From the Irish Cup to the Premier Intermediate League

After my trip to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium last Saturday for a thrilling Irish Cup 5th round tie between Institute and Dungannon Swifts, my attention this week turns to the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League for a clash between 7th place Limavady United and 4th place Bangor at the Limavady Showgrounds, in what was expected to be a close battle between the Roesides and the Seasiders.

A winning run in the league is going to be ended

It was a return to league football this weekend for the visitors.  Last weekend saw them take the 102-mile round trip to Newry as they fell to a 3-1 defeat to the Championship side. Limavady were knocked out of the Irish Cup by Saturday’s opponents, losing 3-1 at the Limavady Showgrounds. This meant that Limavady had to settle for league action last Saturday, beating Tobermore 2-0 at home.

Bangor have been on a decent run of form as of late, picking up three wins in a row after being defeated by Annagh United at the beginning of November. Their only defeat since that match was last weekend in the Irish Cup, but to opponents of a higher division. It has been more mixed fortunes for Limavady – they have won in their previous two outings but a cup exit and a defeat to Lisburn Distillery followed a 2-2 draw with Banbridge Town. With both teams on a winning run in the league, that was going to be ended for one of the teams at the Showgrounds.

Both managers strengthen their squads

In terms of transfer business, Limavady have lost Sean McCarron to Championship side Dergview, but Jack Mullan has signed for the Roesiders from Maiden City. For Bangor, last weekend saw the debuts of former Carrick Rangers midfielder Ashton McDermott, former Knockbreda forward Gary Lavery and former Larne goalkeeper Michael Dougherty. They have also completed the signing of Queen’s University defender Matthew Torrens.

Don’t change a winning formula

The Premier Intermediate League has its benefits for the players and staff of the competitors, with no hectic festive period to contend with. This has allowed both managers to select their strongest XI each match and this game was no different. There was a very familiar feel regarding both teams, with only one change being made between then. Ashton McDermott dropped out of the Bangor starting XI in favour of James Begley.

Limavady United Starting XI:

Bangor Starting XI:

The First Half – A hard-fought battle with neither side able to find the breakthrough

Limavady started the match on the front foot with Dean Brown trying to run onto a ball over the top of the Bangor defence but keeper Micheal Dougherty was able to get to the ball before Brown. From this early Limavady attack, Bangor were able to counter, getting a corner for their efforts. The first attempt was headed out for another corner, only for the second corner to be disappointing for the Seasiders.

Bangor started to come into the game from the fifth minute on, a low cross from Gerard McMullan being missed by everyone in the box, and a shot saved by Limavady keeper Ray Kelly, showing that Bangor were up for the challenge.

The first real shot towards goal for Limavady fell in the eighth minute of play, going wide of the target. This led to a five-minute period of play that was rather like a training session, with both sides passing the ball around the pitch at a low tempo. Bangor’s new singing Gary Lavery was to up the tempo of play, running towards goal with his shot being blocked by the Limavady defence.

A minute later, McMullan played an inviting cross into the box after a brilliant piece of skill on the right-hand edge of the box, turning left and the right, leaving his marker clueless.

Limavady had struggled to make an impact in the final third but had the majority of the ball so far in the first half. A rare chance for the Roesiders fell to Ryan Doherty, hitting a shot from the right-hand side, just outside the penalty area. Two minutes later it was Bangor that were on the attack, an adventurous Kelly led to him being closed down by the Bangor attack, with Limavady being lucky for nothing came of the error.

There was a potential penalty appeal for Limavady on thirty-two minutes, with a Limavady freekick appearing to hit off a Bangor arm. Nothing was given by the referee, and Bangor took advantage of this, going up the other end of the pitch with McMullan’s effort being saved by Kelly.

The County Down side were able to put more pressure on the strong Limavady defence, efforts from both Lavery and McMullan being saved easily by former Institute keeper Kelly. The last real effort of the half for either side fell on the 41st minute of play, with Brown attempting to lob Bangor’s Dougherty, his effort going wide. Two minutes of stoppage time was played at the Showgrounds with nothing to note. The score at half time was Limavady United 0 Bangor 0.

Half-Time Thoughts – a 50/50 game with Limavady in control of possession, but Bangor looking the more likely to make an impact

The game up to this point was very even, Limavady looked comfortable on the ball, creating just a few changes and should have probably taken the lead on the 41st minute with Brown’s lob going wide of an empty net. Bangor looked the more likely side to break the deadlock, with McMullan looking lively down the left-hand side, and just as comfortable when switched to the right.

Limavady had deployed an interesting tactical shape, a standard 4-3-3, but the shirt numbers didn’t seem to correlate with tradition. The two full-backs along with the wingers rotated throughout the half, creating a new dynamic during attacks, but a lack of structure when under pressure.

The Second Half – It only takes a second to score a goal

The second half kicked off with penalty shout within minutes, the referee not taking on the Bangor protests. Two minutes later, Limavady looked to be through on goal, with the linesman raising his flag for offside, and although it was tight, we don’t have VAR in the third tier of Northern Irish football just yet.

The first substitutions of the match were made in the 54th minute, a double Bangor change seeing Lavery and James Begley being replaced by Matthew Johnston and Michael Halliday.

As the Bangor substitutes were getting settled into their positions, an unmarked Gareth McFadden was able to slot the ball past Dougherty, giving the Country Londonderry side the lead on the 56th minute.

