Delighted St Paul’s manager Micky Kelly has admitted their penalty shootout win over Greenisland in the Junior Shield on Saturday has helped to put the disappointment of their Junior Cup exit at the same stage last week behind them.
The West Belfast men were still licking their wounds from last weekend’s 1-0 knockout blow by Windmill Stars in the build-up to this game, but against Greenisland, showed all the resolve they will need if they want to lift this prestigious County Antrim FA trophy.
And Kelly is backing his team to complete the job... but only if they learn the lessons given to them over the past fortnight.
He said: “We can win the Junior Shield, yes, but then again, we thought we could win the Junior Cup. The boys were deflated after that defeat, but the fact was that Windmill Stars saw our attacking strength and made sure to shut us out at the back.
“That’s what you are going to get at this stage of these competitions – teams have their tactics spot on, so we have to do the same. If we prepare in the right way, we can keep progressing.
“I thought we made things difficult for ourselves today. We got ourselves two early goals, then for some reason lost our shape, and credit to Greenisland, they fought hard to get back in it.
“When it went to penalties, though, I felt confident, because it is something we had been practising during the week.”
It initially appeared St Paul’s were going to have the game sewed up by half time, with the ruthless Adrian Oliver sinking a brace before ten minutes had elapsed.
The first was a volley in from an Eoin Saunders corner, the second showed off his instincts as he reacted quickest to slot in on the rebound after an earlier Tairnan McGreevy effort had been saved by Aaron McGrath.
Oliver was unlucky not complete what would have been a memorable hat-trick in the 25th minute, as he was just unable to stretch far enough to connect with an in-swinging free kick from Gavin Moore.
Had he done so, the game would surely have been over as a contest. Instead, the industrious Gordon Baird sent Alan Blain into the clear four minutes later, and although the attacker lobbed his attempt over the bar, he was brought down by St Paul’s goalkeeper Stephen Devine inside the area.
Sensing a potential turning point, Glenn Hinchey struck home the penalty and regained the ball from the net as he urged his team-mates to level the scores as soon as possible.
The momentum was indeed with the home side, and while Michael McNeill’s ambitious 36th minute attempt from some distance went woefully wide, it did at least show the positive intent from Greenisland at this stage of the game.
At the other end, St Paul’s were also off the mark, as Kevin Quinn was wide with efforts at either end of the half time break.
Adrian Oliver was much closer with a superb strike in the 62nd minute, but this was matched by an equally impressive diving save from McGrath.
Greenisland could have equalised in the 67th minute when a Baird header from David Regan’s throw was guided dangerously into the box, but no-one was there to meet it.
However, they did draw level just two minutes later, and in some style. A fantastic cross-field pass from Baird picked out Blain, who in turn returned the favour with a similar pass back to him, before Baird rifled a sweet volley into the bottom corner.
There were further chances for both sides; McGrath saving from Tairning McGreevy free kicks in the 71st and 78th minutes, and Nathan Orr looping a shot just narrowly over the bar with the last kick of normal time.
Either team could have killed the game in extra time, but St Paul’s came closest with four minutes remaining, when a low Eoin Saunders drive was pushed onto the post by McGrath.
The dreaded but inevitable lottery of penalties followed, and successful penalties from Oliver, Kieran McLeave, Martin Hall and Neal Heaney put the pressure on Baird’s shoulders to net the fifth penalty after David Harris first had been saved. Unfortunately for Baird, he sent his spot-kick over the bar.
Greenisland boss Laurence Gilloway was clearly hurting afterwards, but he did have some words of comfort for his players.
“Our team is a young team, and they have to take the responsibility for scoring and missing,” he said. “They can only get that from games like today, and it is a learning experience for everybody.
“It pleased me the way we fought back today, but this team knows nothing else. They always give it 100 per cent, and I expect that to continue until the end of the season.
“St Paul’s are a good side, and we wish them all the best for the rest of the competition.”
1 Aaron McGrath: Made plenty of saves on a busy afternoon for him. 8
2 Michael Curry: Had a decent 50 minutes before he was subbed. 6
3 Robert Johnston: Didn’t rush into unnecessary clearances. 7
4 Michael McNeill: Well organised in defence. 7
5 Gary Dodds: Put in a fair shift. 7
6 Glen Hinchey: Quality delivery from deep. 8
7 Alan Blain: Great engine and tremendous burst of pace. 8
8 Christopher Dillon: Quiet but effective. 7
9 Gordon Baird: Won the ball well and scored a cracker. 8
10 Marc Gamble: Strong in the tackle. 7
11 Nathan Orr: Covered plenty of ground. 7
12 Daniel Copeland: On for Gamble, 66
14 David Harris: On Dillon, 83
15 David Regan: On for Curry, 50
1 Stephen Devine: Conceded a penalty, but was one of the heroes of the shootout. 8
2 Francis McGreevy: Wasn’t short on effort. 7
3 Martin Hall: Good tackling and pressing. 8
4 Paul McKinney: Won more challenges than he lost. 8
5 Gerard McClenaghan: Aerial presence made him tough to beat. 8
6 Gavin Moore: A solid performance. 7
7 Kevin Quinn: Put in a strong physical display. 7
8 Eoin Saunders: Provided top service for St Paul’s attack. 8
9 Kieran McCleave: Looked sharp and lively. 7
10 Adrian Oliver: Took his chances well, and could have had more. 9
11 Tairnan McGreevy: A positive, purposeful display. 8
Neal Heaney: On for Moore, 69
Stephen McDonnell: on for Quinn, 95
Tomas Wilson: Not used
Gary McGrady: Not used
John Johnston: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Adrian Oliver (St Paul’s). Scored a timely brace and took a successful penalty in the critical shootout.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It may not have won them the match, but Gordon Blair’s 69th minute equalising volley was a touch of brilliance.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Aaron McGrath’s punch to safety from Tairning McGreevy’s 78th minute free kick.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Stephen Devine will be annoyed for bringing down Alan Blain to concede a first half penalty, and ultimately relieved his side won.