Classy McKervey gives Crumlin Star the edge over Ards Rangers
A stunning first half free kick from Barry McKervey was enough to give Crumlin Star victory over reigning Premier Division champions Ards Rangers at Drome Park on Saturday, and to keep them in with a fighting chance of title glory this season.
Even the ever-positive Crumlin boss Sean Brown would accept defeat would have all but ruled his men out of contention in the Premier Division race, but this has kept the dream alive for the time being at least.
The maths are straightforward – Crumlin are now in seventh place, a full 20 points behind league leaders Shankill United, but with eight games in hand over them. They are 14 points behind Ards Rangers – who have Immaculata and Albert Foundry in close pursuit behind them – but have four games in hand over their weekend opponents.
So, while it’s true to say Saturday’s encounter was a ‘must-win’ for the Ardoyne outfit, the simple reality is that, with every passing week, every game will be just as vital. There is little room for error.
And Brown has vowed that Crumlin will not shrink in the face of the large fixture backlog ahead of his team of 16 league games, and a continuing Clarence Cup campaign, all to be completed in the next six weeks – beginning with this Saturday’s visit of Ards Rangers to the Cliff.
He admitted: “It’s difficult when you’re playing catch-up on a few teams. If we had lost today, then it wouldn’t have just been Ards Rangers we would have lost ground there. But by going there and beating them, you give yourself a chance.
“We have left ourselves with a lot of league games because we did so well in the cups – we got far in the Steel & Sons Cup and got the furthest we have ever been in the Irish Cup. I don’t care what anyone says, you’ve got to go for these competitions, especially as I’d say any of the top eight or so in this league can give anyone a game.
“We are going for the league this year, too - and I have to believe we can win it. If I don’t, then what chance do my players have?”
The away side certainly started with plenty of belief, and were rewarded with the decisive free kick in the 15th minute, following Jamie Patterson’s challenge on James Doyle. There was plenty of debate on the opposing benches on whether it should have been a free kick and what colour any card should be, and in the end, referee Barry Mullen opted for yellow.
McKervey was direct with his resultant 25-yard attempt, which swerved over the wall and beyond the reaches of David Ferguson. The only disappointment for Crumlin was that James Doyle suffered a shoulder injury in the excitement of the celebration, and was unable to continue as a result.
Meanwhile, in the 23rd minute, a fine piece of skill from Ricky Rutherford found the Rangers striker swivelling to lob a shot which drifted wide of the upright.
Ten minutes later, and Crumlin had the ball in the net again, as Ciaran Murphy collected the ball from a long Mark Mooney pass before neatly sliding the ball past Ferguson, only for it to be ruled offside.
With five minutes to go until the break, Ryan Newberry brought the ball down well from a Glen Upton corner, but was off the mark with his shot.
Ten minutes into the second period, Newberry delivered a great pass into the area for Rutherford, but it seemed to take him by surprise, and he wasn’t able to end the move with a fitting finish.
Crumlin could have, and indeed should have been two-up in the 65th minute, as McKervey threaded into the box for Mooney, but Ferguson got down well to block his first attempt and then saved yet again from Mooney’s drive on the rebound.
As time ticked on, the home side tried to step things up, and it took a last ditch tackle from Paul Berne to stop Rutherford in his tracks after being put through by Newberry, while McBurney fired over from a dangerous ball into the box.
Rangers even had two free kick attempts in the dying minutes, but both Newberry and Jonny Roy hit the wall with their respective efforts.
“It just wasn’t our day,” said Rangers manager Lee Forsythe afterwards. “Everything that could have gone wrong for us, did go wrong.
“We didn’t take our chances, we were quite wasteful with the ball, and some players weren’t as effective as they can be.
“Crumlin Star are becoming a bit of a bogey team for us. But I remember last year when they were celebrating in the dressing room after coming down here and beating us 6-1 towards the end of the season last year, and we went on and won the league. They were celebrating on Saturday again, so hopefully history will repeat itself.
“Shankill really are in the best position, with the points in the bag, but by not winning this, we have made next week’s game against Crumlin Star bigger now.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Barry McKervey (Crumlin Star). Worked hard, tracked back, pushed forward, scored - and all at a level that helped him stand above all others.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Barry McKervey’s free kick was not only a well-executed piece of quality, it was also the moment that ultimately decided these two sides.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: An easy choice – how David Ferguson was able to deny Mark Mooney twice in quick succession at such close quarters midway through the second half, only he will know.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: It was unfortunate that James Doyle injured himself in the celebrations for McKervey’s winning strike.
David Ferguson: A mixed bag, but double save was a memorable highlight. 7
Jonny Roy: A decent effort. 7
Marc Roy: Rarely beaten to the ball. 8
Adam Whitehead: A solid enough showing. 7
Jamie Patterson: A committed performance. 7
Willy McBurney: Full-blooded in his challenges. 7
Craig Campbell: Did the simple things well. 8
Ryan Newberry: Laid off some neat passes. 7
Ricky Rutherford: Got himself among the chances, but not on the scoresheet. 7
Glen Upton: Would like to have been more involved. 6
Simon Moffatt: Passing might have been sharper. 6
David Wilton: On for M Roy, 80
Mark Drysdale: On for Campbell, 66
Gary Brown: Not used
Ciaran McNeill: Not a busy day, but did what he had to. 7
Michael McBriarty: Tidy and disciplined. 8
Brendan O’Neill: Impressive in spells. 7
Gary McKernan: Stood his ground well. 7
Paul Berne: A battling display. 8
Aidan McNeill: Covered plenty of ground. 7
Anthony Burns: Made good inroads throughout the game. 7
Mark Mooney: Gave his all for his team. 8
James Doyle: Bad fortune with injury cut his game short. 6
Ciaran Murphy: A constant thorn in Rangers’ side. 8
Barry McKervey: A superb all-round performance topped off with a cracking goal. 9
Francis Murphy: On for Doyle, 17
Kevin McLaughlin: On for C Murphy, 87
Jim Campbell: On for Burns, 60