There are countless other better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than suffering a merciless 9-0 thrashing, in near-freezing conditions, against a team so far superior they could have doubled the tally… but to his immense credit, defeated Warrenpoint Town skipper Nathan Finlay still wore a smile at the end of it all.
The centre back may have watched his team concede time and again, as he has been accustomed to doing in a campaign that sees them cut adrift of the NIFL Reserve League by some way after an abysmal run of 16 losses and one draw, but his spirit – like that of his fellow young Warrenpoint second stringers – is the one beacon of hope that keeps them going.
“We are all heading out tonight, so everybody is in a good mood right now,” said the visiting skipper afterwards.
“Seriously, though, we were all looking forward to this game. A lot of us haven’t played against a Championship team before, so it was a good experience for us.
“Yes, it was tough, but it has been a tough season for us. We contest most of our matches, but there is usually a 15 minute spell where we let ourselves down. Hopefully we can take what we’ve learnt today and use it in the rest of our league campaign.”
Unfortunately for Warrenpoint on Saturday, it was the first five minute spell that set the tone for what followed.
It took just four minutes for Rainey to find the net with a header from a Mark Armstrong cross, while provider turned goal-scorer a few seconds later, as Armstrong collected from Scott Davidson to volley into the top corner.
They could have been even further behind on 15 minutes, but goalkeeper Aidan Fuller stood firm to hold onto a Mark Armstrong effort from a Davidson cutback.
The concern for the reserve side wasn’t only their leakiness at the back, but a question mark over where any goals were going to come from – a point underlined by Greg McCabe as he broke through from midfield but then proceeded to fluff his shot.
At the other end, Fuller was showing possible signs of nerves as he parried a Craig Harris header back out to Middleton, but redeemed himself by saving again from the latter.
However, those nerves were to continue, as the Warrenpoint goalkeeper spilled from a routine Jay Shields cross, only for a defender to play the ball back into his arms. The short-range indirect free kick was rolled to Harris, and he drove home through a disorientated back-line for the Welders’ third. Only 17 minutes had elapsed by this time.
The away team managed to hold out for another 20 minutes before conceding a fourth. A cross from William Armstrong found Mark Armstrong in clear space, and although his first effort was blocked on the line, he made no mistake on the rebound.
Just three minutes later, William Armstrong was at it again, this delivering a superb dipping header to give Rainey the simplest of headers into the net.
Mark Magennis wasn’t one of the four players to make it onto the scoresheet, but he so easily could have been, especially coming up to half time, when his 30-yard free kick missed the top corner by an inch, while soon after, he chipped another effort over the bar.
If Warrenpoint had any hopes of the Welders taking it easy on them for the second spell, they were immediately dashed in the 51st minute, when home manager Gary Smyth replaced Dan McMurray with Michael McLelland, the man famed for scoring three hat-tricks in one game earlier this season and with 25 goals already to his name for this season before his introduction on Saturday.
Not surprisingly, the highly influential front man had a part to play in all four remaining goals. It was his cross that set up Rainey for the shot that sealed his hat-trick on 54 minutes, and again, that fed the ball to Mark Armstrong for his hat-trick goal, which he smashed home in the 73rd minute.
How fitting that the substitute should then claim the last two goals of the game; the first, a neat close-range finish from a Shields cross; the second, even better, directly into the bottom left corner.
At this stage, with five minutes to go, it wasn’t a surprise to hear supporters in the stands calling for McLellan to chase his sixth hat-trick of the season. But thankfully for Warrenpoint, the scoring stopped there.
“I’m delighted for the team today. I rested a few players today, and the boys who came in for them did a great job.
“We are in a great run of form at the minute, and hopefully we can take that into the Steel & Sons Cup on Christmas morning, and put pressure on Bangor at the top of the league.”
Harland & Wolff Welders
Tony Galbraith: Had a comfortable afternoon. 7
Jay Shields: Solid in every tackle. 8
William Armstrong: Crossing and tackling were both superb. 8
Mark Armstrong: Got himself a worthy hat-trick. 9
Dan McMurray: Sliding challenges were all spot-on. 8
Philip Simpson: Held his own. 7
Mark Magennis: Worked hard at both ends. 8
Scott Davidson: Had a relatively quiet game. 7
Chris Middleton: Would have liked more chances. 7
David Rainey: A great treble, but could have been even more. 9
Craig Harris: A dependable display. 8
Michael McLellan: On for McMurray, 51
Sammy Devine: On for Davidson, 56
Paul Dickson: On for Middleton, 64
Gareth Beattie: Not used
Michael Hunsdale: Not used
Warrenpoint Town Reserves
Aidan Fuller: Conceded nine on a day to forget. 4
Lewis Irwin: Outmuscled too often. 5
Niall Corr: Some neat turns and touches. 7
Simon Ardis: Will surely improve with experience. 5
Nathan Finlay: Probably the best of Warrepoint’s defensive displays. 7
David Ardis: Showed some potential with his passing. 6
Matthew Ardis: Never really got into the game. 4
Greg McCabe: Did his best to drive forward. 6
David McCabe: Not afraid to take on the opposition. 6
Shay McAllister: Struggled to make an impact. 4
Matthew Irvine: Put in a shift. 5
Sean Watters: Not used
Ciaran Kemp: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mark McLellan (Harland & Wolff Welders). Was on for less than half an hour, but in that time, played a part in four goals.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The two goals in the first five minutes had the outcome of this game sealed almost before it started.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Aidan Fuller’s double save from Craig Harris and Chris Middleton in the first half.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Greg McCabe’s poor first half finish typified Warrenpoint Reserves’ display.