Amateur League Premier Division leaders Nortel eased into the quarter-final of the Clarence Cup with a convincing 5-0 win over Crumlin United, and if manager Paul Foy is dreaming of a double, he is certainly keeping it very much to himself.
Inside, the Monkstown Avenue gaffer must be doing cartwheels having transformed a club who only narrowly avoided relegation in the previous campaign to one in the driving seat with only seven matches to go in the title run-in.
They also have a cup run to look forward to, and the manner with which they dominated one of the best teams in Division 1A on Saturday indicates they have every reason to be confident of further progress, despite a tough forthcoming last-eight tie against the eye-catching Immaculata.
Publicly, however, Foy’s glass is half-empty, and he made clear as much in his post-match comments.
“I still think we will struggle to win the league,” he claimed. “If it comes down to the last three or four games, and we are still in with a shout, it would worry me that the nerves would kick in, and we don’t have the experience to cope with that type of situation.
“As far as the cup goes, Immaculata are a great cup team... it doesn’t get any harder than them, but if we get past them, who knows? The league is the bread and butter, and the cup is a bonus, but no matter what happens now, we have had a great season. We are all enjoying it.
“I was happy with the attitude and desire we showed today, but you saw that even when we were leading by a few goals today, we switched off sometimes, and you can’t afford to do that. There is always room for improvement.”
Such an assessment may seem a little harsh on his players, but the Nortel lads clearly share his thinking, which might explain why they were so quick off the mark.
With just two minutes on the clock, Crumlin’s defence didn’t clear their lines and Owen Thompson threaded across to Jordan Clarke, who slotted neatly into the bottom left corner.
The visiting defence was much more switched on when Nortel broke again in the 16th minute, with some neat build-up play between Simon Craig, Andrew Simpson and Timmy Clarke ending with the latter shaping to strike, but a well-timed block by Eamon McCourt cut out the danger.
On the half hour mark, Simpson found a shot of his own similarly impeded, but this time Timmy Clarke wasn’t to be denied, as he curled into the corner with a sweet effort from the rebound.
Crumlin had been quiet in attacking terms up to this point, but a close-range Gerard Keenan attempt forced Nortel keeper into Matthew Whitley into demonstrating his razor-sharp reflexes, as he tipped onto the bar and out of play.
There was a real positivity in the play of the home side, and this was arguably never clearer than in the 33rd minute, when Simon Craig sent an audacious lob from wide, and 30 yards out, beyond the reaches of the helpless Liam McAuley.
Crumlin, on the other hand, were much more speculative, and a high ball into the box from Jordan Foster was met with a straightforward catch by Whitley, in spite of pressure from the looming Keenan.
How McAuley must have wished for the same confidence in the opposite goalmouth, but sadly for him, it just wasn’t his day, and when a cross was fired in from Timmy Clarke following on from Andrew Doyle’s free kick, the Nortel keeper spilled the ball for the pouncing Simpson to smash in from all of a yard.
The second half was a much less eventful affair, and this was – to the visitors’ credit – as much to do with Crumlin stepping up their game as it was to do with Nortel stepping off the gas.
The trouble was that they were creating next to no opportunities, and on the few occasions the 1A men did look to be through on goal, they were, more often than not, ruled offside.
Nortel had effectively wrapped the game up in the first 45 minutes, but that didn’t stop them adding to their tally with half an hour left. It all seemed to easy as Simpson rose well to aim an unchallenged header into the back of the Crumlin net.
Defeated manager Paddy Kelly stressed his disappointment that his players didn’t offer up more of a challenge to their opponents on the day.
He said: “The difference between the two teams was that we gifted them four of their goals today. I wouldn’t say there is a big difference between our personnel, but we just didn’t look like our minds were on it today.
“It’s looking like it might be beyond us to get promotion this year now, with Derriaghy and Immaculata not looking like dropping many more points, but we have to keep going.”
1 Matthew Whitley: Can be pleased with his clean sheet. 8
2 Owen Thompson: A good all-round performance. 8
3 David Freyne: Tidy and well disciplined. Played a big part in this win. 8
4 Andrew Doyle: Made sure to always get his head to the ball first. 8
5 Ryan Cardwell: A real steady-Eddie at the back. 8
6 Lee Lenaghan: Showed good vision to switch the play when needed. 8
7 Jordan Clarke: Great finishing from the midfielder. 8
8 Craig Caughey: Came out of most 50-50s with the ball. 8
9 Simon Craig: Showed a good eye for goal with a fine strike. 8
10 Andrew Simpson: An impressive, energetic display. 8
11 Timmy Clarke: Chased won every loose ball. 8
12 Adam Irwin: On for Craig, 62
14 Stuart Conlin: On for Clarke, 65
16 Michael Herron: On for Doyle, 52
1 Liam McAuley: A bad day at the office. Looked short of confidence. 4
2 Eamon McCourt: Decent positioning, but some clearances could have been better. 6
3 Ciaran Docherty: A vocal presence, although found first half tough going. 6
4 Gavin McArdle: Beaten to the ball once too often. 5
5 Anthony McCullagh: Probably Crumlin’s best defender on a tricky day. 7
6 Gerard Keenan: Hustled and harried in the centre of the park. 7
7 Ryan Gorman: Endured a difficult first half. 5
8 Michael Longstaff: Did his best to give his side some attacking threat. 6
9 Jordan Foster: Unable to find any sort of breakthrough. 5
10 Patrick McIlkenny: Had some nice touches. 7
11 Patrick McCaffery: Drifted in and out of the game. 6
12 Stan Mahoney: On for McCourt, 54
14 Kris Wilson: On for Gorman, 54
15 Gerard Pickering: On for Longstaff, 65
MAN OF THE MATCH: David Freyne (Nortel). He may not have got amongst the goals, but his contribution at both ends of the pitch was superb.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Simon Craig’s 30-yard lob was easily the pick of the bunch on an afternoon when Nortel went goal-crazy.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: It wasn’t Matthew Whitley’s busiest game, but his stop from Gerard Keenan’s close-range strike in the first half showed how switched on he was.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: It was hard not to feel for Liam McCauley as he dropped the ball to set up Andrew Simpson for Nortel’s fourth.