Donegal Celtic’s amateur footballers certainly didn’t let their Atletico Madrid counterparts leave Belfast last night with another straight-forward pre-season victory recorded.
Celtic manager Pat McAllister, known as one of the hard-men of Irish League football, saw his players leave a bruise or two on the limbs of the professional stars whose visit brought out 1,500 fans to the west Belfast venue.
Atletico stole the show with a late third goal but throughout the second-half — after coasting into a two-goal lead before the break — they were fortunate to survive Celtic’s unrelenting attacks.
Indeed, had they been as precise as the Spanish, Celtic might have overturned the deficit in the second-half.
After a bright start during which the home side’s Andrew Cleary tested goalkeeper Ignacio Gil with a long range drive and Peter Kennedy’s drilled corner-kick forced him to make a second smart save, the class of the visitors shone through with two quality goals in a four minute period.
Victors over League of Ireland side Dundalk on Monday, Atletico took just 15 minutes to leave the ball in the Celtic net. It was a sweet goal too, Alberto Perea gliding across the goalmouth and unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard shot beyond keeper Declan Brown. The Celtic net-minder, who made a superb save to deny Madrid a third just before the interval, was beaten a second time when his defence was clinically split apart by an incisive move.
Joshua Zapata simply brushed off Celtic midfielder Liam Watson and slipped the ball under the stranded Brown after Adrian Jimenez cleverly found the scorer with a perfectly measure pass from just outside the goalmouth.
Celtic came within inches of scoring with their best move of the first-half, started and almost finished off by former Cliftonville striker Stephen O’Neill, a summer recruit for new Celtic boss McAllister.
O’Neill found Kevin Duff all alone on the right wing and the ex-Northern Ireland youth international delivered a super cross for the towering frontman, who after clashing with keeper Gil managed to get a touch on the ball only to see it trickle wide of the post.
Diminutive strikers Eamonn McAllister and Conor Glenholmes gave the Madrid defenders a torrid time of it in the second-half and it was the former who pulled one back for the Hoops in the 53rd minute, the former Crusaders player coolly dispatching Tony Heagney’s pass beyond Gil from the edge of the goalmouth.
Chance after chance was created by a buzzing Celtic side. Watson sent a header over the bar and sub James Lavery, with his first touch, struck the post.
Antrim GAA star Tomas McCann had the crowd on its feet in appreciation of a spectacular overhead kick that clipped the Madrid crossbar in the 84th minute.
At the other end Antonio Campillo, previously denied by substitute keeper Niall Murphy’s superb save, restored his side’s two-goal cushion with a simple finish from close range.
Donegal Celtic: Brown, Spence, Hanna, Duff, Cleary, Lamb, Bradley, Watson, Kennedy, McAllister, O’Neill. Subs: McClean (for Duff), Heaney (for Spence), Armstrong (for Watson), Glenholmes (for O‘Neill), McCann (for Kennedy), Lavery (for McAllister), Rooney (for Lamb).
Atletico Madrid: Gil, Lopez, Cantero, Regalon, Maximiliano, Perez, Noguera, Jimenez, Campillo, Zapata, Perea. Subs: Rodriguez, Robles (GK), Pulido, Atienza, Hernandez, Indiano, Molino (for Perea), Moreno (for Zapata).
Referee: Ray Crangle (Belfast).