Iveagh end season with win to leave Groomsport seeking their own big finish
It looks as if it is going to come down to a straightforward shootout between bottom club Groomsport and second-bottom Newington Rangers to decide who – if anyone – drops through the relegation trap-door into next season’s Junior ranks, after the former lost 4-1 to Iveagh United on Saturday.
The North Down side are a point behind their Larne-based rivals, and this – Iveagh’s last game of the season – represented an opportunity to gain points against another club in the bottom half of the table.
Nevertheless, Groomsport manager James Forsythe believes his side are still capable of keeping themselves up in Intermediate football despite their weekend disappointment.
He said: “You have to believe it. I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t.
“I came to this club in the middle of December and it was clear they were struggling. It was outlined to me how much things needed to improve, but performances haven’t been that bad lately – we got a good win against Saintfield United a couple of weeks ago.
“That was a big loss for us today, especially after going into the lead, but we have Newington home and away in a couple of weeks, and I’m pretty sure if we can win those, we will stay up.”
Groomsport did indeed get the lead, midway through the first half, and they did it in some style. Greg McIntyre thumped a 35-yard shot, at an angle – in truth, he had no right to aim for goal from there – but it smashed in off the crossbar, sparking wild celebrations from the home side.
Those celebrations, however, were short-lived, as Iveagh beat the offside trap, with Michael Carberry threading through for Paul Stafford, who finished the move with a sublime dink over the out-rushing Ryan James.
Soon after this, Luke Kinkead got the ball forward to Ryan Hay, but the striker was only able to get the faintest header to it. At the other end, Finty Cosgrove tried to test the keeper from 30 yards, but it was a comfortable save for James.
Cosgrove was soon again one-on-one with the Groomsport keeper, who this time caught the eye as he saved with an acrobatic diving header.
By now, the Groomsport goal really was under fire, as Mark Downey first had an effort saved by the feet of James, while he was unable to connect with Michael Carberry’s cross on the follow-up. Cosgrove was also kicking himself as he glanced a header wide from a Frankie Quinn corner.
Somehow, the scores remained level at the break, but the visitors soon put paid to this, as they surged into a 2-1 lead – Downey squaring to Cosgrove at the end of a quick counter-attack for a tap-in at the back post.
Groomsport did well to hold the scores at that for the next 20 minutes, with James saving from Quinn when clean through, and a Gavin Fox effort from distance, while Jordan Mills got back well to deliver an important last-ditch tackle when Paul Stafford looked sure to score.
The hosts had their chances to equalise, with an on-target shot from McIntyre deflected out for a corner by the head of Conor Vaughn. Then, in the 77th minute, a moment of pure class from Iveagh keeper Sean McMahon, who was at full stretch to keep out James Boston’s half-volley from close range.
Moments later, Mills, who had performed well up to this point, chested the ball down after a Gareth Caldwell cross was only half-cleared, and somehow contrived to drive it wide left. This was a pivotal miss for Groomsport, whose chance to pull themselves back in the game had effectively passed them by.
Home keeper James was yet again called into action in the 78th minute, as he tipped over from substitute Joseph Murray, who had blasted goalwards after a fine individual run.
However, two minutes later, the Groomsport shot-stopper was unable to keep out a hopeful 30-yard attempt from Downey, which trickled its way through the defence and under his grasp.
This wrapped the points up for Iveagh, but they weren’t finished. Downey sent in a precise whipped ball from the left wing, and James Reed met it with a bullet header to leave James helpless, and end Iveagh’s league campaign on a high.
After the match, few wore a smile as big as Thomas Burns, who, in the absence of Iveagh first team manager Conor McKee, put aside his playing duties to oversee his team’s victory from the touchlines.
“I was a bit nervous when we went a goal behind,” he later admitted, “but we did well to fight back. Our keeper made a world class save when we were 2-1 up, and then we got the goals to put it beyond doubt.
“We had a bad run of results for a while, and were struggling for numbers at training, so it meant a lot to get that win. That was our last match of the season today, and the win pretty much makes sure we stay up, so the boys can take a lot of credit.”
As for the battle to avoid the drop… that may well go right down to the wire.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark Downey (Iveagh United). Typified everything that was impressive about his side’s display.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Greg McIntyre’s audacious long-range opener for Groomsport was one of the best strikes I have seen all season.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Undoubtedly Sean McMahon’s diving parry to deny James Boston on the half-volley in the 77th minute.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Jordan Mills’ miss with his side at 2-1 down and time running out was one that he should have at least tested the keeper with.
Ryan James: Let in four, but saved plenty besides. 7
Jackie Coulter: Showed his experience with every move. 7
Gareth Caldwell: Quick to the ball. 7
James Boston: Had his moments. 6
Nigel McKernan: A steady effort. 6
Luke Kinkead: Put in a shift. 6
Jordan Mills: Proved tough to shrug off the ball. 7
Stevie McIntyre: Tenacious display, topped off with wonder-goal. 8
Ryan Hay: Not lacking in effort. 7
Greg McIntyre: An energetic offering. 7
Reece Dempster: Kept plugging on. 6
Dylan Greer: On for McKernan, 60
Josh Bogle: On for Dempster, 60
Dylan Hay: On for G McIntyre, 74
Sean McMahon: Dependable when called into action. 7
Aidan Donnelly: Didn’t let his team-mates down. 7
James Reed: Looked in control overall. 7
Conor Carberry: Kept calm under pressure. 7
Conor Vaughn: A stand-out defensive display.8
Frankie Quinn: Good involvement, with assists and attempts. 7
Paul Stafford: Showed positive attacking intent. 7
Gavin Fox: A good eye for a through-ball. 8
Michael Carberry: Played his part in this fine win. 7
Finty Cosgrove: Kept Groomsport defence on their toes. 8
Mark Downey: Real threat down the left and in front of goal. 9
Niall McGarry: On for Donnelly, 55
Joseph Murray: On for M Carberry, 70