Brothers put Town on verge of glory
Brothers-in-arms Stephen and Daniel Hughes combined to give Belfast Telegraph Championship One side Warrenpoint Town the right to dream of an historic elevation to the Irish FA Premiership after they recorded a shock victory over Donegal Celtic on Tuesday night.
Daniel claimed a 77th minute match-winner, which was created by his brother, and that goal sets up an exciting second leg at Celtic Park on Friday evening.
And Warrenpoint, who just three years ago were playing in the Mid-Ulster League, will travel to west Belfast knowing a clean sheet will see their remarkable rise through the ranks take them all the way to the top.
Celtic manager Pat McAllister watched helplessly from the dug-out as his team, badly lacking the guile he brought to the game as a player, wilted in the white-hot heat of a scrappy, frantic first leg tie.
The west Belfast men boldly started with three men in attack, but they failed to force a single save from Town goalkeeper Jonathan Parr.
Celtic had settled early in spite of the feverish home support baying for a instant impact and were presented with two chances in less than a minute when first Stephen O'Neill hit the side netting and then Ciaran Gargan wasted a great opportunity after Conor Downey's cross found him unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box.
The home side sprung into life for the first time in the 17th minute when Kenny Kearns drilled in a long-range shot that was whipped only a few inches wide of John Connolly's right-hand post.
That attempt came after a flurry of Warrenpoint attacks that had amounted to nothing.
On the half-hour mark Celtic broke forward in numbers, but neither Mark Miskimmin or his strike partner O'Neill could manage to connect with Paul McAreavey's inviting cross.
In response, seven minutes later, goal-hero Hughes latched onto a defensive clearance, but hesitated when presented with the beating of Connolly. However, the tricky winger remained composed and brought Devlin into play, allowing the latter to force a smart save from Connolly.
The Championship One runners-up came out strongly at the start of the second half and they almost broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute, but at the end of a superb passing passage of play, Stephen McCabe, at full stretch, skied his shot high over the crossbar.
Four minutes later Stephen Hughes thought that he had given Warrenpoint the lead with a fierce goal-bound volley that was brilliantly turned away by alert Connolly.
Fortune was favouring Town as Celtic boss McAllister called the influential McAreavey to the sideline.
The decorated former Linfield midfielder was in danger of pushing his luck with referee Mervyn Smyth after taking an earlier booking for tripping goalkeeper Parr. McAreavey's absence quickly began to tell and Celtic were being over-run in midifield and at the rear.
The tie's decisive goal came after Celtic defender Paul Bradley had the ball nicked from his feet by Stephen Hughes.
The striker sprinted into the goalmouth and forced a superb save from Connolly before he composed himself and sent the rebound across the face of the goal to the grateful feet of his brother Daniel and he put Warrenpoint Town within one game of realising a Premiership ambition.
Warrenpoint Town: J Parr, M Hughes, Moan, J Boyle, Cowan, S Parr, McCabe, Kearns, Devlin, S Hughes, D Hughes (Johnston 88). Subs: G Boyle, McKeown, Anderson, Smith.
Donegal Celtic: Connolly, Bradley, C Burns, M Burns, Keegan, McShane, McAreavey (Deans 52), Downey, O'Neill, Miskimmin (Hughes 70) , Gargan (McAllister 60). Subs: Devine, E Hughes
Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Carrickfergus).