Danske Bank Premiership

Another action-packed week for all fans of the Danske Bank Premiership. Glenavon’s undefeated away record came to an end. Linfield go level at the top with Glenavon, Warrenpoint pull it out of the bag at the National Stadium, and more dubious refereeing decisions to make wonderful debates around the workplaces this week.

Ballymena 2-1 Glenavon

Two young, enthusiastic teams met on Friday evening. Glenavon sit pretty at the top of the league having lost only one game all season. Their away form is something else. Six games on the road with six wins. What a great return for Gary Hamilton and his young charges. They go from strength to strength.

Ballymena have now got themselves into a settled rhythm. Back at home and showing that this young team can mix it with the best after last week’s convincing win at home to the champions Crusaders moved the Sky Blues up into third. Undefeated in three, they will provide stern opposition for the league leaders.

Friday evening saw the second offering of live football for the BBC. This is becoming very popular, especially for enthusiasts of the local game, in the mainland. Long may it continue and a big well done to everyone involved at the BBC.

It didn’t take long for this game to ignite. On seven mins Ballymena took the lead through Andrew McGrory. Cathair Friel powered his way to the byline. Friel delivered a ball to the back post where it was set up for McGrory. The ex Glenavon man coolly finished. There were chances for both teams but at the break, it was 1-0 Ballymena.

Ballymena had the first real chance in the second half. Great work this time from Willie Faulkner down the flank. His ball into the box found Leroy Millar, who hit it high over the crossbar. Mark Sykes was having a great game. With the cameras showing it live he was taking the opportunity to show off his natural talent. He nearly got the equaliser on 65 mins collecting a ball inside the box and putting it over. But, it was Sykes that got Glenavon right back in the game. On 72 mins, Sykes picked the ball up on the edge of the box; he then picked his spot and placed a lovely cool finish into the corner of the Ballymena net. But, it was the home side who were to steal all three points late on. With less than one minute left, Tony Kane delivered a ball into the box where it was met by the head of Jonathan McMurray, who put it away. What a way to finish of this top of the table game.

Another great advert for the league. The talent on show from both teams was there to be seen. I myself took Mark Sykes to be Glenavon’s stand out player this season. The young man did not disappoint. Gary Hamilton and the board need to have some sort of plan in play to keep this young lad heading down the same route as Joel Cooper.

Newry AFC 0-3 Crusaders

What can be said about Newry? No wins in four games, and in all honesty, it is hard to see where one might come. Twenty-five goals conceded. The league’s second highest. How can you fix it? Well, I am not the man who gets paid to do that, but I take my hat off to the man that is. Last time the two teams met Crusaders won the game by a single goal. Not the best time to meet the champions who will still be seething from last week’s humiliation at the hands of Ballymena.

Crusaders. What can we expect off Crusaders this week? Surely it will be all change on the park again. Seems that’s the Stephen Baxter way this season. Rotate, rotate, rotate. The Crues need a win and a run to go with it. Too many players turning up in second gear is not acceptable. On a plus note. Crusaders signed Rory Hale from Derry City on a two-year contract. The Hale’s have a long relationship with the Crues.  Grandfather Danny Hale was a legend on the Shore Road. Just what the Crues need, a midfield ball player because at the minute they have not got one.

Newry started this as the brighter of the two teams. Well, we could say that against most teams that have played the champions this season. The Crues’ clean sheet was a credit to young Harry Doherty. Brought in to replace Sean O’Neill, he had a very strong game. Stephen Hughes got the first chance of the night. His shot was saved well and low by Doherty. From the resulting corner, Doherty again was called into action, where he got down low to show great reflexes for the save. Just before the break Paul Heatley had a chance cleared off the line by Dale Montgomery.

The Crues made the breakthrough three mins into the second half. Rory Patterson ended up tangling with Patrick Mooney in the area, resulting in the referee pointing to the spot. Patterson stepped up this time and with no messing around finished the penalty. That’s five goals for Patterson this season. Doherty again was called into action when a Stephen Teggart shot was deflected. Doherty showed great reflexes to parry it over. One long ball over the top saw John Boyle get himself in a little bother. Paul Heatley picked up the ball and slotted it home through the legs of Sean Maguire. Over to Doherty, a wonderful long-range effort bought about a brilliant saved by the young man. Paul Heatley finished off the contest in added time latching onto a through ball and coolly finishing.

