Foundry just too strong for Bryansburn in the end
Albert Foundry were made to work for their place in the Clarence Cup quarter-finals by a spirited Bryansburn Rangers side ranked three leagues below them – but that was no surprise to winning manager Colin McIlwaine.
The Paisley Park side are still in the Premier Division title hunt, although will need to win both their games in hand just to bring themselves within five points of second-placed Ards Rangers and third-placed Immaculata.
With a testing home tie in the last eight against the winners of Downpatrick versus Shorts, this represents Foundry’s best chance for silverware this season, but McIlwaine – who watched his men pull themselves back from a half-time deficit on Saturday – wants to keep firing on all fronts.
He said: “I know people will be saying that we will pay the price for our good cup runs this year, and it does look like a massive ask to close the gap at the top of the league, but we are not on our own. The team who gets the most luck with their squad over the next few weeks will probably be the one who wins it.
“We are in a good position in the Clarence now, but any team in the last eight will be. They will all fancy their chances at that stage in the competition.
“We will be up for each game, just as we were today. I know, on paper, it might have looked like a straightforward game for us, but I told the boys beforehand that it wouldn’t be. It was a dodgy start for us, and then you do get days when you think it isn’t going to be your day, but overall we dominated the game and deserved to win in the end.”
If there was a script to this game, Bryansburn had torn it up by the fifth minute, when a teasing corner from Mark Coard found its way to the back post for Lewis Stevenson, who gratefully scrambled it over the line.
And they had almost rewritten the entire story another five minutes later, when Stewart Morrison nicked the ball from a Foundry defender at near post, before clipping the inside of that post with a stinging effort form a couple of yards out. The Bryansburn bench arose to cheer what they thought was a goal, but the ball had not crossed the line and Morrison was left with his head in his hands.
He would have known what a significant miss that was, and so too it appeared, did Foundry, who were awoken into action. Paul Young glanced a header just wide of the post with Foundry’s first serious attempt of the game.
Free kicks provided yet more opportunities for Bryansburn to double their advantage, but Coard’s from 30 yards travelled over the bar, while Stevenson’s from out wide drifted past the target.
The visitors upped the tempo somewhat midway through the half, and when Graeme Beck’s shot from Young’s corner missed the net by an inch, it felt like a let-off for their hosts.
In the 39th minute, Daryl McAlinden twisted and turned his way past a couple of defenders to reach the by-line, but his decision to shoot (over the bar), rather than play a pass into the box, turned out to be the wrong one.
Any goal before the break would be timely, and Bryansburn were unfortunate to see Morrison’s powerful header at the edge of the box from a fantastic cross-field pass from John Mahoney loop just over the top corner. Meanwhile, at the opposite end, Aaron Harris rattled the underside of the crossbar with a rasping effort from 25 yards.
McIlwaine’s men may not have found the net in the first half, but they wasted no time in doing so in the second. Within two minutes of the restart, Young popped up at the back post to guide the ball home from a fantastic Mark Neill pass.
The chances were really mounting up for the Premier Division outfit – with a McAlinden free kick which had too much bend, and home keeper Gavin Robb saving well from Marcus Beattie – but just as the pendulum was swinging in Foundry’s favour, Coard forced a fine fingertip save from Stephen Cairnduff with a sweeping goal-bound thumper from 20 yards out.
If only Robb, at the other end, had continued his encouraging form in the game a minute later. However, the Bryansburn keeper slipped up as he went to make a routine clearance, allowing McAlinden to nip in and slide the ball behind the unfortunate goalie.
There was always potential for the odd mishap on a surface best described as ‘bobbly,’ and in the 90th minute, Cairnduff very nearly shared his opposite number’s anguish as an audacious Craig Beattie drive from 35 yards took an unexpected bump and ended up hitting the keeper in the face, only for him to reclaim the ball.
Then, a minute into injury time, Foundry rubber-stamped their progress into the last eight, as Young curled a delightful shot above and beyond Robb’s reaches.
Perhaps not the outcome Bryansburn manager John Jones was dreaming off at half-time, but plenty of positives to take, nonetheless.
“I thought it was a harsh score-line, but that performance was still a big boost for us going into the last part of the season,” Jones reflected.
“I thought we did well, especially since we hadn’t played a match in five weeks (due to postponements and receiving two byes in earlier rounds). The fitness was good, and that’s all down to my assistant Rab McDowell. ”
With a top two place in Division 1C still a mathematical possibility, Bryansburn will need all of that fitness and stamina to help them cram in the remaining half of their league schedule before the end of the season.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Neill (Albert Foundry). A very bright young prospect. Grabbed this first team opportunity with both hands.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Bryansburn’s fifth minute goal from Lewis Stevenson gave the first half an interesting dynamic.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Stephen Cairnduff’s fingertip save from Mark Coard’s 60th minute pile-driver.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: It was hard not to feel for Bryansburn keeper Gavin Robb, as he stumbled in the 61st minute, giving Daryl McAlinden an unmissable chance to give Foundry the lead.
Gavin Robb: Vocal and imposing – a shame that one mistake was his undoing. 6
John Kehoe: Always ready to chase down a loose ball. 7
Jordan Parkes: Impressive in the air and on the ground. 8
Craig Beattie: Confident and assured. 7
Ross Gray: An effective last line of defence. 8
Tom McGreevy: Did the simple things well. 7
Mark Coard: Excellent delivery of the ball. 8
Lewis Stevenson: Got the all-important opener and could have had more. 8
Stewart Morrison: Good positioning, unlucky not to score. 8
Mark Ballentine: Quick on the break. 7
Jonny Mahoney: Covered plenty of ground in the final third. 7
Phil Green: On for McGreevy, 62
Aaron McKeown: On for Ballentine, 75
Connor Hindmarsh: On for Stevenson, 79
Stephen Cairnduff: Played his part in the win. 8
Ian West: Got forward well. 7
Daryl McAlinden: Skilful and instinctive. 8
John Burns: Did everything asked of him. 7
Graeme Beck: Made his presence felt. 8
Paul Acheson: Good range from deep. 7
Mark Neill: Nothing was a lost cause for him. Great passing too. 9
Aaron Harris: Looked totally at ease on the ball. 8
Paul Young: Grabbed a well-deserved brace. 8
Marcus Beattie: Good movement on the counter. 7
Barry Moore: No complaints about his performance. 7
Stuart Martin: On for Acheson, 64
Darren McCombe: On for M Beattie, 64
Paul McCord: On for West, 73