Portrush Old Boys took a big step towards the Hutchinson Tiles League title on Saturday with a win over fellow contenders Berthas FC.
West Bann Athletic kept up the pressure at the top with a win over Finn McCools in the only league action to take place.
In the Knockout Cup, The first round could finally be completed with Glebe Rangers Old Boys, Dunaghy Old Boys, The Taverners and Coleraine Olympic all advancing to the quarter final stages. The quarter final matches are expected to be held on Saturday 29th March.
Portrush Old Boys 3
Berthas FC 0
Saturday produced a spring morning where two teams in form, met for a fixture which could have implications for the end of season run in.
And as expected, little could be decided between Portrush OB and Berthas FC in the early stages. Portrush did force the issue a little more for a short spell, but it was the visitors who almost took the lead when a move down the left, created a well worked delivery which caused confusion in the Portrush penalty area, but McCullough in goal was relieved to see the ball knocked to safety.
But Doherty, combining with Ali Newton, started a series of moves which was giving Portrush the edge. And from a corner headed back across goal, it was Bo Taggart who was on hand to shoot home and give Portrush the initiative.
Within a few minutes, a deep cross by Ciaran Doherty was met firmly by Johnny Martin who doubled the hosts’ lead.
This gave the home team a strong advantage going into the break. Portrush started after the break, again forcing the game, which caused problems for Berthas. Within five minutes, Doherty again proved the provider as he found McClelland free on the edge of the box, and ‘DD’ turned smartly and fired home to extend the lead.
Berthas did push forward and had times where their drive deserved better results, but Portrush stood firmly. A series of crosses from mainly their left side, gave Berthas half chances which couldn’t be converted. McCullough in goal did well to come out bravely to stop a break from Berthas and when he was finally beat, the post came to his rescue in the closing stages.
Portrush continued to see out the game and the final result gave them a home victory for a valuable three points. Berthas to their credit may have deserved more from the game, but will feel they have still plenty to offer in their reach for league success.
West Bann Athletic 2
Finn McCools 1
West Bann Athletic entertained Finn McCools at Rugby Avenue looking for three points to keep in touch with the teams at the top.
The first half was a scrappy affair with both teams spurning chances and the Finns keeper in inspired form. It took until the 55th minute for the first goal of the game and it was top marksman in the league at the minute, Lee Nevin who made no mistake from the spot.
Athletic pushed for a second but were denied on several occasions by the Finns number one. Athletic did make it 2-0 through Luke Bacon in the 66 minute with the young winger finishing well when presented the opportunity.
Athletic with their tails up pushed for a third, however in doing so left themselves wide open and Finns were ever dangerous on the counter. Athletic had stand in goalie Peter Cochrane to thank when he pulled off a great double save to keep the score 2-0 going into the last 10 minutes of the game.
Finns did get on the score sheet with five minutes to go to ensure a hectic last five minutes however Athletic held on to win 2-1 and move into joint top spot with eight games remaining. Men of the Match: Peter O’Kane / Nathan Black (WBA FC)
Hazelbank FC 1
Glebe Rangers Old Boys 3
Hazelbank entertained the Old Boys at the Crescent Playing Fields as both sides looked to advance to the next stage in the cup.
With a number of players unavailable, the stage was set for veterans Alan McBride and Mervyn Greer (sen) to return for the Old Boys. Alan Walls also made it this week after purchasing a new alarm clock whilst Danny Allen’s reappearance freed Lee Kyle to take up his normal role at centre-back.
In fact long-serving Kyle was awarded the skipper’s armband but the responsibility appeared to weigh heavily on his shoulders as he blasted an early penalty over the bar.
With Greer producing a virtuoso display in midfield the Old Boys continued to pressurise and Crawford was forced to prove his worth on a number of occasions, the pick of which was a magnificent reflex save from Les Nicholl’s header.
However he was finally beaten when Fulton’s shot took a deflection to wrong-foot the big stopper. Hazelbank responded and had a strong penalty claim turned down before missing a good chance from a free header.
This proved costly when Steele’s cross found Scotty Fraser who despatched the ball home with a well- struck volley.
Hazelbank went on the offensive at the start of the second period but failed to really test Allen. The Old Boys suffered a major blow when McBride, imperious throughout, received a second yellow card on the hour mark.
Despite the disadvantage it was the visitors who notched again when the hard-working Fulton found Steele and the ace poacher’s strike beat Crawford at the far post.
With Nicholl and Greer forced off through injury Steele then moved back into a midfield role where he produced a collector’s item with a fine sliding tackle.
As time ran out Smyth pulled a deserved goal back for Hazelbank with a fine strike into the bottom corner to make the final score 3-1 to the Old Boys. Man of the Match: James Steele (Glebe Rangers Old Boys)
Dunaghy Old Boys 3
FC Windyhall 1
In last week’s fixture Dunaghy Old Boys ran out 6-0 victors but this was never going to be the case with a much strengthened Windyhall in this cup match.
Windyhall started the stronger and it was no surprise they took the lead on 18 minutes when a fierce volley was saved by Blair only for the rebound to be tucked away by Mullan.
Dunaghy hit back straight away when ‘Chin’ Blair buried a header into the top corner on 20 minutes. It stayed like this till half time but Windyhall hit the post and Blair made a couple of good saves to keep the old boys in it.
The second half saw a much improved Dunaghy and on 65 minutes Danny Graham produced a rare strike into the bottom corner to give the Old Boys the lead. On 85 minutes Robinson rounded the keeper to tuck away neatly for a 3 -1 lead. Windyhall hit the post again but the Old Boys saw out the final minutes to go into the next round after a hard fought game.
Coleraine Olympic 2
Ballyrashane FC 1
Coleraine Olympic faced Ballyrashane in the Cup this week looking for a change of fortunes and get their first win of the season.
Ballyrashane started the brighter of the two, creating a few chances before taking the lead on the 15 minutes. An Olympic corner was cleared and Ballyrashane hit them on the counter attack and the move was finished off well by Jack Gray.
Olympic had chances to get back into the game but were wasteful. Ballyrashane also had chances to extend their lead but for some sturdy defending Olympic managed to keep them at bay. Midway through the half Olympic managed to get on the score-sheet.
Paul Beatty chased on to a thru-ball and managed to get there before the onrushing keeper who took him down for a penalty. Jon Sweeney stepped up and coolly put away the penalty.
The game was pretty much end to end up until the last minute of the first half. Olympic won a free-kick on the corner of the penalty area. Jon Sweeney swung the ball in only for it to get a fortunate deflection off the Ballyrashane wall and end up in the back of the net.
The second half started as the first did with Ballyrashane looking the more likely to score. Ballyrashane had chance after chance but through dogged defending and wasteful finishing they never really troubled Doherty in the Olympic goal.
The second half wasn’t all Ballyrashane though, Olympic looked to counter attack on various occasions and could have added to their two goals but for some good defending and slack finishing.
All in all a quite entertaining game with Olympic coming through 2-1 victors and progressing to the next round. Man of the Match: Jonathan Kirgan (Coleraine Olympic)