A twin is a win, but Stephen Baxter must give young Doherty a big well done on that performance. Since Brian Jenson left, the Crues have struggled in the goalkeeping area. Yes, Doherty is still a young lad and didn’t have the greatest of seasons with relegated Carrick last season. But he is a talent.

Institute 1-2 Coleraine

Three home defeats in a row for Stute has seen their early season home form go out the window. Got to feel for them, the last three home games have been an education to the top class. Ballymena, Glenavon, and Crusaders all inflicting defeats on the North West side. Last time the two teams met, it finished as a 2-2 draw. Institute will hope to get the form back at the Brandywell.

A few weeks in the life of Coleraine. Beat Crusaders, lost to Cliftonville and during the week losing again to Glentoran in the league cup on penalties. Rodney McAree is finding it hard to get this team back into the fast lane. In their defence, this season they are undefeated away from home, but draw after the draw is not what we have come to expect from this high flying team. Jamie McGonigle has been the standout player for them. Week in, week out, he is showing he is rich talent. Another talented youngster from the province that will make an impression if given a chance across the water.

The day could not have got off to a better start for Coleraine with a goal in the 9th min. A Darren McCauley corner going straight into the net. Just before the break, McCauley was at it again. This time cutting inside onto his right foot, and firing a wonderfully placed shot into the corner of the net.

Into the second half and Institute nearly got themselves level. This time it was Michael McCrudden with a wonderful shot that cannoned off the crossbar. The woodwork again was getting a workout. Dean Curry this time with the header from a free kick. The home side’s pressure was to pay off. Callum Muirhead setting up the former Coleraine striker Joe McCready, who was left with the simplest of tap-ins.

Good, hard fought win for Coleraine which moves them up to 6th in the league. That’s four home defeats in a row now for Institute which sees them stay in 8th just a point behind Glentoran. Their home form needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Ards 2-2 Dungannon

Ards are playing with fire. A big home win against Linfield has proved pretty pointless. The next week they go to Larne, get beat, and then take a four-goal ‘hiding’ at the hands of Glentoran. They have lost four games at home, and with their dismal away form this is going to take some turnaround from Colin Nixon. Nixon was a great leader at Glentoran, and he had many joyous days. He made the decision to stay on at Ards, and on present form, he must be questioning himself as to why.

Dungannon lost out last week by the closest of margins to Linfield. The week before was a hard-earned draw at Ballymena. They are now starting to find some belief and fight. It is another away game and this season they have still to get a win away. But Kris Lindsay will set this team up and make it hard for Ards. Last time the two met at the start of the season it finished 2-2. 

A tight game and this will be a hard call for any die-hard betting man.

The afternoon got off to a good strong start for Ards. A powerful Jonny Frazer run into the box saw him brought down. The referee pointed straight to the spot. Frazer dusted himself down and stroked the penalty home. Just before half-time Dungannon were right back in the game. This time a pin-point cross from substitute Mark Patton found Corey McMullan, who made no mistake with the header.

Ards got themselves back into the lead in the second half. Kyle Cherry started and finished the move off. Cherry picked up the ball in the middle of the park and found Mark Kelly. Kelly twisted and turned, and made room to get the ball into the Dungannon box. The cross was blocked in the box but it fell to Cherry, who made no mistake with the follow-up shot.

Cherry was to go from hero to villain. A hard challenge in the middle of the park saw Cherry pick up his second yellow along with his marching orders. Dungannon grabbed a late equaliser through Ally Teggart. A neat one-two with McMullan on the edge of the box saw Teggart race through and score.

I said this would have been a hard game to call. It’s a case of ‘if only’ for Ards. The red card surely the changing point for the game. The draw moves Dungannon off the bottom on goal difference.

