Scouting i.e. the observation of your own team, or opposition, has always been a substantial component of success in sport. Exactly what Crusaders’ backroom staff have not been doing, as the Crues have a below power performance declaring they have no interest in the league title. Linfield takes full advantage of everyone else’s substandard performances to pull clear. Also well done to Warren Feeney. First game in charge of lowly Ards and what a result. Three much needed points for the North Down club to get them off the bottom. If only on goal difference.
Game of the weekend. The league’s top two Linfield and Ballymena United. The pair met in the League Cup final the weekend before and the Blues came away with a 1-0 win. A result which they repeated today. Tactically David Healy has got it spot-on. How do you win leagues and games? By winning and being watertight at the back. If the opponent doesn’t score then they can’t beat you, simple eh? Well going into the game, the Blues had been unbeaten in their last 10 games and only conceded five goals. In total 19 goals conceded in the league this season. I think that’s enough said. Not only can their defenders defend, but they are popping up with key goals. Just as Josh Robinson did yesterday scoring the all-important goal to give Linfield the win; Robinson getting himself onto the end of a Kyle McClean corner to finish.
The win takes the Blues nine points clear at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership and they truly deserve to be where they are.
So on Friday night the BBC screened Crusaders’ 1-1 draw against Glenavon. Going into this the Crues had conceded 40 goals. Yes, the team in third place in the Danske Bank Premiership has conceded 40 goals. Last time out they defeated Coleraine 4-2 so it was a surprise to see Sean Ward, who this week signed an extension to his contract, dropped to the bench and Kyle Owens brought into the back four. The Crues formation was some kind of 4-3-3 with the top three for 85 mins never interchanged once. Pity, as Ronan Hale is a natural talent and a goal scorer. He spent 85 mins wide on the right. The Lurgan Blues back four just cruised through the game. The Crues got the first goal of the night. Another David Cushley shot powering past the Lurgan Blues’ keeper Jonny Tuffey. This season someone somewhere must have been making a healthy profit on Crues’ conceding. Tonight, they didn’t disappoint. In fairness, the finish from Josh Daniels was just something else. He took it perfectly and left Sean O’Neill in the Crues net helpless.
The Crues just didn’t seem to want it and have got this attitude to suggest that they think that the Irish Cup is theirs. Is it? Keep conceding the way you are and the cup is for sure not coming the way of the Shore Road outfit.
So up next for me has to be Ards. Today the bottom club entertained the team above them,Newry City, and came away with a 3-1 win. So, Warren Feeney was announced as the new manager of Ards this week and it was a little bit of a surprise all around. Feeney’s last tenure as a manager in the Danske Bank Premier League did not go as expected. Feeney took the reins at Linfield from David Jeffery in 2014. A hard man to follow in the footsteps there is no doubt. It didn’t go to plan and as a result, Feeney moved back to the mainland to take up the assistant manager’s job at Newport County. That was short lived due to the resignation of manager John Sheridan. Feeney then took up assistant manager at Crawley Town working under a certain Harry Kewell. So after his first real dabble into management, Feeney went away to get more experience in the world of football management. This could be a very big, and great signing on behalf of the Ards board if he has learnt from his time away.
Today three points separate the two sides as Ards started in last position. You have to go back as far as the 30th Nov for the last time City last registered a win. They have gone 11 without a win and this makes for some sorry reading. Today they did not look like a team that was wanting to stay within the big league. Mark Kelly got the scoring started for Ards by connecting with a David McAllister cross to give the North Down men the lead. Number two wasn’t far behind as Damien McNulty rose highest to turn in a Josh Kelly Corner.
City gave themselves a lifeline and something to get the motivation back as Ger Pender got his head on a Darren King cross to reduce the deficit. Ards were not to be stopped today though and completed the scoring through that man Mark Kelly. His second header of the afternoon gave Ards the much-needed points. The win moves them off bottom spot, if only on goal difference.
Glentoran travelled to Coleraine only to come away on the end of a 2-0 defeat and keep them sitting in ninth place, three points behind Dungannon Swifts. The talking point of this game has to be once again the surface at the Coleraine Showgrounds. Two penalties and both skied over the crossbar and the stand. The look on Dean Shiels’ face after his miss said it all. The surface there has been a talking point for all away fans for the last few years. But it works for the Bannsiders… well to an extent.
Last out for the Bannsiders they were on the wrong end of a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Crues. Is this the honeymoon period over for the Glens? Two defeats on the bounce. It takes time for a new man to get his philosophy across, but he was there when it was all going wrong with Ronnie McFall at the helm. So, is it really all change?
So, after the third attempt today the Bannisiders scored a penalty. The first two went high and into the middle of the Saturday shoppers, but Eoin Bradley stepped up and converted the third penalty to give the Bannsiders the lead. They extended the lead through Ben Doherty who pounced on a rebound to score.
Paddy McLaughlin is truly in the swing for Cliftonville. Today they travelled to Warrenpoint Town and came away with a 2-0 win. That’s two wins on the bounce for the North Belfast outfit and two clean sheets. Next job for McLaughlin is getting Joe Gormley scoring again. He is stuck on 19 goals for the season, joint equal with the departed Institute striker Michael McCrudden who has now departed for Derry City.
The goals today came through ex-Derry City’s Finn Harps and Ballinamallard frontman Ryan Curran. Curran is looking like another great find for the North Belfast side. Curran scored his first by turning inside the box and firing a shot past ‘Point keeper Berraat Turker. His second came after a wonderful flowing Reds’ attack which saw Curran finish off with an inch-perfect drive into the net.
Institute entertained Dungannon Swifts in this encounter and came away with a 2-0 win. I had this down as a clear draw but did not take into consideration the loss of the Swifts’ captain Chris Hegarty. Stute are now over the Michael McCrudden saga and sit nicely in mid-table. Two wins on the bounce with two clean sheets after this one. The loss of their manager added into the mix of a 19 goal scoring striker and you have to give it to Stute for getting back off the ropes and fighting on. The deadlock was broken by Jamie Dunne. Great link-up play between Dunne and Joe McCready saw Dunne finish well. It was McCready who got number two, beating Ryan Morrow to a ball over the top to finish.