Stand-in keeper Kelly stands out as Comber topple St Pat's
Comber Rec manager Phil McDonagh hopes his team can continue their trend of promising progression in cup competitions by getting their hands on this season’s Clarence Cup, after a well-earned second round victory over fellow Division 1A side St Patrick’s YM.
The Park Way boss has had mixed feelings about how the club has fared in the Amateur League’s knockout tournaments in recent years – pleased that they are moving in the right direction, yet frustrated that they haven’t quite been able to get their hands on the silverware they crave.
However, he believes that there were enough signs from their performance at the weekend to suggest this could finally be their season.
The Comber boss said: “The Border Cup is a competition I target every year, and we were disappointed to go out at the semi-final stage this season… the Clarence Cup is perhaps more difficult to win because of the time of the season, what with catching up on league fixtures, but we went out of the Clarence Cup on penalties in the quarter-finals last season. So we are getting there.
“We knew this would be a difficult place come. We drew 3-3 with them at ours last month, so we were always going to have to be at our best to get through. I felt we defended well and hit them on the break, and really we should have been 3-0 up at the break, but we held out well in the second half.
“We have a bit of ground to make up in the promotion race, but we have a quality squad full of talent and most of our toughest away fixtures on paper out of the way. We’ll need to go on a run, and if we can stay injury free, maybe the Clarence Cup can be a part of that.”
Comber got the early breakthrough their positive pressing deserved, but it was a moment to forget for unfortunate St Pat’s keeper Darren Madden in the 15th minute, as Daniel Smith’s strike from outside the box looked to be giving him a routine save, but instead, it trickled through his hand into the bottom corner.
Shortly after this, Robert O’Neill produced a fine header just past the upright from Jamie Jacobson’s searching high ball. Meanwhile, Madden looked to have re-gathered himself as he grasped comfortably from Martin Jones’ tight angled-shot.
Tony McNally almost drew the sides level with a soaring goal-bound effort in the 22nd minute, but Comber’s stand-in goalie Peter Kelly got fingertips to it, to push it over the bar impressively.
The travelling players and their vocal band of support alike felt Joseph McKinney had made it 2-0 on 25 minutes, after charging through unchallenged to slot past Madden, only to see the ball strike the inside of the left post and back out again.
The Comber striker claimed the ball had crossed the line, and rebounded of a structure behind the right post, and he may have had a case, but it was a tight call and referee Sebastian Jankowski waved play on.
This served as something of a wake-up call to the home side, who stepped up their search for an equaliser as half time got closer. A superb 37th minute John Donaldson volley from 12 yards was bettered only by the Kelly save that kept it out. The same player had another volley seconds later, but this time it was blocked by the alert Patrick Fox.
Yet despite St Pat’s increased endeavour, it was Comber who were celebrating yet again, on the cusp of the interval. Capitalising on the home side’s failure to clear from a McKinney corner, Daniel Smith got a shot in, and Jones stuck a foot out to guide it over the line.
Both teams had their chances at the start of the second half, Comber through McKinney, who scooped the ball over from inside the box, and St Pat’s through McNally, who volleyed with plenty of power, but straight into Kelly’s arms.
Indeed, the makeshift shot-stopper was having a great afternoon between the sticks, and on 65 minutes, tipped a glancing header from James Beggley onto the top of the crossbar. Shane Murray got the woodwork at the opposite end rattling too, after a volley from a Gerard McAlea corner.
St Pat’s got themselves back into the reckoning in the 73rd minute, as O’Neill rose at the back post to head in from Raymond Spotswood’s superb cross. However, their joy was short-lived when Sean Beggley was sent off for his second bookable foul six minutes later.
Despite the 10-man disadvantage, St Pat’s remained on the front-foot and Spotswood drew another tremendous stop from Kelly, who surely prevented the effort from travelling in under the bar.
In the end, however, Comber finished the game strongest, and after watching a point-blank Smith effort saved, an Eamon Connor whizz across the face of goal, and a Murray attempt fired narrowly wide of the mark, they still saw out the win they were after.
St Pat’s YM caretaker manager Keith Mulvenna said: “We didn’t perform as well as we can today, and overall, Comber deserved their win.
“The league is the most important thing for us, and although we have games in hand, it will be tough for us to get a top two finish this season. I’ll personally be happy if we can get into the top four this year.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Peter Kelly (Comber Rec). An impressive goalkeeping display, from a man who normally features in defence.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: There were a few standout moments, but Daniel Smith’s 15th minute goal gave Comber the initial incentive to go on and win.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Peter Kelly’s save from John Donaldson’s close range effort in the 37th minute was the pick of the bunch.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Darren Madden’s spill from Daniel Smith’s shot, and ultimately Comber’s first goal.
St Patrick’s YM
Darren Madden: Aside from his early error, wasn’t the worst day. 7
Jamie Jacobson: Did most of what was asked of him. 7
Cormac Brannigan: A fair effort. 7
Aidan Mulvenna: Made a few decent challenges. 7
Sean Beggley: Sending off a costly blemish. 6
Tony McNally: Looked capable of scoring. 7
James Beggley: Kept plugging away. 7
Ciaran McManus: A bustling display. 8
Robert O’Neill: Took his goal well. 8
Joseph Thompson: Steady enough. 7
John Donaldson: Got in amongst the chances. 7
Raymond Spotswood: On for Jacobson, 60
Michael Murray: On for McManus, 71
Paul Gowdy: Not used
Peter Kelly: Top class save after top class save. 9
Andrew Scott: Disciplined and tidy. 7
Neil Moore: Tremendous passing range from the back. 8
Patrick Fox: Effective last line of defence. 8
Darren McNamee: A steady showing. 7
Gerard McAlea: Good work-rate. 7
Daniel Smith: Usually at the right place at the right time. 8
Stephen McCorry: Pulled the strings in midfield. 8
Martin Jones: An instinctive display. 8
Joseph McKinney: Caught the eye with great individual skill. 9
Jordan Dougherty: Got forward well. 7
Jason Walls: On for McCorry, 71
Shane Murray: On forDougherty, 57
Eamon Connor: On for McAlea, 71
Belfast Telegraph Digital