slotted into the bottom right corner.
With neither team able to affect matters in extra time, it was all down to penalties.
Shankill’s Luke Briers and Aaron Spence netted, which meant Comber’s miss from Jess and save from McNamee were costly. Young delivered for Shankill, and while Jarlaith Brannigan responded with his own goal, it was Watters who netted the winning penalty in off the foot of the post.
“I’m very disappointed,” reflected Comber boss Philip McDonagh, who had brought himself on for the closing half of extra time.
“The Clarence Cup was a competition we had ear-marked, as I felt we had a team capable of winning it. The players need to have a look at themselves.”
Gerard McVeigh: Decent game with some good saves. 7
Jarlaith Brannigan: Threw himself into every challenge. 8
Jamie Turner: Left little to chance. 7
Neil Moore: Overall reliable display. 7
Andrew Scott: Often the last line of defence. 8
Eamon Connor: Cleared the danger well. 7
Jonathan Jess: Made some positive moves down the right. 7
Liam Judge: Carved out some good chances. 7
Jason Walls: Carried plenty of threat. 8
Darren McNamee: Timing could have been better. 6
Jordan Doherty: Fine finish got Comber off the mark. 8
Connor Glenholmes: On for Doherty, 81
Phil McDonagh: On for Turner, 100
Brent Reid: Not used
Mark Winstone: Played his part with penalty save. 7
Aaron Spence: Stood his ground well. 7
Neil McGrath: A steady showing. 7
Aaron Robinson: Looked at ease throughout. 7
Stuart Moore: Kept winning the ball back. 8
Christopher Watters: A vital assist and winning penalty. 8
Mark Marshall: An average showing. 6
Curtis Black: A real driving force for his team. 9
Gary Young: Strong, physical display. 8
Luke Briers: Nippy, effective. 8
Stuart Conlin: Positive passing a big asset. 8
Jonathan Picking: On for McGrath, 83
Neil Cooper: On for Marshall, 56
Gareth McCauley: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Curtis Black (Shankill United). His effort and commitment gave an example for his team-mates to follow.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Gary Young’s 88th minute equaliser underlined Shankill’s unbeatable resilience.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Had it not been for Gerard McVeigh’s sixth minute save from the feet of Luke Briers, it could have been a very different game.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Comber, in general, will be annoyed at their inability as a team to hold onto a lead.
Belfast Telegraph Digital