Colin Valley defeated league Division 1C leaders Portaferry Rovers to keep this season's tightest title battle in all of the Amateur League well and truly alive on Saturday, while their manager Danny Mulholland admitted: “It’s been a success no matter what happens now.”
The West Belfast side are now second, level on points with their weekend opponents and involved in a tussle with their fellow promoted sides from last season Rovers and Ballynahinch Olympic, as well as Bangor Amateurs, to see who will land the coveted top two promotion spots into next season’s 1B.
With only two games left to play, and the other teams still with four - and in the Amateurs’ case five, there is little doubt that Colin Valley are the outsiders of the pack in terms of promotion hopes, but this performance and result have given them a timely boost when it was most needed.
Mulholland stated: “This is our first season in intermediate football and I listened to a lot of people telling me 1C was going to be easy... believe me, it’s not. Our aim was to stay in this division, so what we have done up to this stage is a massive achievement.
“We will get out of this league, and if that takes time, then so be it. Portaferry are definitely the favourites, and it looks like it will be all down to whatever Ballynahinch and Bangor Amateurs can do from there.
“The main thing is that we have kept ourselves in it, and I was delighted with the boys’ workrate today. If we can win our last two games, we will give ourselves a chance, and I can ask no more than that.
With so much at stake, and at such a late stage of the season, there was sure to be a certain level of tension between the two teams, and so it proved in a physical battle with few clear-cut opportunities for either side all afternoon.
For Portaferry, in particular, it seemed the chances had dried up in what was their fourth game in seven days, having drawn 3-3 with Bangor Amateurs on the previous Saturday, beaten Ballynahinch Olympic 6-1 on Tuesday and Shorts 4-1 on Thursday.
Valley’s Liam Judge set the tone for the game from the outset with an ambitious effort well over the bar from 30 yards, while the industrious Vincent Matthews did actually force a fine stop from Portaferry goalkeeper Andy Sands in the 9th minute, shooting low after he had been put clean through by Stephen McClenaghan.
The hosts weren’t having much joy at the other end either. Aidan McClusky rose to nod just over the bar on 15 minutes after a Paul Milligan whipped cross into the box when his free kick came back off the wall. Darren Black later swept a curling effort just past the upright, and McCluskey was forced to shoot into the side-netting under heavy pressure.
Several more half-chances followed before a much brighter hope for Valley in the 43 minute. Matthews did well to beat the offside trap, with a burst of pace down the right, then played a cross to John Benson, who couldn’t quite get enough purchase on his header and ended up giving Sands an easy save.
Both teams unquestionably left the pitch at half time feeling they should have worked the goalkeepers more, but this frustration soon dissipated for Mulholland’s men in the second half when they scored, 11 minutes in. It was a moment that no doubt gave Sands that sinking feeling as he dropped the ball from a routine McClenaghan corner, and Kieran Magill powered in to smash over the goal-line.
This was no time for Portaferry to panic, especially given that three of their goals from their 6-1 win over Ballynahinch had come in the closing 10 minutes. But following a late barrage in which a handful of free kicks by Milligan, Michael Doran and Aaron McCarthy all failed to find their intended target, and a Milligan header from a Doran throw-in which was cleared off the line, Valley’s steadfast defence could congratulate themselves on a job well done.
Portaferry boss Johnny McGrattan remained positive despite the nature of the result.
He later claimed: “Obviously we are disappointed to have lost, but things are still in our hands. To be honest, I didn’t think either team deserved to win that, and the point would have been the fair result.
“For us, it was just a case of us going to the trough once too often and there not being anything left for us to eat. I think we may have been a bit tired from the games during the week.
“Today’s result brings Ballynahinch and Bangor Amateurs right back into it, but it’s important that we pick ourselves up and get back to winning ways again.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Vincent Matthews (Colin Valley). A positive display which played a big part in this important victory.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Kieran Magill’s 56 minute tap-in for Colin Valley... the only goal of the match.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Andy Sands’ 9 minute save from Vincent Matthews showed tremendous reflexes.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Andy Sands’ drop from Stephen McClenaghan’s corner which aided the Valley goal was a moment to forget.
Andy Sands: Goal conceded was a soft one, but a decent game otherwise. 6
Andy Mason: Held his own for most of the match. 6
Brian Fitzsimmons: Pushed ahead plenty to give his team-mates on option. 7
Paul Milligan: No-nonsense tackling from start to finish. 7
Garrett Curran: A rock at the centre of Portaferry’s defence. 7
Paul Convery: Chased down every loose ball. 7
David Fitzsimmons: Strong and physical performance. 7
Aaron McCarthy: Delivered some good crosses from the corner flag. 6
Darren Black: Got himself into good positions. 7
Aidan McCluskey: Put in a decent shift. 6
Colin Trainor: Always looking for a way through. 7
Fergal Sims: On for Fitzsimmons, 69
Michael Doran: On for Black, 71
Conal Fitzsimmons: On for McCluskey, 57
Paul Duff: Didn’t let his team-mates down. 8
Stephen McClenaghan: Got up well to support the attackers. 7
Emanuel Wilson: Made every ball in the air his own. 7
Christopher Milligan: Full of running and endeavour. 7
Kieran Magill: A solid disciplined display. 6
Charlie Dunlop: Showed some stylish touches. 7
Michael McClinton: Worked hard to win the ball and to keep it. 8
Sean Foster: Linked the play up well when he got forward. 8
John Benson: A good team player. 7
Liam Judge: Industrious in the final third. 7
Vincent Matthews: Involved in the best of Colin Valley’s attacking play. 8
Damian O’Reilly: On for Benson, 65
James Lewis: On for Foster, 83
Sean Wilson: On for McClenaghan, 75