Shankill United lead the way when it comes to the race for league supremacy over their derby rivals Albert Foundry, but they could be forgiven for feeling a little short-changed after the two teams drew 3-3 on Saturday.
The Agnes Street side enjoyed a comfortable three-goal cushion, but ended up with only a solitary point for Foundry to maintain the three-point gap between the two.
Unsurprisingly, it felt much more like two points dropped rather than one gained for Shankill boss Jamie Marks, who is normally more accustomed to chasing Foundry in the league standings rather than leading them.
The former Irish League midfielder admitted: “I said to the team after the game that it felt like a defeat.
“We have a lot of young players, and I think it might have been down to a few moments of bad defending more than any good play from Foundry, but they will learn from it.”
Shankill have plenty to be pleased about, especially given that they are currently sixth in the Premier Division table and are only nine points off leaders Drumaness Mills with a game in hand over them.
Given that the club finished in last season’s bottom two and only avoided relegation into Division 1A because of Newington YC’s promotion from the Amateur League into the Belfast Telegraph Championship, the progress they are making at present is especially impressive.
Marks continued: “There is no point in just going through the motions. You have to compete, and I think against the likes of Kilmore Rec, Crumlin Star, and Foundry, we have done that this season.
“There might have been a time we would have been happy to get a point against Foundry, but on Saturday, we were disappointed. That is how far we have come.
“But we are taking the positives from the result – we have moved up a place in the table and have a few games in hand over some of the teams in the top part of the table.
“I have set them a target of finishing in the top four or five, and if they can put together a run like last season, when they finished strongly in the second half of the season, they are more than capable of reaching that.”
Another pleasing factor for Marks, and no doubt both sets of players, was the huge turnout assembled at the Hammer Sports Complex to watch the game.
On a rain-drenched day that had threatened to wipe out the entire Amateur League fixture list – only a handful of games, including Clarence Cup ties, survived – lovers of the amateur game knew that Shankill’s 3G surface could provide the perfect alternative to the postponed game they had otherwise been hoping to enjoy… and so it proved.
Marks added: “It was a fantastic spectacle, very competitive and played in the right spirit – I don’t think there was a single serious foul – and it was great that so many people got to see it.”