Cliftonville 1-0 Glentoran

The Reds have made home a fortress. Five wins in a row have seen Barry Gray’s men get themselves some well-earned consistency. Rory Donnelly is back in and around the goals as well. Two for two. Last time out against the Glens, the Reds came away from the Oval with a win. More of the same today will be the cry from fans up on the Cliftonville Road.

Been a better week for the Glens. A 4-0 win at home to Ards. Followed by a win over Coleraine. It took penalties to decide the winner but it’s the Glens that got the win. Curtis Allen is pivotal to their season. Popping up with important goals is what Allen does. He has been around the league. Linfield, Coleraine then he got a break with a move to Inverness. It didn’t work out as he was not the same striker he was when in the Irish League. The Glens took a chance and signed him, and in fairness, the little man has repaid them in goals scored.

This was always going to be a lively encounter. The Glens started strong with some lovely tight interchanging passing which saw Robbie McDaid drive into the box. Levi Ives came across McDaid. Penalty or not? Referees in today’s game are so inconsistent. On another day it might have been given, but today it’s a distant memory. 

So into the second half and what will be a talking point today in the east end bars of Belfast. Cliftonville’s goal. Correct me if I am wrong but if you come through the back of a player it’s a free kick! Robbie McDaid was upended on the halfway line. Now is it the referee looking at McDaid and saying, “you have been going down too easy”? Yes, the Cliftonville defender came through the back of him and the ball moved. But he came through the back! From the challenge, Joe Gormley didn’t think twice. A lovely little through ball from Jay Donnelly into his path. Gormley finished low and hard past Elliot Morris. 

The Glentoran players were furious with the decision. Ross Redman then saw red for a second bookable offence after whatever he said to the referee. I get the frustration, but if you have the captain’s armband on, you have the right to go and ‘chat’ to the referee. Ask why his decision stood. Not stand and abuse him. 

Another weekend and more chatter about the inconsistencies of Irish League referees. In fairness, it has not been the greatest of seasons for referees. Too inconsistent. Too many big decisions not being called correctly. But the guys are still part-time. They squeeze this in around their day jobs as well. The league needs to be doing more to help educate them. There are independent referee adjudicators at matches. Why are they not picking up on the mistakes and educating? Glentoran will feel aggrieved today, but you have to hand it to Joe Gormley. When the chance came his way he took it.

Linfield 1-1 Warrenpoint

So Linfield got themselves back to winning ways last week with an away win at Dungannon. The Blues are unbeaten at home scoring eleven goals and only conceding two. This should be a chance for David Healy to give some of his fringe players a game. Last time out Linfield put five past Warrenpoint, and with the league’s worst defensive record, Waterworth and O’Connor will be like dogs in a trap trying to get after the hare.

Warrenpoint. The worst defensive record in the league. Twenty-eight goals against, one win away from home all season. For any betting man, you couldn’t get odds on this for Warrenpoint today. It has been a stop-start season so far and it will be a long one for the team from Co. Down.

Well, what a start to this game for Warrenpoint. Not in a million light years could you have written the start here. Alan O’Sullivan raced on to a hopeful long ball. He runs into the box and was tackled by Matthew Clarke. Clarke seemed to get a little of the ball but again it comes down to the referee. Where was his position? What was his assistant doing? Maybe it was the follow through. The end state was a penalty to Warrenpoint. Simon Kelly stepped up and made no mistake with the penalty. 

The Blues huffed and puffed as Warrenpoint battened down the hatches. Defended like it was the last day of the season and they needed the result. But the Linfield pressure paid off. A beautiful floated cross from Kirk Millar was put into the box. If any Linfield fan out there has to shake any players hand tonight, it is Andrew Waterworth. He threw his head into a meat mixer in the box. Could have had a one-way ticket toward nine at the City Hospital. But he did what great strikers do. Attack the ball at all costs. Great effort form Linfield’s frontman. 

I sit here still thinking have I had one too many last nights. The score was one that I myself never thought I would have seen today. Hats off to Warrenpoint. They dug in, fought and made it hard for Linfield. That type of selfless commitment from them can only be a good thing. Long may it continue for them, as after that showing at the National Stadium, there is more to come from them.