Round-up of action from Championship One & Two:
Knockbreda 3 Bangor 0
Knockbreda skipper Miguel Chines was the hero of the hour as the Portuguese striker hammered home a hat-trick against table-toppers Bangor at Breda Park. The match began at a fast pace, with both sides looking for a way through against determined defences.
The stalemate was broken on 26 minutes when the visitors' back line was caught out after home winger Paul Young crossed low from the left for the alert Chines to push the ball past Bangor keeper Darren Gibbons. Three minutes later, Gibbons brought a great reaction save from a 12-yard blaster by right winger Gareth Corey, as the keeper flung himself to fingertip the ball round the left post.
Midfielder Stephen Hislop, standing in for unavailable Knockbreda keeper Brian Nelson, made a fine stop from a goal-bound 12-yard shot by visitors' winger Tommy Lambe on 41 minutes to keep his side in the lead.
Two minutes after the break, Chines sent a glancing two-yard header from a Corey cross a yard over the Bangor bar. On 64 minutes, keeper Gibbons reacted lightning-fast to push a 30-yard blaster by home midfielder David Johnston just over.
Bangor were caught napping on 77 minutes, when a clearance from deep in his own half by home centre-half Adam Wright found its way through the visitors' midfield, to allow Chines to gather the ball and beat a couple of defenders, before sliding the ball past the keeper from nine yards. Three minutes later, Chines was again on the mark as he gave the keeper no chance with an eight-yard bullet header from fellow striker Niall Atkinson's pinpoint cross from the left.
Limavady United 3 Ballyclare Comrades 3
Football really is a funny old game. Last week, United played some excellent football only to leave Suffolk Road defeated. On Saturday, the Roesiders produced a disjointed and error-strewn performance, yet won a precious point against Ballyclare Comrades, and in doing so, they managed to score three goals in the league for the first time this season, without the suspended Cathair Friel. That said, this was one of those games that United would have targeted as one they needed to win if they are to escape the looming threat of relegation.
United got off to a flying start, scoring in the second minute. Paul Brown's pinpoint cross found Heaney unmarked in the six yard box, and after delaying his shot so long that the chance seemed to have gone, he evaded two weak tackles and planted the ball in the back of the net.
Ballyclare hit back, but spurned a host of chances. Culprit-in-chief was Daniel Smith. In the 13th minute, his shot across McGraw thumped off the post, after United were split wide open from a breakout. From the corner, United got in a mess, allowing an attacker to shoot, but Aaron Mullan saved a certain goal by clearing with his thigh as he stood on the goal line. As United were in disarray, Smith collected the ball on the left and thumped it off the same post, but his embarrassment was spared as a team-mate was flagged offside. He squandered another great chance two minutes later, outpacing McGregor to reach a kick out, only to shoot tamely straight at McGraw.
On 24 minutes, McClurg showed he was just as wayward as his strike partner, collecting the ball in the box as United's defence switched off completely, but he blazed his effort high over the bar. Neither forward was equal to right-back Monteith however, as he somehow contrived to side-foot the ball wide of the post from five yards in the 30th minute. United's only response to this onslaught was Lee Harkin's 31st minute volley which Flood beat out.
Finally Comrades were rewarded on 35 minutes, when Chris Getty equalised. United's defence was again at sixes and sevens, missing several chances to clear the ball in their box, before the centre-half forced the ball over the line, but only just, and even though McGraw did claw it back out, the linesman flagged for the goal. United did have the last chance of the half, but Ryan Browne's shot from the edge of the box was weak, and gave Flood no problems.
The second half was only five minutes old when Comrades scored, again thanks to a United error. Ryan Browne slipped inside the box as he challenged McClurg, who had the simple task of firing in past McGraw. Four minutes later, Smith's profligacy continued, as he burst down the left, cut through the heart of the home defence, and shot horribly wide. Comrades were punished on the hour when United won a rare corner. Morrison put over a hanging effort, and Paul Brown outmuscled the visitors' defence to head in at the far post from point-blank range.
The visitors hit the front again on 66 minutes. A free kick was awarded just outside the box, and the ball went over the wall, smashing off the crossbar , and though United had ample opportunity to clear, they failed to react, and substitute Wilkinson had the simple task of tapping the ball in.
On 69 minutes, McGraw did well to block a shot from point-blank range, while soon after, Harkin jinked past three tackles to go close for the home side. Smith then had a great chance to restore the lead on 79 minutes. As a Comrades cross from the right was headed back across the goal for the forward, standing unmarked three yards from goal, he amazingly ballooned the ball over the bar. It was a horrible miss that was ultimately to prove costly.
