Linfield beat a valiant Ards to go top. Ballymena’s 14 game unbeaten run comes to an end at the hands of the champions Crusaders, whilst Glentoran have now gone 10 games without a win meaning they are now five points off a relegation dogfight.
Linfield knew what they had to do in this encounter with Ards. They did it in a professional manner and registered a 2-0 win. Allowing them to claim the top spot.
Ards, still rooted to the bottom of the league on 14 points (two points behind Newry), were coming from a very impressive 3-0 win away at Dungannon Swifts. Today, they were up against an in-form Blues team. Over the Christmas and New Year period, the Blues have yet to concede a goal, and for this encounter, they were not about to let it happen either.
Ards had chances in the first half to get the first goal. But found the evergreen Roy Carroll right bang on form. The Blues fans were made to wait until the second half until they broke the deadlock. As usual, it was from the head of Jimmy Callacher getting onto the end of a Niall Quinn corner. The second was another Quinn/Callacher party act; Quinn cross, met by the head of Callacher. 2-0 for the Blues, and three good points on the road.
So Cliftonville travelled to Coleraine and the pressure is right back on Barry Gray. He has the players and the support, but it just isn’t coming together. It’s been a horrible holiday period for them. Defeats at the hands of Institute, Crusaders, Linfield and now Coleraine (after today’s 4-1 win for the Bannsiders) makes for terrible reading. On top of that, they have shipped 17 goals in the festive period. Absolutely suicidal.
The Bannsiders have a nice run of form going. Unbeaten over the festive period, Rodney McAree’s hard work behind the scenes is starting to pay off. Coleraine got the scoring started through Eoin Bradley. The ever-impressive Jamie McGonigle broke away down the Reds right then delivered a ball to Bradley who finished.
Straight from the resulting kickoff, the Reds’ most experienced player Ryan Catney, gave the ball straight back to the Bannsiders. The Reds need the likes of Catney to calm things down. However, this time he just made it worse. The ball eventually falling to Stephen Lowry, who finished low and hard past Richard Brush.
The Reds came out after a much-needed team talk and got a goal back from Liam Bagnall. Joe Gormley broke away, delivered the ball to Bagnall who still had a bit of work to do before he finished. More terrible defending inside the Reds box resulted in goal number three for the Bannsiders. Josh Carson delivered a ball into the box which was cleared to Aaron Canning, who finished low into the bottom corner.
The Bannsiders secured the 4-1 win with a long ball over the top. James McLaughlin beat Brush to the ball, rounded him and put it into the empty net. That win takes Coleraine up to fifth ahead of Cliftonville.
Not only the league leaders before today but also the league’s in-form team, Ballymena travelled down the M2 to North Belfast and the home of the current champions Crusaders for this tasty encounter. The Sky Blues have gone 14 games undefeated before this, and always stood a chance but the Crues have had a little bit of form recently. Unbeaten over the festive period, Stephen Baxter has got his team quality moving in the right direction, while everyone else chats about the champions that might be.
The Crues got this one off to a flyer. Some wonderful football in the middle of the park saw Phillip Lowry catch the Sky Blues defence sleeping with a wonderful long ball with which Paul Heatley connected and scored.
The second of the game was bad defending all round. The ball was delivered unchallenged into the Crues box but Jude Winchester got in front of Billy Joe Burns to slot it home. Once again, simple defending could have stopped it.
The Crues got themselves back in front through former Sky Blues’ defender Kyle Owens. A Crues free-kick was headed onto Owens by Lowry. The big stopper steadied himself and fired home.
Once again, the Sky Blues came back into the game. A long ball forward got this one going. The ball was played into the box by Cathair Friel who found Stephen McCullough. McCullough had all the space of Seaview to turn inside the box and finish.
The Crues stole all three points after the final goal of the 3-2 scoreline came from that man Heatley. David Cushley played a delightful ball through to Heatley. He turned the first defender inside out. Then onto the keeper, and somehow his shot went into the net over the head of Kofi Balmer via a deflection.
A great game but the Crues need to get the goals against sorted sooner rather than later, as this Crues team will be hard to stop if they do. Added to the acquisition of Rory Hale and Gerard Doherty (both Derry City), the Crues were offered the chance to take on Recce McGinlay who was wanting to come home. Recce just recently signed his first full-time contract with Rotherham and has come home to Belfast. The Crues have been quick to tie him down for the rest of the season.
So, the loss of Mark Sykes to Oxford United (not Port Vale) has now happened, and Glenavon needs to move on. Gary Hamilton was critical of his team after this mediocre showing. If it wasn’t for Jonny Tuffey, the goals scored by Warrenpoint Town would have been more.
The ‘Point have gone out and made a statement by signing Chelsea under 23 keeper Jarad Thompson, alongside the further signings of Lee Duffy from Drogheda, and Brazilian centre-back Hernany Macedo Marques who had a spell at St Pat’s Athletic.
Philip Donnelly was the man of the match here, grabbing a hat-trick and the match ball in this encounter in Lurgan. Both teams had chances to take the lead in this game, but it was ‘Point that got off the mark first. O’Sullivan was the provider as he powered down the wing and delivered the ball to Donnelly who rifled the ball into the roof of the net.
Lazy defending can only describe the next. Caolan Marron thought he had longer than he did to clear but found the lively Donnelly closing him down, blocking his clearance and running through one-on-one with the keeper and scoring. Donnelly made it three following up an O’Sullivan shot which was parried. The Lurgan Blues got a consolation back through Josh Daniels, and with Mark Sykes leaving this was not a good day at the office for the Lurgan Blues.
At the Oval, Glentoran took on Dungannon Swifts. Two teams in desperate need of some luck. But it was the Swifts who came away from this one with a 4-2 win. 10 games without a win and the Glens actually started like a team that wanted to win. John Herron teeing up Stephen Gordon to score. The Swifts who have not won a game away all season then started to turn the screw. Daniel Hughes finishing off after the Glens’ keeper Elliot Morris couldn’t block the shot.
Then the Swifts took the lead through an own goal from William Garrett which totally wrong-footed Morris in the Glens net. Number three was definitely the fault of Garrett. His laid-back attitude saw Seanan Clucas steal the ball off him and drive into the Glens’ box. The ball eventually fell to Patton off the foot of Glens Ross Redman, who made a half-hearted attempt to tackle.
Things went from bad to worse for the Glens with Patton setting up Paul McElroy through some tame defending to put the ball into the net. The Glens got a consolation through Herron to make it 4-2, but it was too little too late. The defence just did not turn up today and it’s going to be a job to strengthen the Glens team.
Institute just keep moving along. Today they travelled to Newry City and came back with a 2-1 win. Michael McCrudden got the two goals that sealed this and put him joint top of the scoring charts with 18. It’s going to be a big month for ‘Stute and it will surely set how their season goes. Holding onto McCrudden will be a must for success. Newry stay bottom and with no wins in four next up for them is the visit of the champions Crusaders. It’s going to be a hard fight for them to stay in the league. Dale Montgomery got their only goal from the penalty spot.