UUJ given harsh Irish Cup lesson at Abbey Villa
Irish Cup 1st round - Abbey Villa 4 UUJ 1
Abbey Villa may not have been at their best to progress to the second round of the Irish Cup on Saturday, but the fact that they did so comfortably shows UUJ have a lot to learn when it comes to securing the results they need.
The Division 1A hosts were always going to be favourites against their 1B opponents, however the result didn’t fully reflect how well matched the two sides were for large parts of the game.
For Brian O’Neill, UUJ’s manager, it was a familiar tale of what could have been. Despite having shared a place in 1A with Villa last season, the relegated side have made a difficult start to life in their new division, with no wins in four, despite showing plenty of promise.
He told The Park: “It was the same story for us today. Our performance was spot-on, particularly in the first half. We did everything right – we got the ball down and played football, but were just punished for the simple mistakes we made.
“Our keeper has thrown his hands up and said to me that he thought he had a stinker in the last 20 minutes, but he has been brilliant since coming in for the injured Eamonn Brown. It’s a shame for him, as I think there was a Linfield scout watching him at the game today.
“But that just shows you what a great, honest bunch of lads we have here. They work hard, and they will be in even better shape when a couple of the other boys come back into the squad. We have a couple of tough games coming up against Islandmagee and Crumlin Star, but it will be a good experience for them.”
The Jordanstown lads can take heart from the manner in which they responded to an early setback in Saturday’s game. When Gary Sharrat hammered home from Michael Dunbar’s fantastic slide-rule pass after just six minutes, it looked like it might be the start of a drubbing.
Yet UUJ didn’t let their heads drop and were unlucky not to score as both Kevin O’Neill and Michael Brannigan fired narrowly over the bar within the next five minutes.
Soon after this, a Brian Hylands clearance fell straight into the path of Johnny Maginess, who took the ball round goalkeeper Jon Munn, but the defender did well to recover himself to block Maginess’ strike from crossing the goal-line.
If anything, the lower division side were emerging as the dominant force, as midway through the half, Kevin O’Neill broke the offside trap with a clever through-ball to Donal Faulkner, but Jon Munn was quick off his line to dive in and save with his feet.
The long-serving Villa keeper was kept alert as a clean-struck Kevin O’Neill volley from 30 yards flew only millimetres above the woodwork, while he pulled off two reflex saves to deny a deflected Michael Brannigan drive and a close-range effort from Kieran McMullan.
However, the visitors were dealt a timely warning on the stroke of half time, as Sharrat threaded a pass to Jordan Dalzell, who was left frustrated after pulling his shot wide.
The home side seemed a little more in control of affairs in the second half, and although substitute Jordan McMillan could have done better with the 64th minute he dragged across the face of goal, it wasn’t long before the ball started hitting the net again.
In an unfortunate moment for the students, Robert McIlhome and Ryan Munn rose for an aerial challenge, with the former heading backwards and catching out Matthew Sheet, who was off his line at the time.
Five minutes later, in the 76th minute, Thomas Dickson broke smartly, playing up to Sharrat, who squared the ball in to McMillan for a neat finish.
The result was now in the bag, but Villa weren’t finished. In the 90th minute, Ryan Munn knocked the ball forward to Dalzell, who caught the back line napping, and sent a cheeky chip over the advancing keeper.
From the restart, UUJ got the consolation goal their endeavour warranted. It was a superb strike from Adam Boyce, a powerful 35-yard lob which found the bottom right corner. Understandably, there were no UUJ celebrations… not that winning manager TJ Young was in celebratory form, either.
“That wasn’t our best performance today,” he admitted. “We didn’t pass the ball well, and we looked lethargic, but I suppose that is what comes from playing so many games in the first few weeks of the season. And it is pleasing that we still came away with a win.
“I think really now what we are looking for is a wee bus trip in the next round, and hopefully to get a run going to draw an Irish League team later on in the competition. My best times in charge of Bryansburn were when we reached the fifth round of the Irish Cup, so hopefully we can do that here.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jon Munn (Abbey Villa). A solid first half with plenty of top saves ensured Villa didn’t slip up on this potential banana skin.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Adam Boyce’s injury time consolation was not only a fine finish, but typified UUJ’s spirit throughout this game.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Jon Munn’s diving save with his feet to deny Donal Faulkner a 25th minute goal.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Robert McIlhome heading into his own net in the 71st minute.
Jon Munn: Outstanding display, blighted only by late consolation. 8
Dean Justin: Did a decent job. 6
Thomas Dickson: Tidy in possession. 7
Adam Arthurs: A rock at the back. 7
Brian Hylands: Well-organised to keep defence in good shape. 7
Ryan Munn: An intelligent and committed contribution. 7
Craig McConkey: Kept things ticking along. 7
Gareth Sloan: A bright spark with plenty of speed. 7
Gary Sharrat: In the right place at the right time. 8
Jordan Dalzell: Cool and calm marksman. 8
Michael Dunbar: Tremendous pace and passing. 8
Steven Barr: On for Sharrat, 81
Paul Mulholland: On for Sloan, 70
Jordan McMillan: On for McConkey, 62
Jake McGrath: Not used
Matthew Sheet: A decent start, but a tough closing 20 minutes. 5
Donal Faulkner: An average outing. 5
John McGowan: Got forward well. 7
Michael McBrearty: Beaten to the ball on a few occasions. 6
Kevin O’Neill: Unlucky not to score. 7
Robert McIlhome: Showed signs of promise, but own goal was a sickener. 6
Kieran McMullan: Good attacking endeavour. 7
Paul Esler: A hard-working effort. 7
Johnny Maginess: Tested Munn more than once. 7
Ryan Kelly: Kept his markers on their toes. 7
Michael Brannigan: Another who could easily have hit the net. 7
Brian O’Neill: Not used
Michael Donnelly: On for McMullan, 77
Adam Boyce: On for K O’Neill, 74
Belfast Telegraph Digital