Bangor Swifts showed tremendous fighting qualities to secure a Clarence Cup second round win over fellow Division 1C side Mossley that looked, more than once, beyond their grasp.
With only five games of their league campaign remaining, the mid-table Swifts were in danger of seeing their season fizzle out prematurely, but they kept overturning the odds to keep their season very much alive.
The club’s joint managers Ryan Wilson and Paul Walls looked a very relieved pair after watching every kick of their penalty shoot-out victory.
“We did everything the hard way today,” admitted Wilson. “We gave them two goals in the first five or six minutes, we gave a penalty away at the end of normal time and then another one at the end of extra time, yet we kept coming back.
“That same team beat us 7-1 in our first match after me and Paul took over at the end of October, so it just goes to show the change there’s been. Mossley have beaten Championship teams and were close to beating Albert Foundry there, so we have shown there is nothing to fear. It is an opportunity to extend our season, and after that, who knows?”
Walls added: “People will look at that and think it’s our best victory, but it’s a cup match, and I’d still rather see us making progress in the league. We are in a bit of a false position, but we made a statement today that we are back in the game.”
Mossley are just one point behind the Swifts in 1C but with a huge ten games in hand over their weekend opponents, and in this encounter, they also enjoyed a sizeable advantage early on.
Just three minutes were on the clock when Paul Harper floated a free kick into the box to Bryan Galloway, who took the ball around his marker before blasting into the net.
Only another three minutes elapsed before the lead was doubled, and Galloway was instrumental yet again, knocking forward to Ryan Caskey, who burst clear to sweep past the Conor McPeake into the bottom corner.
In keeping with the frantic start, however, the Swifts were soon well back in the game - two minutes after conceding that second goal, in fact - as Daryl McNeill stunned Mossley with a superb long-range strike into the top right hand corner. Now we really did have a game.
Midway through the first half, Mossley’s Chris Proctor struck the post with a header from a Kyle Harper free kick, with Paul Harper’s follow-up shot saved.
Meanwhile, McNeill clearly fancied netting another headline-grabber, and so nearly did, as he let fly with another fine lobbed effort from outside the area, which missed the upright by a mere couple of inches. Less impressive was an overhit shot by Ryan McBride, thrashing wildly high and wide from all of 15 yards.
Mossley looked to extend their lead going into the break, but Ricky Moore’s rasping drive rattled the underside of the crossbar, while a dangerous in-swinging Caskey corner was headed clear by Darren Delargy.
At the start of the second half, it was Kyle Harper’s turn to shake the bar, with a header from inside the box. This was to be a missed opportunity he would rue, as the sides were level by the 51st minute, thanks to McBride’s header from McNeill’s cross.
Yet parity lasted just five minutes, as Proctor spotted McPeake off his line and chipped him expertly from 25 yards. And just as they had attempted before, Mossley sought to capitalise and further extend their advantage, most notably so in the 69th minute when they introduced all three of their substitutes to the game at once.
And yet, the persistent Swifts drew level once again in the 80th minute, as Paul McKee broke the offside trap down the right, and looked to be nailed on for the shot, but instead, squared it to McNeill, who was left with the simplest of tap-ins.
The Swifts could actually have killed the game off soon after, but the vital first touch from McNeill - who was sent clear by McBride’s header - was too heavy, and Dwayne Jenkins was able to rush out and pull off a tremendous save. A minute later, and McNeill was through again, this time taking the ball around Jenkins, only to blast over the bar under intense pressure from Kyle Harper.
Then again, Mossley could also have had matters wrapped up by the last minute of normal time, when Delargy upended the tricky Ben Fletcher inside the area… but Lee Graham hit the post with the resultant penalty.
Extra time followed, and the Swifts must have thought they had clinched progress to round three at the end of the first period, with McKee’s soaring free kick from the edge of the box into the top corner - a wonder-goal worthy of winning any match.
But Mossley had other ideas, and when they were given another opportunity from the spot with only a few minutes left, following James Smith’s challenge on Stevie Bell, Kyle Harper made no mistake.
Smith looked desolate, but he more than made up for it, as he joined Matthew Neill, Ross Spiers and Michael Fox in scoring the penalties that gave his side a 4-3 shoot-out victory over Mossley (whose penalties were scored by Ben Fletcher, Kyle Harper and Paul Harper).
Deflated Mossley manager Gary Campbell later admitted: “We’re gutted… it is never nice to lose on penalties. With the chances we had in the first half, we should have the game put to bed by half time.
“But I said before the match that this competition was the least of our priorities. We have plenty of games left, and I believe we are able to go on and win the league - now it’s a matter of going and doing it.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Daryl McNeill (Bangor Swifts) Scored two goals, but also contributed so much more besides.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Paul McKee’s extra time free kick screamer was a real beauty.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Dwayne Jenkins did superbly to react by rushing off his line once he saw Daryl McNeill’s touch was too heavy, to deny him an 84th minute winner.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: There were a few, but arguably the most costly was Lee Graham’s 89th minute penalty miss, which, had he scored, would surely have won the game for Mossley.
Conor McPeake: A mixed bag, but ultimately made the winning save in the shoot-out. 7
Ian McManus: Showed some promise with his passing range. 7
Ian Hamilton: Did what was asked of him. 7
Darren Delargy: Top class contribution. 8
James Smith: Not easily nudged off the ball. 8
Michael Fox: Stood his ground well against the opposition. 7
Ryan McBride: Good positioning got him plenty of chances. 8
Jack McDowell: A decent effort. 7
Matthew Neill: Covered plenty of ground. 7
Daryl McNeill: Involved in almost everything in the final third. 9
Chris Boyd: Put in a fair shift. 7
Paul McKee: On for Boyd, 59
Ross Spiers: On for McBride, 96
Paul Walls: Not used
Dwayne Jenkins: A commanding figure - made several important stops. 7
Jim Scott: Didn’t back out of a tackle. 7
Paul Harper: Got forward well. 8
Kyle Harper: Quality defending, made several key challenges. 8
Trevor Young: Left nothing to chance. 7
Bryan Galloway: Always making things happen. 8
Karl Cosgrove: Kept plugging away. 7
Chris Proctor: Positive pressing brought its rewards. 8
Ryan Caskey: Instinctive and alert. 8
Ricky Moore: Unlucky not to have been on the scoresheet. 7
Stevie Bell: A good option from set-pieces. 7
Lee Graham: On for Moore, 69
Ben Fletcher: On for Cosgrove, 69
Kyle Crowe: On for Young, 69