Immaculata beat Ards Rangers to keep title race alive
Ards Rangers 2-3 Immaculata
Ards Rangers manager Lee Forsythe believes if Immaculata can go on and win the Premier Division after beating his side on their own turf on Saturday, it will go down as the greatest ever title success seen in the Amateur League.
The Drome Park gaffer led Rangers to their first top flight crown in over a decade, back in 2012, with a virtually unblemished second half to the season… and it will take something similar from the Mac if they want to reel in Forsythe’s league leaders.
This defeat for Rangers will have been cheered by chasers Albert Foundry (a point off the top, with two extra games played) and Crumlin Star (level on games with the leaders, but seven points behind), but Immaculata now have six games in hand to close a 16-gap on the summit.
It’s an enormous ask – especially with 11 league fixtures to be completed in 24 days and an ongoing Clarence Cup campaign to contend with – but beating the runaway leaders, who had only suffered one prior league defeat to this outing, will invigorate them for the long schedule ahead.
Speaking after the loss, Forsythe admitted: “We were terrible. That was the worst we have played all season. We looked lacklustre and we lacked creativity.
“Our big players never turned up today, and for all the credit they have been taking this season, they can take the blame that comes their way.
“If Immaculata win the league, from the position they are in, it will have to go down as the best Amateur League title win of all time. I have always felt Foundry are the team with the nicest run in, though… they will get to 59 points – so to win the league, that is the total to beat.”
Whatever the case, Rangers will need 12 points from their last six games if they want to reach 60. And with another game against the Mac and one against Crumlin amongst those, an improvement on this showing is essential.
Both teams looked eager to get an early opening in a frantic opening that saw a penalty claim for each within the first 10 minutes. While Immaculata’s appeals were waved away as David McAllister went down in the box under a Marc Roy challenge, referee Damien Grimley pointed straight to the spot after Ryan Newberry was brought down by Darren Bellew.
However, the Mac’s goalkeeper Gerard Smith was bang on form as he guessed right to keep out Newberry’s subsequent penalty. The visitors’ elation was cut short somewhat, however, as McAllister was forced to exit the field due to injury, after just 14 minutes.
Rangers could well have taken the lead in the 19th minute, as Ricky Rutherford collected the ball from just inside the box before testing Smith, who got his fingertips to the angled effort.
Instead, it was Immaculata who took the advantage, in the 23th minute, as James Haughey caught the ball sweet from 25 yards out to send it soaring into the net over the helpless David Ferguson.
Their lead only lasted for eight minutes, though, as Tony Tumelty used his initiative in flicking the ball over the head of the enthusiastic Smith, who had advanced all the way out of his area to give the Rangers forward an empty goal at which to aim.
Immaculata dominated proceedings from this point to the break, with Ferguson saving well from Newberry at close quarters, and also from a John Boyce header, while substitute Kevin McGovern dragged painfully wide from a fantastic Boyce through-ball.
There was much less goalmouth action in the second half, but the game, as a spectacle, didn’t suffer for it.
In the 53rd minute, Rutherford looked to have played a decisive pass through to Tumelty in the area, but it was just beyond the latter’s reaches.
The away side regained the lead on the hour mark, with Boyce producing a special strike from wide, outside the box, with pin-point accuracy into the top corner.
And while a decent home support did their best to rally their team, there were few opportunities of quality for them to cheer in the remainder of the game.
With three minutes on the clock, Gary Dorrian made sure of all three points for the Mac, tucking home a penalty, after Gary Brown’s foul on Boyce.
And although Rutherford also scored from the spot following a Heagney hand-ball, deep in injury time, it was to be the last meaningful touch of the game.
With a mix of confidence and caution, Immaculata manager Kevin Lawlor later reflected: “I knew we would beat them today. We were the better footballing side out there.
“That has given us a big boost today, but we are not even looking at whether we can win the title or not yet… it’s just one game at a time from here.
“We have dropped points against teams we should have been beaten, and yet we have now beaten a team who were unbeaten for most of the season.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen – but I do know these boys will give it 120 per cent.”
David Ferguson: Conceded three, but could’ve been more. 6
Jonny Roy: A committed effort. 7
Marc Roy: Tough in the tackle. 7
Gary Brown: Late error proved costly. 6
Jamie Patterson: Didn’t fully get into the game. 6
Ryan Mann: Put in a few good passes. 7
Gary McDermott: Only a few flashes of quality. 6
Ryan Newberry: A frustrating display. 6
Ricky Rutherford: Looked sharp and alert. 8
Tony Tumelty: Kept his cool for his goal. 7
Simon Moffatt: Didn’t catch the eye. 6
Allen Reid: On for McDermott, 71
Ryan Brown: On for Mann, 81
Calum James: On for J Roy, 77
Gerard Smith: Caught out only once. 8
James Haughey: Sweet strike from a full-back. 8
Michael Fisher: Showed great turn of pace. 8
Darren Bellew: Relieved to see penalty saved. 7
Sean McGovern: Stood his ground well. 7
Colm O’Riordan: The Mac’s Mr Reliable. 8
Tony Heagney: A workmanlike display. 7
Gary Dorrian: Instrumental in the centre. 8
David McAllister: Game cut short by injury. 6
John Boyce: Tremendous goal threat. 9
Padraig Adams: Gave team-mates an option. 7
Barry Baggley: On for Bellew, 61
Kevin McGovern: On for McAllister, 15
Colm Carson: On for Adams, 84
MAN OF THE MATCH: John Boyce (Immaculata). A real handful for the Ards Rangers defence, and more than deserved his goal.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: John Boyce’s 60th minute strike was not only a peach, but also gave his side the platform to assert their dominance.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Gerard Smith’s ninth minute penalty save from Ryan Newberry surely had a huge effect on the outcome of this game.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: On the other hand, Newberry will feel he should have scored from the spot.