Albert Foundary manager Colin McIlwaine admits his team have given him the best kind of headache after beating neighbours Shankill United 1-0 in the Irish Cup second round on Saturday.
The Paisley Park men are in the bottom half of the Amateur League Premier Division with just six points from five matches, and thanks to this win, it will be some time before they get a chance to eradicate that.
And while McIlwaine was delighted to come away from this derby day clash with a win, his mind was already beginning to turn to the exciting but demanding fixture schedule that lies ahead for Foundry.
He claimed: “A lot of managers would love to be in my position, but plenty would hate it too, and see it as a hindrance to their league campaign. I personally just want us to win every match.
“We are into the quarter-finals of the Border Cup and the Steel & Sons Cup, we have the Intermediate Cup to look forward to in a fortnight and now we are through to the third round of the Irish Cup, too.
“The thing is, I still don’t think we’ve hit our peak and we didn’t play particularly well today... but we are getting there.”
On the first Saturday of the season where the temperature had noticeably dropped, there wasn’t a lot out on the pitch to warm up the spectators in the main stand.
Whether it was the occasion, or the fact that bragging rights were at stake for these Shankill rivals, it was hard to tell, but either of those reasons may have explained why United’s Luke Briers somehow scooped the ball over the bar from a matter of yards out from a deft Jonathan Townsley chip.
There weren’t many goal-scoring opportunities early on, but those that did come either team’s way were squandered. Gary Young came closest of all for Foundry on the half hour mark, but he drove his low shot wide of the left post.
Only a point separates these sides in the league, and there didn’t seem to be much to choose between them in the first half. Indeed, Foundry practically mirrored the opposition’s awful miss at the other end as Darren McCombe inexplicably volleyed over from close range in the 39th minute following an exquisite pass from Aaron Harris.
Shankill could have found themselves with a half time lead from Kirk Madden’s free kick which took a deflection off Daryll McAlinden’s outstretched foot, but Andrew Dillon did incredibly well to readjust and get down to the ball in time.
Instead, the breakthrough arrived in the 52nd minute. Young squared it to the unmarked William McCombe in the box, leaving him to slot it comfortably into the net.
It was very nearly 2-0 a few minutes later, as Barry Bloomer rose to meet a Darren McCombe corner, but he was at full stretch and the ball travelled well over.
Determined not to let their derby rivals pull away, Shankill got an effort on target through a Jason Perry free kick from 25 yards. The ball was dipping all the time after it cleared the wall, but Dillon stood his ground to punch it over the bar.
As he watched the game slip out of his reach, Shankill player manager Jamie Marks decided to throw on substitutes David Morrison and Ryan Craig for the final 20 minutes. The change almost had an immediate impact as Morrison passed to Craig, who sent the ball out to Jonathan Mahoney, who in turn shot from a tight angle at close range, but Dillon was in sparkling form once more as he pounced on the attempt.
Foundry probably should have wrapped up the game in the 90th minute, when Bill Maxwell was put through in an excellent position from a fine Stuart Doyle pass, but put his boot through the ball rather than opting for placement, resulting in a shot well wide of the mark.
In the end, it was largely irrelevant, as the final whistle sounded just seconds later, leaving Marks to reflect on a frustrating afternoon for his side.
The ex-Linfield midfielder said: “We puffed and we panted, and to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of football played out there.
“We did work our socks off though, and I didn’t feel we deserved to lose. But did we deserve to win? Maybe not.
“It is disappointing to go out, because the Irish Cup holds a lot of nostalgia for me, and a lot of these boys will never get the chance to play against an Irish League club. But we will just put this game behind us now, and look forward to the next one.”
Andrew Dillon: A superb performance worthy of the clean sheet. 8
Wayne Maxwell: Steady and composed. 7
Daryll McAlinden: Strong in the aerial challenge. 7
Graham Beck: Foundry’s Mr Reliable in the heart of defence. 8
Barry Moore: Did a good job of turning defence into attack. 7
Aaron Harris: Got forward well. 7
Darren McCombe: Impressive on the counter attack. 8
William McCombe: Great ball control and movement. 8
Barry Bloomer: Neither the worst nor best game he’ll have. 7
Bill Maxwell: Work rate couldn’t be faulted. 7
Gary Young: Got himself among the chances regularly. 8
Stuart Doyle: on for D McCombe, 73 mins
John Burns: not used
Paul McCord: on for Young, 77 mins
Jonathan Sloane: not used
Mark Winstone: Goal was his only blemish. 7
Mark Clegg: Put in a fair shift. 6
Jason Perry: A decent effort. 6
Scott McMillan: A solid enough showing. 6
Craig McCann: Battled hard. 6
Jonathan Mahoney: A real threat from corners. 8
Aaron Robinson: Worked hard to win his side possession. 7
Christopher Watters: Held his own against his former club. 7
Luke Briers: Missed a few good chances. 6
Jonathan Townsley: Covered a good amount of ground. 7
Kirk Madden: Did his best to carve out opportunities. 7
David Morrison: on for Townsley, 68 mins
Ryan Craig: on for Madden, 68mins
Michael Collins: not used
Jamie Marks: on for Perry, 79 mins
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andrew Dillon (Albert Foundry). Didn’t come under huge pressure, but when he was called upon, he pulled off some tremendous saves.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: William McCombe’s 52nd minute goal which ultimately decided the match
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Andrew Dillon’s reflexes to keep out Kirk Madden’s deflected free kick before half time were lightning quick.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Take your pick. The close-range misses from Shankill’s Luke Briers and Foundry’s Darren McCombe.