A solitary point separates Amateur League Division 1C rivals Bangor Amateurs and Shorts, but the dividing line seemed that bit wider when the two clashed in the first round of the Coca-Cola Intermediate Cup on Saturday.
The visiting side from Belfast’s Holywood Road were, largely speaking, the dominant force and fully deserved to make it into the next round.
Yet it wasn’t the result that pleased victorious manager Alan McClelland, so much as the way his players went about getting it.
He remarked: “We were looking to come down and get a good performance after last weekend, when we beat Kilroot, but I felt we could have given a better account of ourselves.
“I asked the boys to up it a wee bit, and they did that. They were absolutely super; everyone was magnificent to a man, from one to 14.
“The effort, the work-rate and the commitment were all there, we were first to every ball, and we took our chances.
“We want to continue this run for as long as possible, and keep the momentum going. We want to win every match, and that is the mentality we are trying to get into the boys.”
That determined outlook was evident throughout the game, and it began in a rather one-sided fashion, with only one side creating all the chances.
Amateurs keeper Connor Couston was tested early, as Jordan Mills threaded through to Dale McKee, but Couston held firm and saved McKee’s point blank shot.
Not long after this, Shorts defender Jonathan Cochrane found himself in open space with a clear shot at goal, but ballooned his effort over the bar. As the away side continued to press, Andrew Dummigan turned Rick Willis inside-out, passing into the box to Mark Bell, who probably should have scored, but instead struck the outside of the left post.
In the 20th minute, Michael Ennis looked to have unlocked the Amateurs’ defence with a fine forward pass, but Gary Hewitt and Dummigan charged after the ball, Couston beat them both to it to clear to safety.
The Amateurs weren’t completely devoid of hope; indeed they may have taken the lead five minutes later, when Jordan Mills rose at the right time to connect a sweet header onto an accurate high ball into the area by Craig O’Neill... but it whizzed just past the post.
Heavy rain was beginning to make its presence felt, but it didn’t deter either set of players as they battled through the elements. Shorts were first to get to get their reward, as John Cooper picked out Dummigan, who then cut inside and smashed the ball into the top corner, to claim the opener in the 31st minute.
The downpour may have hid any tears shed by the hosts, but it couldn’t disguise Couston’s blushes as he conceded a second in as many minutes. In his defence, where the first was a sublime finish, this was more of a ghoulish Halloween freak.
It was hard to tell whether it was a clearance or a long distance pass from John McGhee, but either way, it found its way into the back of the net from all the way back inside the Shorts half, as the Amateurs goalie lost his footing on the slippery surface and watched the ball take a wicked bounce beyond his grasp.
By the 35th minute, the Bangor men at least had something to smile about, as Dale McKee rattled the station with an exquisite effort from 25 yards out. Not only was it a fine strike to behold, but it gave the Amateurs a sense of belief not previously seen.
The scores could easily have been level by half time, but Dummigan attempted to beat Michael Gibson at his near post rather than firing it across the keeper, and only managed to find the side-netting as a result.
Unfortunately, the second half offered little as a spectacle, with more yellow cards than goalmouth opportunities, but the important thing from a Shorts perspective was that they took their big chance when it came their way.
The decisive moment arrived in the 83rd minute, with substitute Alan Jamison collecting the ball as the Amateurs failed to clear from a corner, then slotting home with relative ease.
That all but ended the game as a contest, but Amateurs boss Sam McKee admitted his team had been playing catch-up from the outset.
He said: “I had four players missing - including Rory Hamill, who is a big player for us – due to the registration deadline. But I’m not going to make excuses here. The boys didn’t perform on the day, and Shorts thoroughly deserved the win.
“The bottom line is that if it had have been a league game, I would have been more disappointed. The league is what I’m most interested in.
“We expect to be up there at the end of the season, and hopefully we can bring a few more players in over the next few weeks to make it happen.”
Connor Couston: Made some good saves, but a disappointing day overall. 6
Ryan Hassard: Had his good and bad points. 6
McCauley Simpson: Hard-working and tenacious. 7
Rick Willis: Put in a fair shift. 6
Daryl Brown: Showed excellent defensive positioning. 7
Phil McKnight: Left nothing to chance. 7
Jordan Mills: Provided a decent outlet down the right. 6
Dean Justin: Some promising link-up play in midfield. 7
Dale McKee: Scored the best goal of the game. 8
Nick Chichirim: Showed purpose when driving forward. 7
Craig O’Neill: A genuine threat from set-pieces. 7
Greg Fleming: On for O’Neill, 68
Paddy McWilliams: On for Hassard, 85
Jonathan Busby: Not used
Michael Gibson: Could be happy with his contribution. 7
Jonathan Cochrane: Solid and reliable. 7
Carl Graham: Showed good range. 7
Stephen Brown: Skipper led by example with an unwavering display. 7
John McGhee: Good passing out of the Shorts rearguard. 8
Mark Barr: A strong commanding showing. 8
Mark Bell: Didn’t give up possession easily. 7
John Cooper: Did the simple things well. 7
Andrew Dummigan: The main danger man for Shorts. 8
Gary Hewitt: Did plenty of good creative work. 7
Michael Ennis: Found his team-mates well. 7
James Smith: On for Ennis, 80
Alan Jamison: On for Bell, 68
David Dunning: On for Hewitt, 72
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andrew Dummigan (Shorts). Seemed to have a part to play in every positive attack for the visitors.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The five minute spell in the first half where the game came to life with a three-goal glut.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Connor Couston’s early block from Dale McKee sent an early message to his opponents.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: In years to come, Connor Couston will still be having nightmares about the slip that gifted Shorts their second goal.