Queen's University students clip wings of Whitehead Eagles
Queen's conjure up battling victory
They may both be slogging it out at the wrong end of Amateur League Division 2B, but the respective managers of Queen's University II and Whitehead Eagles emerged from their latest league encounter with differing perspectives on their current situation.
This was always going to be a typical 'six-pointer,' especially given that prior to the game, Whitehead were two points ahead of second-from-bottom Queen's, who had a game in hand over their visiting opponents. Add in the fact that these teams had fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw in the opening game of the season, and you had all the ingredients of an intriguing tussle.
At first, it didn't look like it was going to turn out that way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game had a scrappy opening with few opportunities, although the students could have been two goals to the good by the 20th minute, with Ciaran O'Hare scooping over from a fine Jason McDermott cross, and then McDermott himself heading too high from a Paddy Deboys free kick.
Whitehead did manage to create a little, but no more than that, at the other end, with both Robbie McFall and Gareth Welsh lashing over the crossbar from 20 yards out.
In the 28th minute, Anthony Abladey floated a perfectly-weighted ball into the box, giving Thomas Plant plenty of time, but he headed over when really, he should have at least hit the target.
However, not long after that, McDermott played a lovely through ball to O'Hare, who in turn beat the offside trap for a one-on-one with Mark Wilson, before sliding the ball past him with ease.
With five minutes until the break, a promising forward pass from Niall Boyd found O'Hare in good space, but the goal-scorer rather skewed his shot from just inside the area.
If that had been unlucky, then it was hard to know exactly what Kieran Slaughter's intentions were with his 40-yard free kick. Ideally, he'd have swung it into the box, but unfortunately for Whitehead, it resembled neither a cross nor a shot as it few wildly above the target.
Much closer was a low-driven long-range effort from McFall. It was always travelling wide, but he was unfortunate one of his team-mates didn't get a guiding touch to it. Further to this, there were wayward headers from McFall and Slaughter on the cusp of half time to remind Queen's that they hadn't finished the job.
The visiting side went one better to making that point when they equalised in the 66th minute. The quick-moving David Adrian stayed on his feet to collect a defence-splitting pass from Davy White, then sent the ball sweetly into the bottom left hand corner.
Whitehead sensed there may even be a winner for them from this match - a view expressed by the influential Slaughter as he sought to drive his fellow players on to a crucial three points.
In the end, Queen's were simply the more clinical side, though there was nothing spectacular in the execution of their second goal, in the 78th minute. A speculative high ball from Hugh O'Connor hovered over the box, and Plant got the faintest connection to nod it into the bottom corner.
Ten minutes later, and the students had seemingly put the outcome beyond doubt, with Eoghan Maguire rising high at the back post to head home from a Paddy Deboys corner.
Almost immediately after the restart, McDermott could have extended the lead yet further, having been sent clean through with only Wilson to beat, but the Whitehead keeper dived to deny him with his feet.
Whitehead ramped up the pressure during injury time, when Chris McMillen's header from a White corner was steered into the Queen's net.
But this was to be the students' day, and their manager Michael Kerr feels the result can be a springboard to better things.
"There's no way we should be in a relegation battle," claimed the buoyant boss afterwards. "That was our first win at home, but we should be looking to win all our home games. We have tremendous facilities, and we should be taking advantage of that.
"I thought we were good value for the win. There are only six points between us and the top of this league, so I don't see any reason why we can't finish in the top four."
Whitehead boss Raymond Clarke was less upbeat. When asked if his team had a relegation fight ahead of them, he simply replied: "Yes."
And the solution?
"Well, there won't be any new arrivals or signings," he added. "You just don't get that at this level. It just takes more hard work and dedication.
"There were times when some of them looked like they didn't want to be here, but they came out in the second half and showed more fight. If they keep doing that, they'll give themselves a chance."