Dundela manager Mark Snodden has seen his team blitz their way to impressive lead at the top of Belfast Telegraph Championship One and to the Steel & Sons Cup final – but on Saturday, he saw an altogether different side of their armoury.
The dominant nature of the Duns’ performances over the past few months has earned them a reputation as the best intermediate level side in Northern Ireland, as they have torn sides apart in their undefeated early-season crusade.
However, with Snodden making seven changes to the line-up which booked their place in the Steel Cup final with a 3-1 win over Crumlin Star, the manager later admitted his team had demonstrated the all-important ability to ‘win ugly’ in this Intermediate Cup clash with Killyleagh YC.
He said: “Over the years that I have been a player and a manager, I’ve seen that good teams don’t always play well, but they do win when they aren’t playing well.
“Today was one of those games. I almost ended up blaming myself, because I made that many changes. I had to give some of my players a chance at some stage.
“We obviously have a big final coming up, and I said to the guys before they came out today that they had to show me a performance that asked ‘why aren’t you picking me?’ I think some of them did, but, to be honest, some of them didn’t.”
One man kicking himself not to have scored early on was Carl McComb. Within the first 15 minutes, the Dundela striker had misdirected two headers wide and scooped a third chance over the bar when unmarked.
Soon after this, a long ball forward found Owain Beggs, but his half volley didn’t trouble Killyleagh keeper Alistair Coburn.
It wasn’t until almost half an hour in that the Amateur League men had their first serious effort, with Jonathan Sergeant gathering the ball after a 25-yard shot from Adam Neale bounced back off the post.
Meanwhile, Coburn was excelling in goal at the other end, getting down quickly to deny McComb from close range, before Tommy Hughes cleared any danger from the rebound.
Dundela had largely been the dominant force in the first half, but in the 49th minute, it looked like they might be made to pay for not taking advantage. Niall Walsh’s looping free kick from just over the halfway line was met by Darren McConnell, whose header was just beyond the reaches of the outstretched keeper.
However Killyleagh’s celebrations were short-lived, as eight minutes later, Stuart McCullough was alert to poke home on the rebound, after the visitors failed to deal with an earlier Stephen Gourley shot following on from Andrew Ferguson’s free kick.
The Duns threatened to move into the lead in the 63rd minute, when McComb took the ball around the oncoming Coburn, but as his cross was headed clear by the well-placed Walsh.
Killyleagh came yet closer themselves shortly after this, and the only question, as McConnell slid the ball across to Andy Carberry, was how the winger managed to balloon his shot over the bar, rather than hit the gaping target.
Nevertheless, the away side did surge ahead once more in the 72nd minute, with the outstanding Walsh rising to head in from a Hugh Ross cross.
Dundela had their keeper to thank that their opponents didn’t pull clear altogether, as Sergeant first denied Neale again from inside the area, then later spilled from a John Murray shot, but reclaimed in time before the hungry Neale could capitalize.
It seemed certain Killyleagh would hold out, but they will forever rue failing to direct a 90th minute free kick towards the safety of the opposing corner flag. Had they done so, surely the ball would not have ended up at the other end, and, thanks to some nervous defending and a cool finish by Owain Beggs, in the back of the Killyleagh net.
After such a hard-fought game, the draw seemed a fair result – but, with this being cup football, the matter had to be settled. And it was done so in the cruellest possible way for the plucky amateurs, Beggs running in to net his second, in the last minute of extra time, as Coburn failed to grasp the ball from a Michael Halliday header.
The decider couldn’t have been more timely for Dundela, as it is anyone’s guess which team would have triumphed in the lottery of penalties.
Killyleagh manager Stephen Johnston was visibly gutted not to at least have had that opportunity.
He said: “People were expecting us to lose four or five today, but when you get the players believing in themselves, which they did today, you can win any match.
“We could have had that over in normal time, and in my opinion, we had as many chances over the game as they had. I’m proud of my team, but overall, disappointed we didn’t get the result.”
Jonathan Sergeant: Played his part in preventing an upset. 7
Jamie Black: Strong and committed in every challenge. 7
Stuart McCullough: Got forward well in the latter stages. 7
Jonathan Gilliland: An average performance. 6
Andrew Ferguson: Not afraid to get stuck in. 7
Stephen Gourley: Defensive cover was second to none. 8
Jamie Jackson: Didn’t make a massive impact. 6
Stephen McCain: Showed good vision with his forward passes. 7
Carl McComb: Should have had a goal to his name. 7
Owain Beggs: Beat his markers for pace regularly. 8
Daniel Burns: Put in a fair shift. 7
Gary Irwin: Not used
Kyle Cherry: On for Gilliland, 72
Michael Halliday: On for Black, 72
Scott Collins: On for Jackson, 84
Ross Davison: Not used
Alistair Coburn: Made some terrific saves. 7
Jordan Kennedy: Found the front-line often with great from deep. 7
Adam McDowell: The main man in Killyleagh’s defence on Saturday. 8
Niall Walsh: Kept things tight and tidy at the back, good at set-pieces. 8
Tommy Hughes: Held his own. 6
Hugh Ross: Threw himself in the way of everything. 7
Ryan Montgomery: Effective at winning the ball back for his team. 8
Darren McConnell: Headed goal was one to cherish. 7
Adam Neale: Unlucky not to find the net. 7
John Murray: A positive contribution, did his best to drive Killyleagh forward. 7
Andy Carberry: Covered plenty of ground. 7
Jonny Murray: On for Carberry, 87
Gary Murray: On for Hughes, 60
Hugh Dickson: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Owain Beggs (Dundela). Showed an uncanny knack of getting two goals at the most crucial of times for his team
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Niall Walsh’s 72nd minute goal showed Killyleagh’s earlier lead had been no fluke, and that they weren’t just there to make up the numbers
SAVE OF THE MATCH: So many to choose from both keepers, but Alistair Coburn’s dive to keep out Carl McComb in the first half was the best
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Killyleagh’s squandering of a late free kick opportunity cost them the chance to take the game into penalties