Limavady had little time to enjoy the goal as Bangor had launched an attack straight from kick-off, with a game of pinball being played in the box before being cleared to safety. Bangor’s McMullan then had another chance on the hour mark to level the tie, sliding in to win the ball, before losing out to keeper Kelly.

In the 62nd minute of play, striker Ben Arthurs levelled the tie for the Seasiders, lobbing a wandering Kelly from outside the box, giving Bangor the goal that they deserved for all of their attacking play up to this point.

With Bangor looking like they were going to score again, Limavady’s players stepped up their game, Gary McFadden started to show his class in the middle of the park, controlling the ball brilliantly before hitting a perfect ball across field, like that of Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis.

The game was opening up with both sets of attackers enjoying more space in behind with both sets of defences playing high lines. It was end-to-end stuff in the 65th minute, and as a Limavady shot was being troublesome for Dougherty, who spilt the ball though fortunately for him, there were no poachers waiting to attack. Bangor then went straight up the other end of the pitch, McMullan shooting towards the goal, and was comfortably saved by Kelly again.

Limavady looked the stronger side by now with Brown hitting a shot from outside the box, forcing Dougherty to push the ball past his left-hand post. This was followed by another period of pressure by the Roesiders, Gareth McFadden feeding the ball into Brown, forcing another excellent save from the Bangor keeper.

Four minutes later, the Bangor support thought they had taken the lead as a shot from right-back Isaac Fletcher bounced off the crossbar. With 12 minutes of play remaining, Bangor made another substitution, Fletcher being replaced by Mark Ballantine. The Bangor substitute made an instant impact hitting a shot across the box, forcing a save from Kelly.

Despite the controlled nature of Limavady, it was Bangor who found the lead in the 83rd minute, Arthurs able to get on the end of a cross to get his second of the match. This goal was crucial for Bangor, who had struggled to play their normal football in the second half due to the individual brilliance of some of the Limavady players who really stepped up their game at this point.

Around the 86th minute of play, Limavady made a substation, Oisin Hassan coming onto the pitch for goalscorer Gareth McFadden. He was involved straight away, getting into the box for a Brown cross after a piece of brilliant skill on the right-hand side of the pitch.

Limavady threw everything at trying to score an equaliser in the closing moments. They had a throw-in the 89th minute with everyone forward bar their captain Michael Carlin, resulting in a corner. From the resulting corner, the Bangor keeper dropped the ball, and another game of pinball was played before Limavady had a shot from outside the box fly over the top of the goal.

The referee’s whistle brought to an end an eventful, hard-fought game at the Limavady Showgrounds, with it finishing Limavady United 1 Bangor 2.

Full-Time Thoughts – Limavady unlucky to be second best

After the domination of possession for Limavady in the first half, and a further improvement in the second, they will feel disappointed not to come away from the game with at least a point. The overall team performance from Limavady was strong, with Brown, Carlin, and Gary McFadden being the standout players for the Roesiders.

Bangor weren’t able to get into the game in the second half as much as in the first, however, when they had a chance, they took it and that was the key difference in this match. They looked the more likely side going forward in the first, and despite this not being as clear in the second, McMullan continued to show his class for the Seasiders.

Man of the Match – Gerard McMullan

Despite Arthurs scoring two goals in the match, I have awarded my man of the match to Gerard McMullan. From kick-off he looked the most likely player to make an impact for Bangor. He switched between the right-flank and the left-flank and always seemed to be creating or involved in an attacking phase for the Seasiders. His pressing style of play helped put pressure on the Limavady defence, and this was key to Bangor being able to equalise and find the winner.

There was also a number of other players that I considered awarding my man of the match vote. Limavady captain Hugh Carlin was solid defensively and looked to drive forward into the opposition half; Dean Brown looked lively up front for the Roesiders, playing in a pressing style and always looking for his teammates to get the ball into the box for him. Gary McFadden struggled to find his feet in the game during the first half, but in the second he was sublime, using his skill to hold up the ball, turn his opponents and always found a forward pass.

On the winning side, there was only one real stand out apart from McMullan and that was the man who scored both the equaliser and the winner, Ben Arthurs. He didn’t have a massive impact on the match, but the striker’s job is to put the ball in the back of the net, and he showed that he can do this twice, countering on a mistake and lobbing the keeper, and rising higher than anyone else to get on the end of a cross for the winner.

Player Ratings – Individuals make the difference in a tight game

Limavady United: Kelly 7, O’Kane 6, Carlin 7, Mullan 6, McIvor 6, Gary McFadden 8, Doherty 6, Devenney 6, Devine 6, Gareth McFadden 7 (Hassan 5), Brown 8.

Bangor: Dougherty 6, Fletcher 7, Wray 7, Arthur 6, Beattie 6, Begley 7 (Halliday 6), Walsh 6, Cooling 6, Lavery 7 (Johnston 6), McMullan 8, Arthurs 8.

Looking Ahead – No more Irish Cup distractions

Limavady will hope to pick themselves up and try and take points away to Moyola Park and Tobermore United, before hosting Lisburn Distillery. Bangor head home the happier side, but also face Distillery at home, before Dollingston away and Newington YC back at the Bangor Fuels Arena. These two sides are probably sick at playing each other now, after meeting in the Irish Cup as well. Luckily for them, the next time these two sides meet isn’t till midway through March.