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 around 20 yards out.
In the 28th minute, Anthony Abladey 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.
Their best chance to surge into the lead arrived in the 73rd minute, when Tony Moran played the ball ahead of White, who was arguably too quick with his shot, as he attempted to bend it inside the far post, but it trickled wide instead.
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 left 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 somehow deny him with his feet.
Whitehead really 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 by the end of the season,” 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 at the minute, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t finish in the top four.”
Whitehead manager Raymond Clarke was less upbeat in the aftermath of this crunch game. When asked if his team had a relegation fight ahead of them this season, 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 today when some of them looked like they didn’t want to be here, but they came out in the second half and showed a lot more fight. If they keep doing that, they’ll give themselves a chance.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ciaran O’Hare (Queen’s University II) Provided firepower with a goal and great support work.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Whitehead’s second goal ensured a tense final few moments to the game.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Mark Wilson’s diving save with his feet from Jason McDermott kept what remained of this encounter alive.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: As good as Wilson’s save was, McDermott must have been kicking himself that he didn’t put his late chance away.
Queen’s University II
Sam Jones: Didn’t have a lot to do. 7
Hugh O’Connor: Tidy and composed. 7
Niall Boyd: First to every ball. 8
Eoghan Maguire: Got forward well. 8
Robbie Budden: Injury cut his game short. 6
Zac Fletcher: Did the simple things well. 7
Thomas Plant: Positive attacking play. 7
Paddy Deboys: Passing kept opponents on their toes. 7
Jason McDermott: Intelligent, thoughtful display. 8
Ciaran O‘Hare: Full of good movement. 8
Anthony Abladey Abladey: Quick and alert. 8
Gary Brown: On for Plant, 92
Robin Renwick: On for Abladey Abladey, 85
Eoin Mark Watts: On for Budden, 43
Mark Wilson: Struggled towards the end. 6
Robbie McFall: A full-blooded display. 7
Tony Tierney: A relatively low key outing. 6
Kieran Slaughter: Good defensive positioning. 7
David Evans: A decent effort. 6
Tony Moran: Happy to come back and help out. 7
Gareth Welsh: Substituted in the first half. 6
David Adrian: Fantastic finish for his goal. 8
Chris McMillen: Looked lively when the ball fell to him. 7
Alan Clarke: Chances were few and far between. 7
Davy White: Pace marked him out as a threat. 7
Shea Brock: On for Welsh, 45
David McWilliams: On for Tierney, 62