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Down survive London scare to keep their Cup dream alive

London 0-19 Down 2-19

By Anthony McLaughlin

Down are into the Christy Ring semi-finals thanks to a hard- fought victory over London, although they won't have Eoghan Sands to call on after the two-goal corner-forward was shown a straight red at the start of the second-half.

With the ongoing redevelopment of Ruislip in London forcing the game to be played on neutral ground in Birmingham, both teams sought to take advantage of perfect playing conditions under the late spring sunshine.

Down set their stall out with the first point just seconds into the match through Scott Nicholson and they threatened to run away with things after a brace from Conor O'Prey was almost sandwiched by an opening goal for Malachy Magee, who was denied by Eoin Kelly in the London goal.

Stephen Keith regularly searched for Sands and O'Prey with deep puck outs but London were pressurising the second ball which led to two great scores from deep by wing-back Stephen Bardon.

Nonetheless, whenever Down found Sands the alarms bells rang in the Exiles' defence and they nudged themselves back in front with points from Gerard Hughes, Sands and O'Prey.

Then came the key moment of the half, with tempers frayed in a midfield melee referee John Keane showed London wing-forward Neil Rogers a straight red.

Down capitalised by sending the resulting free deep into the London goalmouth where Sands pounced to sweep beyond Kelly and into the back of the net.

London were nearly made to pay for a goalkeeping error when Sands pinched possession from under the nose of Kelly to flick an effort goalwards, only to be denied by London captain Paul Horkan standing on the line.

London rallied and were seconds away from going into half-time level but once again danger man Sands appeared after determined play down the right by O'Prey, the Portaferry marksman lapping up possession to fire beyond Kelly for a second time and hand Down something to defend as the sides changed ends.

The Exiles thought they had found the perfect reply moments into the second-half when Kenny looked to have the upper hand over Keith under a high ball, however the full-forward's goal effort was chalked off having adjudged to have carried the ball over the line.

It looked to be a let off for Down but they were right back under the pump with Sands' sending off for striking Mark Conroy.

It threatened to ruin all their good work and London should have seized the initiative when Kenny raced through only to flash a shot wide of Keith's far post. Even so, Down rallied superbly and ultimately won the game with their reaction to losing Sands. John McManus was tremendous in the closing half hour at corner-back while O'Prey and Hughes came to the fore as they tacked on four of the next five scores for a Down team that was demonstrating more fluency in attack.

Substitute Richard Murphy brought a fine block out of Keith as London started to look for goals in the final 10 minutes but Down had the edge by this stage and they stretched out to a six-point lead with points from Nicholson and Donal Hughes.

There was a late scare when Adam Murphy struck a post as London threw everything at Keith's goal, but they had no answer to Down's defensive resilience as the Ardsmen advance.

Down: Keith; McManus, Hughes, Ennis; S Nicholson 0-2, Woods 0-1, Ennis; Hughes 0-1, McManus; Mageean 0-1, Magee, O'Prey 0-8, 4f; Sands 2-1, D Toner, Hughes 0-3. Subs: Taggart for Hughes (35), Egan 0-2, for Magee (44), Sheehan for Mageean (56). Yellow cards: Taggart (69). Red cards: Sands (38)

London: Kelly 0-1, 1f; Conroy, Gately, Horkan; Bardon 0-2, Regan 0-1, Griffiths 0-1; Healy, Cooney; Dwyer 0-2, Rowe 0-2, Rogers; O'Loughlin 0-6, 3f, 1 x SL, Kenny 0-3, O'Donnell. Subs: Roberts 0-1, for Healy (17), Murphy for Bardon (53), Healy for Kenny (60), Murphy for O'Donnell (65). Yellow cards: Kenny (17), Regan (49), Dwyer (63). Red cards: Rogers (29)

Referee: John Keane (Galway).

Belfast Telegraph

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