Star's title hopes shining brightest
Crumlin Star 3 Drumaness Mills 1
In a season where it is becoming fashionable for managers to play down their title aspirations, it was perhaps unsurprising to hear modest noises coming from Sean Brown after his Crumlin Star side toppled former Premier Division front-runners Drumaness Mills 3-1.
But make no mistake about it, the title is very much now theirs to lose.
Naturally there are all sorts of permutations, and ifs, buts and maybes, but this was a significant weekend that not only gained Crumlin Star substantial ground on their weekend opponents, but with Nortel also dropping two points in their draw with Dromara Village, their destiny couldn’t be more in their own hands.
Brown’s boys are now 14 points off current leaders Ards Rangers with a massive NINE games in hand, 13 behind second-placed Nortel with seven games in hand and 10 behind Drumaness in third, over whom they have six games in hand.
Yet the Crumlin manager, who earlier in the season said his club’s only aim was to consolidate their place within the Amateur League’s top flight after their first season there, continues to keep his players’ feet on the ground.
Speaking after this, their tenth win of the league campaign, Brown asked: “Who knows? Ask me again in three or four games time whether we will win the title, and I will give you an honest answer.
“Have we got a chance? I think we do, but we have 13 games left and it will be a massive ask, though I have said before that we have the squad here to win trophies. Obviously Ards Rangers will have a say, Drumaness and Nortel are going to be there or there abouts, so there is still a way to go.”
The hosts certainly began like a team with a point to prove. Not long after Crumlin’s Malachy Thompson saved in a one-on-one with Brian McIlmurray after just two minutes, the ball was soon up the other end, with Stephen Brown playing the ball through to Conor McDonnell, who cut back to the edge of the box for Ciaran Murphy, who in turn thumped a rasping effort into the bottom left corner.
Drumaness didn’t have much of an opportunity to recover from this, when some neat link-up play between Patrick O’Neill and Murphy resulted in the latter spraying out wide to Steven Brown, who once again picked his favourite spot in the bottom left corner with some accuracy.
The visitors were already beginning to wobble, and Crumlin were eager to take advantage. Two minutes after their second strike, the home side burst forward again; this time, the outstanding Steven Brown sending a pass from midfield just ahead of Murphy, who, fortunately for Drumaness, was at full stretch with his shot, giving Ryan Walsh the opportunity to save with his knee.
Drumaness did offer the occasional threat, with Philip Savage having to make sure to deny Stevie Rogan by narrowly clearing his own cross bar in the 19th minute, while Walsh did well to keep out another effort from Rogan after the visiting striker had skipped round a defender at the byline.
However, Crumlin continued to show the greater cutting edge, and Murphy was left mildly aggrieved to have been denied a hat-trick after slotting home from another Steven Brown pass, before being ruled offside by referee John Lewis.
The lively Crumlin forward had another opportunity for an early treble on the half hour mark, but chose to attempt a lob over Walsh, giving him a comfortable save, where a more powerful option would surely have done the trick.
O’Neill, too, could have virtually killed the game off in the 32nd minute, but headed into the ground, and subsequently over the bar, from a Steven Brown cross.
At the other end, hitting the target was proving problematic for Drumaness, with McIlmurray lashing well over from a long Gavin McEvoy pass in the 44th minute, and Rogan volleying wide from an Owen Wright ball moments later.
Drumaness were more of a threat in the second half, though the amount of goal-scoring opportunities were nothing in comparison to Crumlin’s first half dominance.
The substitutes, in particular had a big part to play, with Anton McGrattan’s curling 67th minute effort and Nathan Jones’s short range blast in the 75th minute both giving Thompson a major test in the Crumlin goalmouth.
The Drumaness pressure was eventually rewarded in the 81st minute, with a moment of pure individual brilliance; McGrattan finding the top left hand corner with a sublime strike.
However, as the Co Down side pushed forward for an all-important equaliser, they were caught on the break in the 87th minute, and this time, two of Crumlin’s subs played a part. Barry McKervey crafted the key pass to Paul Brown, who happily chipped Walsh to seal the win.
Even an injury time penalty from McGrattan wasn’t enough to give the hosts the jitters... especially as the goal-scorer put it wide on this occasion.
Drumaness joint manager Dessie Campbell was left to admit: “I think they will go on to win it from here. I’m not throwing in the towel, but they have a big panel, and we will have to win all of our remaining games now to push them all the way.”
Malachy Thompson: Had a fine afternoon between the sticks. 8
Conor McDowell: Held his own in a tight defensive display. 7
Philip Savage: Showed genuine class at the back. 8
Gary McKernan: Cool-headed and assured throughout. 7
Paul Berne: A commanding contribution. 8
Paul McLarnon: Pulled the strings and always a threat from a dead ball. 7
Steven Brown: A real livewire, showed an ability to create something out of nothing. 9
Kevin Trainor: A strong display, timed his tackles to perfection. 9
Patrick O’Neill: Powerful and athletic display. 7
Ciaran Murphy: At times looked like he could score at will. 9
Gary Reilly: Nothing was a lost cause to him. 8
Paul Brown: On for O’Neill, 72
Barry McKervey: On for Reilly, 64
John Campbell: On for Murphy, 82
Ryan Walsh: A decent display, even despite three goals conceded. 6
Glen Morrison: Not afraid to push forward. 7
Kevin Ruffin: Did his best to keep the back line in shape. 7
Paul Greener: Found Murphy a real handful. 6
Gary Murdock: A vocal presence. 6
Paul Walsh: A reasonable effort. 6
Gavin McEvoy: Nimble and fleet-footed. 7
Sean McQuoid: Picked us team-mates out well. 7
Brian McIlmurray: Never gave up on a loose ball. 7
Stevie Rogan: Looked much more lively in the second half than the first. 7
Owen Wright: Good movement, but at times spent too long on the ball. 6
Nathan Jones: On for Rogan, 72
Anton McGrattan: On for McQuoid, 59
Stefan Mason: On for Duffin, 85
MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Brown (Crumlin Star). A fantastic standout display, he seemed to be involved in the play at every turn.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It may have counted for very little, but Anton McGrattan’s strike for Drumaness’ only goal was a piece of solo brilliance.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Malachy Thompson’s quick-thinking save from Anton McGrattan’s curling shot in the 67 minute.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: There were no major errors, though Crumlin may wish they had this game killed off by half time.
Belfast Telegraph Digital