Crumlin celebrate late Irish Cup win over Oxford in battle of the Stars
Crumlin Star have a Tennent’s Irish Cup sixth round home tie against Carrick Rangers to look forward to after narrowly edging a 3-2 victory over impressive NI Intermediate League side Oxford United Stars.
The Ardoyne men are set to take on the reigning NIFL Championship One champions in the last-16 stage of the competition on February 6, and as they bid for a famous quarter-final place, manager Sean Brown will hope they can repeat the same gutsy spirit that eventually saw them over the finish line in this game of two halves.
With the rain lashing down on the 4G surface at the Cliff, the only thing more dreary than the freezing cold conditions was the first half action (or lack of it), but as the weather brightened, so too did matters on the pitch in a lively second spell that produced all five goals.
Indeed, the decisive winner didn’t arrive until the 90th minute, and Brown’s relief at seeing his brother Steven scoring to prevent the game from entering the dreaded extra time was etched all over his face.
“We don’t know when we are beaten,” said the Crumlin boss after the game. “When we drew Oxford, we knew we had a chance to go through, and we took it.
“We may not have done it the easy way, but we are through. Today was all about winning and we have won. We went 2-0 up, and credit to Oxford for getting themselves back into it, but we never kept fighting and never gave up – we never do.”
Perhaps both teams were mindful of how much was at stake, or perhaps it was those harsh early-January conditions, but at half-time it was hard to see where the first goal might come from.
Oxford probably had the better of the opening exchanges, with Seamus Cusack launching a shot over the bar on 13 minutes, while Michael McCann’s glancing header from a Lee Roddy free kick shortly after this went wide.
Crumlin keeper Ciaran McNeill acted as an effective last defender as he rushed 25 yards off his line to deliver an intercepting tackle on Kyle Curran, who had been sent clear by Roddy.
The hosts’ best first half chances arrived in the 28th minute, as a seemingly goal-bound effort from Ciaran Murphy was cleared off the line, and in the 46th minute, when Barry McKervey’s free kick bent around the wall, but not inside the left post.
Crumlin looked to have much more purpose in the second period, and their positivity was rewarded on the hour mark, as Murphy pounced with a tap-in after Anthony Burns’ shot from a Murphy cross had been blocked to his feet by Oxford keeper Kaelan Mulchay.
Having broken the deadlock, Murphy looked hungry for more goals, and didn’t have long to wait until he took another chance. The instinctive striker was yet again quickest to react as a mix-up between McCann and Kevin Roddy in the Oxford defence left him with the ball at his feet – and he didn’t need asking twice, as he slotted the ball confidentally past Mulchay for the second time within eight minutes.
That should have been that – or so Crumlin thought – and when a full-stretch Mulchay parried away from a stinging McKervey strike, it looked to be a question of how many the hosts were going to win by.
And yet, two moments of brilliance from Kyle Curran left the issue of the final result up in the air once again.
With 18 minutes left on the clock, the eye-catching Oxford front-man controlled expertly from a fine forward pass from Roddy, before poking the ball into the bottom right corner. Then, seven minutes later, he spotted McNeill off his line and duly lobbed him from just inside the box.
Now it was Curran with goal-scoring fever, and he was unfortunate not to complete an incredible eight-minute hat-trick, when his fizzing 25-yard effort was well saved by the diving McNeill.
It was a moment that could have wrapped up the game for the away side, but instead, it was Crumlin who went into the hat for the sixth round draw, as Brown aimed a fantastic strike into the top right corner from a McKervey corner in the last minute of normal time.
There was a downside to proceedings for Crumlin as a red card for injury time substitute James Doyle saw them finish with 10 men, but by this stage, their Irish Cup progress was as good as assured.
Oxford boss Emmett McLaughlin admitted: “I’m disappointed for the lads, but I am pleased with the way they got themselves back into it today. It was a good game and one that we had a chance to win, but fair play to Crumlin, they took their chance when they got it.
“That’s just cup football. It’s been a good experience getting this far, but now we will have to just pick ourselves up and regroup to get on with the rest of our season.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ciaran Murphy (Crumlin Star). Pushed close by a fantastic Barry McKervey, but ultimately Murphy’s goals played a huge part in the win – and he could have had a hat-trick!
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Steven Brown sparked huge celebrations among his team-mates, bench and supporters alike with the 90th minute goal that booked Crumlin’s place in round six.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Kaelan Mulchay’s save from McKervey to keep the score 2-0, and Ciaran McNeill’s save to deny Kyle Curran a hat-trick were equal in significance and quality.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: The defensive mix-up between Oxford defenders Kevin Roddy and Michael McCann that led to Crumlin Star’s second goal.
Ciaran McNeill: A fine performance despite the two conceded. 7
Gerard Campbell: A disciplined outing. 7
Aidan McNeill: Good battling display. 8
Gary McKernan: Strong in the air. Assured in all he did. 8
Paul Berne: Showed good range with his passing, and tough in the tackle. 8
Paul McLarnon: Covered plenty of ground. 7
Steven Brown: An accomplished display, deserved his goal. 8
Mark Mooney: A positive contribution. 7
Anthony Burns: Didn’t test the keeper that often, but was always available. 7
Ciaran Murphy: Great pace and even better finishing. 9
Barry McKervey: The man who made things happen. 9
Patrick O’Neill: On for Murphy, 94
Conor McDowell: On for Campbell, 81
James Doyle: On for Burns, 92
Sean O’Reilly: Not used
Jim Campbell: Not used
Oxford United Stars
Kaelan Mulchay: Made plenty of good saves. 7
Kevin Deehan: Pleasing work rate. 7
Adam Clarke: A strong physical performance. 7
Kevin Roddy: Usually quick to close the ball down. 7
Michael McCann: On the whole, stood his ground well. 8
Conor Loughery: Put in a decent shift. 7
Seamus Cusack: Not found wanting for effort. 7
Brian Rainey: Happy to get stuck in. 8
Kyle Curran: Never let his head drop, and positivity rewarded with a brace. 9
Lee Roddy: Good close ball control. 8
Emmett Hargan: Industrious and energetic. 8
Ryan Cleere: On for Rainey, 90
Jack McLaughlin: Not used
Kris Kaps: Not used
Seamus Quinn: Not used
Belfast Telegraph Digital