Both sides were seeking another goal, but for different reasons. On 79 minutes, United gave the ball away in the box, but again McGraw stretched to deny the visitors, atoning for an earlier fumble when he had nearly turned the ball into his own goal. But United were thrown a lifeline in the last minute when they were awarded a penalty as Buckley was adjudged to have handled the ball. The full-back's protests earned him his second yellow card, and Paul Brown made no mistake from the spot to somehow leave the final score all-square.
It is hard to know what to make of the result. On the one hand, United were surprisingly lacking in urgency, especially in midfield, and must bring a great deal more fight to their game if they are serious about climbing away from the foot of the table, and the mistakes at the back will simply have to stop. On the other hand, a very young and weakened side gained a precious point after some long overdue luck came their way.
Donegal Celtic 1 Lisburn Distillery 1
Lisburn Distillery travelled to Suffolk Road for the local derby match against Donegal Celtic on a cold winter’s afternoon, the league’s draw specialists hoping to get all three points and move them up the table before next week’s home game against Loughgall. Their hopes, however, wouldn’t have been helped by the pre-kick off news that tough tackling midfielder Jimmy McIlhagga would miss the game through injury.
The game started off at a slow pace, with both teams doing their best to keep the ball on the ground. It was only after 10 minutes had passed that the first opening appeared, when Glen Upton’s drilled in cross for the visitors nearly found the lurking David Wright, but he slipped in the muddy goalmouth and Celtic keeper Gerard McErlean claimed the ball.
The home side could have been ahead on 17 minutes, as a goalmouth scramble saw the ball fall to Pierce Devine, but his blistering shot flew over the bar without troubling the young Distillery keeper McBride. Distillery then had a clear-cut chance on 25 minutes, as Kingsberry’s whipped in corner nearly found Wright at the back post once again.
Tommy Kincaid’s team took the lead on 26 minutes, as Kingsberry’s cross found Upton, his shot deflecting off Aiden Burns to deceive McErlean, before nestling into the bottom corner of Donegal Celtic’s net.
Distillery were in control of the game, but neither side were able to create many chances, although Celtic did come close on 38 minutes, when Joe Todd's cross found Aiden Templeton but his effort was somehow kept out by the in-form McBride.
The relief at not conceding for the visitors was to be only temporary, as the hosts were level a minute later, as Burns shot was cleared off the line by Darren Nixon, but the ball then fell kindly for Daniel Wallace, who made the most of his late Christmas gift to level the game.
Donegal Celtic started the second half the better side, putting constant pressure on the Whites’ back four, and in all truth, looked the more likely to put the ball in the net. Indeed, Wallace nearly had a second, only for a superb tackle by Kris Pike to put the ball out for a corner.
Mark Shannon was next to test the Whites, as his shot from outside the box was saved by McBride, and then on 67 minutes, the Whites had a great chance, a good cross nearly found Ben Browne, but Shannon stepped in to clear the ball away from goal.
A misplaced pass by Kevin Hughes then saw Browne race onto it, his incisive pass finding Wright in the clear with only the keeper in front of him, but his shot was dragged wide of the post. Then on 70 minutes, Celtic won a free kick in a danger area after a foul by Upton. The resultant free kick produced another good save by the agile Ryan McBride, who has kept the Whites in so many games in the last few weeks.
Kevin Hughes must have thought he scored for the home side on 73 minutes, as he got one-on-one, but he blasted his shot wildly over the bar.
Distillery had a good chance to win it in the 84th minute as Upton’s flick found Wright, but his powerful shot was closed down and blocked by Pierce Devine.
McBride then kept Distillery’s hopes alive, as Gary Wark’s floated in ball nearly found Templeton, but McBride dived in well to punch the ball away from his head. Connor Glenhomes then must have thought he had won it for the hosts, but his effort was once again well parried by McBride and eventually cleared by the experienced Darren Nixon.
So the draw specialists draw again, doubtless there will be disappointment that the journey to Suffolk Road didn’t yield the three points, but at least it's a point on derby day
Queen’s University 0 PSNI 0
For the second consecutive Saturday, the PSNI were faced with a top of the table clash. The opening period saw a very lively police team take the game to Queen’s, and on seven minutes Declan Brown, in the Queen’s goal, pulled off a spectacular save, and on 35 minutes he had to be on his toes when he just managed to prevent the ball from crossing his goal line for what would have been an embarrassing own goal.
At the other end, Keith Wilson had the upright to thank for keeping the police in the game. The remainder of the half saw the play 50/50, with no side giving an inch.
