Whitehead Eagles manager Raymond Clarke watched his side knocked out of the Clarence Cup by a Basement outfit from the league below them – then admitted they will undoubtedly have to play them again at least twice next season.
This home win may have been seen by some as an ‘upset’ on paper, but anyone who knows their junior football knows that with steady management and impressive squad depth, Basement are a club going places.
Just how far they can go in the next few years remains to be seen, but on this showing, they have the tools to make some progress in this competition, given the right draw... and Clarke agrees.
The Whitehead gaffer remarked: “They are a good side, and I am sure they will be promoted at the end of the season, so we’ll be seeing more of them no doubt.
“Given the conditions, I thought it was a good game, and I was pleased with how our boys battled. We had two or three out injured and we were playing our reserve goalkeeper today, but I didn’t think any of the goals were his fault.
“We lost players from last season, and were wondering how the boys were going to cope, but they have been showing they are coping well.”
The rain played havoc with many of the park pitches at the weekend, yet the surface at Grove Playing Fields just about held out. And while that provided an obstacle to free-flowing football, the game was virtually foul-free and the chances were plenty.
Glen Clarke got the ball rolling for the hosts after just two minutes, with an ambitious effort from 30 yards, which whizzed only narrowly past the upright.
Moments later, a 25-yard free kick from John Lorimer lifted over the wall, but also the bar, while a chip from Gareth Green at the other end went the same way.
Basement broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, after goalkeeper Ryan Morrell took down Peter Sergent in the box, but thankfully for him, only received a yellow card for the offence. Nevertheless, he was unable to do anything to prevent Sergent’s sure-footed spot-kick from hitting the net.
Unfortunately for the goal-scorer, this was to be his last contribution to the match, as he hobbled off injured a few minutes later. But this didn’t stop his team-mates from continuing to pile on the pressure.
In the 25th minute, Mark Arthur played through to Neil Graham, whose chip over Morrell looked certain to make it 2-0, but Kevin Stewart headed it off the line to keep the deficit to just one.
This marked the start of a promising spell for the hosts, where Andy Johnstone and Clarke Murray came close with headers from corners, while only a last-ditch tackle from Stewart denied Arthur, as he was about to pull the trigger.
As is so often the case, however, it was the team with the fewer chances who confounded the pattern of play by levelling with five minutes to half time. Alan Clarke got onto the end of a cross from David Lorimer and had time to steady himself before drilling accurately past the keeper.
The visitors could then have turned the game completely on its head from the restart, as David Lorimer broke on a blinding individual run unchallenged, but the finished product just wasn’t there as he fired wide from outside the box.
Instead, Basement went up the other end and put themselves back in front. Arthur was the scorer this time, slotting home after a neat one-two with David Moore.
Whitehead had their chances to equalise in the second half; a dangerous curling free-kick from Chris Gall that somehow evaded all attackers and defenders, a clear sight at goal for Ally McMillen which was cut out at the crucial moment by the sliding Johnstone, and an Alan Clarke header from John Lorimer’s corner, which was cleared off the line.
But yet again, Whitehead were made to pay for missed opportunities by their opponents, who were much more clinical in their execution. The decisive strike arrived from Graham in the 81st minute, a fine effort from the edge of the box, just when it appeared the away side had cleared their lines.
It was nothing less than Basement deserved, and their manager Edward Heaney, while happy to see his men through to the next stage, has his sights firmly on getting promotion from Division 2C (the Amateur League’s bottom division aside from reserve team football) up to 2B.
They currently enjoy a healthy seven-point advantage over second-placed Greenisland, but will need to keep winning to guarantee the outcome they crave.
Heaney said: “There was very little football out there, and the conditions made it difficult for us to play our usual game. It was just a case of digging in.
“It’s obviously good to get through, but there are a lot of teams much higher up the tables than us in this competition.
“We still have the Cochrane Corry Cup to play for too, but the league is our main priority. We only have seven games left to play, so our season could finish very early, but as long as we get promotion, I don’t really care when it ends.”
1 Neil Thompson: Knew when to come and when to stay put. 8
2 Clarke Murray: Kept things tight at the back. 7
3 Christopher Bunting: Covered every inch of the pitch. A real work-horse. 9
4 Andy Johnstone: Good in the air. 8
5 Derek Spence: Never looked unduly troubled. 7
6 Andy McKinley: Marshalled the game well. 8
7 Glen Clarke: Put in a fair shift. 7
8 Gareth Green: Clever passing throughout. 8
9 Peter Sergent: Great first touch and a keen eye for goal. 8
10 Neil Graham: Looked hungry and sharp all game. 8
11 Mark Arthur: Always on the lookout for an opportunity. 8
15 Ryan McCartney: On for Arthur, 60
12 Kirk McCormick: On for Clarke, 81
14 David Moore: On for Sergent, 21
1 Ryan Morrell: A decent effort from the reserve keeper. 6
2 Kevin Stewart: Great positioning demonstrated with a goal-line clearance. 8
3 Chris Gall: Stood his ground well. 7
4 David Evans: A steady Eddie in defence. 7
5 David Adrian: Good at set-pieces. 7
6 Tony Moran: Injury of deprived him of a second half. 6
7 John Lorimer: Quiet, but effective. 8
8 David Lorimer: Kept things ticking along in midfield. 7
9 Gareth Welsh: Didn’t get as many chances as he’d have liked. 6
10 Alan Clarke: Took his goal well. 8
11 Ally McMillen: Didn’t make a major impact in his 45 minutes. 6
12 Stephen McNair: On for McMillen, 45
14 Joe Kennedy: On for Welsh, 52
15 David McWilliams: On for Moran, 54
MAN OF THE MATCH: Christopher Bunting (Basement). Just as effective in attack as he was in his role as a defender.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It wasn’t until Neil Graham struck Basement’s third in the 81st minute, that they could be sure of the victory.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Kevin Stewart preventing Neil Graham from doubling Basement’s lead with a header off the line.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Rather than singling any one player out this week, it was more the overall wastefulness in front of goal that let Whitehead down.