Abbey Villa strike a blow to Comber's promotion hopes
Comber Rec manager Phil McDonagh has warned his players that indiscipline may cost them their chances of an immediate return to the Premier Division.
The Park Way side’s third dismissal in recent weeks played a part in a defeat that allowed promotion rivals Lisburn Rangers to leapfrog them into second place in Division 1A.
Now two points behind Rangers, and with four games left to play compared to their rivals’ remaining six, McDonagh concedes they have left themselves an uphill struggle at this crucial point in the season.
He said: “We are now in a position where it all depends on how other results go, but we are probably going to have to won our remaining four games now to give ourselves any sort of chance.
“Discipline has cost us again today, in a game we could have won. When it’s 11 v 11, we are capable of beating anyone in this division – but the players need to start realising that. We need all our men on the pitch.
“While it is mathematically possible, though, we will keep fighting to get ourselves back up to the Premier Division again.”
What must have particularly annoyed McDonagh was that his team had started so strongly. Neil Moore gave the home support something to really cheer after just nine minutes, as he chested the ball down and launched a superb volley into the top right corner from almost 35 yards.
Two minutes later, Martin Jones had a free kick opportunity to double the lead, but hit it straight at visiting goalkeeper Jon Munn.
Then Villa sparked into a little bit of life, as Gareth Sloan knocked an attempt over the bar from 20 yards, and Adam Arthurs was put through by Jordan Dalzell before having his shot saved.
However, a sustained period of pressure by the away side did pay off in the 27th minute, when Sharrat got the ball inside the box and squared to Dalzell, who was ruthless with his finish.
Home keeper Stephen Croft was kept on his toes a minute later, as a high ball into the box took a sudden dip and he did well to tip over the bar. Croft had the sliding Patrick Fox to thank that he didn’t have another save to make on 37 minutes, as the agile defender cut out a thumping Thomas Dickson strike surely headed for goal.
Villa suffered a blow on 40 minutes as Gareth Sloan pulled up with a recurring hamstring problem and later received medical treatment for the injury. They almost went behind once again on the stroke of half time, but Andrew Cooling cleared off the line from Shane Murray at the back post.
The 52nd minute brought a pivotal point in proceedings, as referee Cecil Floyd gave Fox his marching orders after an off-the-ball incident, and from this point onwards, the pendulum swung in the visitors’ favour.
Dean Justin played a dangerous through ball to Dalzell, but Matthew Crooks sprinted back well to put in a timely challenge, while a swerving Gary Sharrattt attempt bent just past the upright.
However, a unique goal from Adam Arthurs in the 82nd minute ultimately gave Villa the edge, and the three points. He rose well from a Michael Dunbar corner to rattle the crossbar with his first header, then find the net with a second from the rebound.
All in all, an afternoon of mixed emotions for Villa manager TJ Young, much like the season has been, in truth. The one-time 1A one leaders hit a bit of a slump during a heavily weather-influenced winter, and this was at least a reminder of the quality they possess on their day.
He said: “We’ve had a disappointing time since Christmas – we played well at the start of the season, but not playing much over about four months has cost us.
“I believe we are as good as any team in the league, but I just don’t have the squad, in terms of numbers.
“But I was very happy with how we did today. We had the better chances, and while their sending off didn’t help them, I felt we were solid at the back. It was a big scalp for us.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jordan Dalzell (Abbey Villa). His team’s most accomplished creative driving force.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Neil Moore’s long-range opener was a real beauty. The only pity for him was that his team got no points to show for it.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Patrick Fox’s crucial sliding challenge to keep out Thomas Dickson’s goal-bound drive in the 37th minute.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Patrick Fox’s sending off early in the second half was arguably the pivotal moment in this game.
Stephen Croft: A reasonable effort. 6
Andrew Scott: Put in the odd good cross. 7
Neil Moore: His goal was worthy of a rating in itself. 8
Patrick Fox: Was playing well, up until his red card. 6
Matthew Crooks: Worked hard to keep up to pace. 7
Gerard McIlea: Had his moments. 7
Richard McClean: Did his best to give cover to the back-line. 7
Jason Walls: Not easily shrugged off the ball. 8
Martin Jones: Touch was a little heavy at times. 6
Joseph McKinney: Not a standout figure on this occasion. 6
Shane Murray: A workmanlike display. 7
Eamon Connor: On for Walls, 54
Daniel Smith: On for McClean, 56
Jordan Dougherty: On for Murray, 45
Jon Munn: Couldn’t do much about the one goal he conceded. 7
Dean Justin: Rarely troubled at the back. 7
Brian Hylands: Solid in the tackle. 8
Andrew Cooling: Kept things tight. 8
Paul Magee: Hardly a pass went astray. 7
Ryan Munn: Did everything asked of him. 7
Gareth Sloan: Injury meant he didn’t see out the first half. 6
Adam Arthurs: Used his height advantage well. 8
Gary Sharratt: Good movement, on and off the ball. 8
Jordan Dalzell: Always a threat, whether scoring or assisting. 9
Thomas Dickson: Showed the right attitude, kept pushing for a goal. 8
Michael Dunbar: On for Sloan, 40
Adam Donnan: On for Dalzell, 84
Craig Cooling: On for Dickson, 90