The second half was dominated by midfield play, with the respective defences proving most difficult to break down. Although the police had slightly more of the possession in the second half, they failed to take full advantage, despite being in good positions, only to see the final ball miss its target.
A good open game of football, with no quarter asked or given. At the final whistle, both teams were relieved to come away with a hard earned point.
Portstewart 2 Wakehurst 3
Wakehurst took the lead with a fine individual goal from Connor Gregg, who worked his way down the right, cut inside, took the ball round Madison and shot home. Todd went close for the Ports when he hit the post on 25 minutes but they equalised through Jonny Gawne, whose speculative shot from 25 yards crept just inside the post.
Wakehurst went ahead on the hour, when Jason Paul powered a header past Madison. Portstewart were awarded a penalty when Macauley Cairns brought down Chris Hansen inside the box and James Peden converted the penalty.
With five minutes left on the clock, Connor Gregg won the match for Wakehurst with a fiercely struck left foot shot.
Glebe Rangers 1 Ballymoney United 2
The two local rivals served up a typically feisty encounter in front of a large crowd at the Joey Dunlop Centre on Saturday afternoon. It was the visitors who emerged triumphant despite being reduced to 10 men early in the second half. With Ian Christie absent for Glebe, Chad Dobbin made his first start of the season, while Gerard Gillan was a notable absentee for Ballymoney.
In a dramatic start, Glebe were ahead within one minute, as Gareth Henry seized on an Elder cross to fire past Moore. Ballymoney responded immediately and only fine goal-keeping by Kane prevented McKinley levelling. The striker then saw a header from Ciaran Og O’Kane’s corner fly wide as United continued to push for an equaliser. Glebe suffered a blow when goalscorer Henry was forced off, still suffering from an earlier clash of heads with Declan McGarry, an injury which necessitated a trip to hospital.
Ballymoney were on top, and it took a fine interception by Jackie Morrison, outstanding in the centre of defence, to divert Larkin’s cross behind for a corner with McKinley ready to pounce. However, from the ensuing corner, a constant source of danger from the left foot of Og O’Kane, Kane failed to get distance on his punch and the ball fell to Hugh Og O’Boyle, who steered home through a posse of legs.
As had happened with United, conceding a goal appeared to revitalise Glebe and Warren Morrison was denied by Moore before Elder blazed over after a great pass from Dobbin. With half time approaching, Ciaran Og O’Kane fired over and Elder’s header was held by Moore. The last action of the half saw Shepherd producing a great block to deny the impressive McKinley leaving the sides tied at the interval.
The second period was only five minutes old when McGarry received his marching orders, following his second yellow card after a foul on Kennoway. However, Glebe were unable to take advantage of their numerical superiority and paid the price when, following a long ball out of defence, Kane was adjudged to have fouled the advancing McKinley. Despite appearing to be a harsh decision, Larkin clinically despatched the spot-kick to put Ballymoney ahead. As Glebe sought to get back on level terms, Kennoway drove wide, before Paul Keane cleared Warren Morrison’s effort off the line.
United were giving a fine demonstration of how to play with 10 men and, as Glebe threw caution to the wind, Ballymoney threatened on the break, with McKinley blazing wide and then heading over from another Og O’Kane corner. With time running out, a fine pass from sub Gareth Clyde gave Elder one final chance to draw the sides level, but Moore produced an excellent stop to deny the striker and ensure the three points for John Fall’s men.
Glebe Rangers would like to thank match sponsor, John Finlay Mayor of Ballymoney, for his support.
Annagh United 1 Lurgan Celtic 0
Had Annagh taken their chances in this festive derby, the score-line could have read differently.
The game took a short time to settle, before Pentland opened Annagh’s efforts account hitting the crossbar on 15 minutes.
Four minutes later, Nesbitt set Shea Campbell through one-on-one, but he rolled the ball past Foxes left upright. Campbell again shot straight at Fox on 26 minutes, and Ryan Murphy’s effort failed to trouble Celtic’s busy keeper. On 44 minutes, Pentland reacted first to a loose ball in the box and rounded Fox to put Annagh ahead at the break.
McCann’s effort was just over on 47 minutes, and two minutes later, Shea Campbell forced Fox to tip over while McCann done the same just after. The visitor’s only notable effort came via the lively David Magee, whose effort rolled just wide of Wright’s post, with Adam Nesbitt having a similar effort at the other end.
On 70 minutes, sub Matty Brown’s first touch seen him with an open net from McCann’s cross, but he fizzed over the bar. McCann’s low strike hit the post with 15 minutes to play, and despite a late push from Celtic and a neat Ronan O'Hara effort, it was a day that Annagh would not have the rue their missed chances.