NIFL Championship round-up, April 30
All the latest from Championship One and Two:
Ards 3 Loughgall 0
On the season’s final day, Ards claimed the Championship One title to clinch promotion back to the Danske Bank Premiership. On 17 minutes, a corner from McMillen found Denver Gage and his header back across the area managed to evade both Arthurs and Baker on the Loughgall goal-line. Gage would come within inches of scoring himself with 29 minutes gone but his header, from another McMillen corner, crashed into the side-netting. The breakthrough goal arrived with 37 minutes gone. A low shot from McComb was well blocked by Buchanan but the ball rebounded back out into the area for Ross Arthurs to thump home and settle some jitters. Ards' second then came just two minutes later. McMillen again provided the dangerous ball in from the left corner, but this time, it was too hot for Buchanan to handle and he turned the cross into his own net as he attempted to punch clear. Control would turn into complete dominance in the second half, as Loughgall ran out the clock on a season that was now over. The Ards lead increased to 3-0 with 57 minutes played, when McComb broke free from an offside looking position before dragging the ball outside a defender and picking his spot from just inside the area. The final whistle from ref Graham McIlwrath, in his retirement game, heralded celebrations on the pitch and in the stands. Team captain James Cully would soon be holding the Championship One trophy aloft, and looking forward once again to a shot at the big time.
Ballyclare Comrades 1 Institute 0
The home side had the better of the first half, putting Institute under pressure, but the visitors’ defence kept chances to a premium. However, in the 36th minute there was nothing they could do, when Jason Johnston finished expertly wide of the keeper with an effort from 13 yards. The second half was more even in terms of possession, but Institute struggled to get beyond a very well-marshalled Comrades defence, and it was the home side which came closest to adding to the score in the 48th minute, when Gary Brown looked set to score from six yards, only to be denied by a fine block from keeper Michael Lynch.
Larne 6 Lisburn Distillery 1
The Invermen went into the match needing to collect three points, Institute to lose at Ballyclare and produce a seven-goal swing. In the end, David McAlinden’s men missed out by two goals in the goal difference column. Things may have been different had they been quicker out of the blocks, but all of the goals came in the final 25 minutes of the match. The best the home side could muster was Scott Irvine’s shot against the post from the corner of the 18-yard box. The deadlock was finally broken on 65 minutes, as top goalscorer Guillaume Keke got on the end of goalkeeper Billy Brennan’s long clearance, nipping in between defender and goalkeeper to tap home. Four minutes, and Larne doubled their advantage, as Darren Stuart’s low cross was converted at the back post by John Donnelly. Keke pounced for his second of the day with 16 minutes left on the clock. Darren Stuart then got in on the act as he make it 4-0 by cooly slotting into the top corner. Paul Maguire was brought down in the area with eight minutes remaining, and Sammy McIlveen sent the keeper the wrong way. Larne’s hopes of the play-offs were all but ended when Distillery broke to pull one back, with Darius Roohi firing into the top corner on 87 minutes. John Donnelly bagged a goal in stoppage time to leave his side tantalisingly close to a play-off, but they fell short by the finest of margins.
Limavady United 2 Tobermore United 0
For over an hour of this tense battle, Limavady United's title ambitions were being seriously questioned as they laboured to break down the visitors. The anxiety of the large crowd was transmitting itself to the players, who were understandably not producing champagne football. As the police were racking up the goals at Newforge, Limavady's title hopes were receding, and McGraw in the visitors' goal still had a real save to make. But finally, after 72 nervy minutes, the breakthrough came, as Blain Morrison swooped at the back post to head in a priceless goal and with it, quell the nerves on and off the pitch. It was fitting that the goal should come from one who has been such a dependable squad member, but who has never let his lengthy spells on the bench this season get him down. Vady suddenly found an extra gear, and fittingly, the crucial second goal came from Cathair Friel, who notched his 46th goal of a remarkable season in typical fashion, out-pacing defenders to the ball before stabbing home the second goal to send the home crowd into raptures. It was just a matter of playing down the last four minutes. The party was in full swing 45 minutes later, when the trophy was delivered to a sun-dappled Showgrounds to be presented on the pitch in scenes of jubilation.
Glebe Rangers 3 Dollingstown 4
Despite one of the greatest comebacks, Dollingstown were relegated from senior football on goal difference. Glebe took the lead in the third minute, when a right wing cross was hammered home at the back post and they doubled their lead on 15 minutes, when again, from a short corner on the right, the ball was dispatched low into the bottom corner. On 66 minutes, DFC pulled one back when a deflected shot from Lavery crept into the bottom corner, but a couple of minutes later, it looked all over for them when a mistake at the back allowed Glebe's right winger to put them 3-1 up. Dollingstown's fight back came very late when on 88 minutes, from a McConnell throw in, skipper Moffett headed home. One minute later, they were awarded a penalty for hand-ball and Glen Hand calmly converted to square the game at 3-3. Then in the 92nd minute, it was Hand again, who calmly slotted the ball beyond the keeper into the bottom corner to seal the win and give hope to the Dollybirds. Hope, which alas, was not to be realised as other results proved to be the death knell for Gary Duke's brave-hearts.
PSNI 7 Moyola Park 0
PSNI FC came into this game hoping that Limavady United would drop points and a win would see the police lifting the trophy. The only other way the police could lift the trophy was to score at least nine goals, but the first half ended scoreless and the chances of that happening were few and far between. The police had their young keeper, Jordan Williamson, to thank for keeping them in the game with two wonder saves, while at the other end, the Moyola keeper, Mark Maybin, was seldom troubled. Whatever happened in the changing room at half time is a closely guarded secret but a new police team took to the pitch. It would take too long to go into depth of the build-ups and assists, but this is what happened. On 48 minutes, a Mark McCullagh header put the police in front; 49 minutes, a cracker of a shot from substitute Mark Anderson doubled the score; 67 minutes, a goal from Lukasz Adamczyk following very neat close control; 74 minutes, another wonder-goal from Adamczyk; 75 minutes, an excellent Owen Moody goal; 81 minutes, another bit of magic from Anderson; 87 minutes, Owen Moody got on the score sheet with a rebound. Then, word came through that Limavady had scored two late goals. The hill was just a bit too high for the police to climb. Top spot went to Limavady, who had a three-goal superior advantage.
Sport & Leisure Swifts 0 Banbridge Town 2
Town went into the game knowing that survival was in their hands, a win would ensure safety but anything less, and they would be depending on results elsewhere. Swifts had played five games in the last 13 days, but Town were expecting a tough game at a venue where visiting teams find it hard to win. On 20 minutes, Town got the all-important breakthrough. A Stuart King ball from midfield down the left wing didn’t appear to provide much threat but last defender Johnston mis-controlled the ball and the ever-alert Ryan Gourley nipped in to win possession, taking the ball round the keeper and calmly slotting home. Swifts piled the pressure on in search of an equaliser but Town were resolute in defence. The second half saw the home team in the ascendancy early, forcing a number of corners as they tried to unsettle Town and get back on level terms. With 15 minutes left, Town got the all-important insurance goal, and it was that man Gourley again. McParland and King combined to release Downey on the right wing, he beat his marker before delivering a great cross into Gourley, who steered the ball wide of the keeper’s outstretched arm into the far corner. Swifts' hopes of a comeback weren’t helped when substitute McGrogan, who was only on the pitch a matter of minutes, was sent off. The deserved win secured Town’s place in the Championship next season.