Belfast Telegraph

Tullycarnet boss Birch won't rule out double

By Martin Mawhinney

Saturday may well have been the warmest day of 2014 so far, but the windy conditions helped ensure there was rarely a dull moment in this entertaining Clarence Cup clash, with Tullycarnet's joint manager Jimmy Birch happy to admit he was relieved to escape with victory.

The hosts were unquestionably the better side on balance of play, but Kelvin's unrelenting spirit meant that they kept things interesting right up until the final whistle.

With this impressive Tullycarnet outfit now making sure and steady headway up through the ranks, and a Division 2B title looking ever more a formality, the question will now be if they can allow themselves to dream of a potential league and cup double.

"It would be a massive ask for a team in the second bottom division of the Amateur League to go all the way, but hey, why not," asked Birch.

"Without wanting to put the scud on things, the league is looking like it's ours to lose at the minute, but we still have to make sure of it... the Clarence Cup would be a bigger surprise.

"Unfortunately there wasn't that much football played today – the wind was brutal, and we didn't make it easy for ourselves – but we got the result we needed, and probably in the end, deserved."

It didn't take long before it became evident just how much of a factor the gusty conditions were to prove in this encounter, with a clearance from Tullycarnet goalkeeper David Ferguson blowing back in his direction, and he did well to reposition himself and save from a Chris Graham volley.

Home defender John Bamford had clearly not yet fully realised the danger posed by aerial clearances, and as he sent another one into the air, he was fortunate to only concede a corner.

A much more sensible option was to play the ball along the ground where possible, as Tullycarnet's Callum Laverty demonstrated with a fine through-ball to James Gorman, who carried the ball into the box and was denied only by a Glenn Booth challenge.

James Gorman was left kicking himself in the 18th minute, after having done the difficult part in robbing the ball from William McAlister before breaking through with a clear run on goal, he scuffed his shot.

His annoyance at that effort may have increased four minutes later, as Kelvin's Dylan Rodgers collected a long ball from Gary Bingham before slotting into the bottom left hand corner.

Tullycarnet's response was almost instantaneous, however, as Booth felled Gary Bingham in the penalty area, leaving Nicholas Surgeon to convert the 25th minute spot-kick. Less than 10 minutes after that, they went one better and took the lead, with James Gorman threading forward to Paul Davies, who saw the visiting goalkeeper off his line and slid the ball behind him.

Kelvin, who had enjoyed the benefits of the wind advantage in the first half, knew they would have it all to do in the second spell, and pushed hard for an equaliser.

They got it, through a penalty with two minutes to spare until half time; defender David Ferguson handling on the line, and unfortunately for Tullycarnet, his goalkeeper son of the same name was unable to keep out Bingham's cool spot-kick.

Tullycarnet began the second half with the wind literally in their sails, and James Gorman was only inches off the target with an ambitious overhead kick in the 48th minute.

Moments later, the hosts surged ahead once again, after Davies poked home on the rebound, following Bill Gilliland's save from a David Ferguson header.

By the 55th minute the lead was extended to a two-goal cushion, with Davies crossing to James Gorman, who struck in a sweet volley.

Kelvin were by no means a spent force in this game, and pulled it back to 4-3 in the 72nd minute, when Rodgers followed in with a well-directed finish.

In the 86th minute, James Gorman took advantage of Kelvin's failure to clear their lines with a strike which not only restored his side's two-goal lead, but draws him level with suspended strike partner Michael Rea with 16 first team goals for the season.

That should have been the end of the matter, but much to their credit, Kelvin hit back in typically dogged fashion just two minutes later, with Gary Bingham heading in from a Surgeon corner to set up a tense finale.

In the end, however, the Division 2A side fell just short of their opponents in the final reckoning; a view echoed by their manager, Michael Surgeon.

He stated: "I felt they probably just deserved it... they played the better football, and are a good side. Good luck to them.

"In fairness, the Clarence Cup was never a competition we were going to win, but now our focus just has to be on getting as high up the table as we can, with the games we have remaining."

Belfast Telegraph

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