Ballymena, N. Ireland
Est 2003

Northend Colts 2 Downpatrick 1   Saturday 17th February 2024

This hotly anticipated fixture at the Valley would see the top two teams in the league go head to head hoping for an advantage in their league position. Last time out this was a highly contested affair with the Blues unfortunate to finish on the losing side. As expected this would be a physical battle with little between the teams, Northend finishing the victors with the odd goal in three.
Both teams went toe to toe from the off. Downpatrick got in behind quickly and Neeson had to be alive on the cover to snuff out the danger. A warning shot to the pace and power on the counter. Northend upped the intensity and battled hard with King and Lavelle dominating the open exchanges in midfield. Da Prato and Higgins were aggressive on the outside and Duncan and Gordon had to work hard to pressurise a resolute back five at times. Downpatrick were overly aggressive grappling and pulling back as Northend started to exert their authority. Duncan was causing all sorts of problems in the backline and after riding a challenge he was pushed off the ball with two hands in the back. It looked a penalty but the ref played on. Then Higgins was manhandled as he picked up the ball and drove down the left. This time the referee gave the free kick but the resultant delivery was over hit to the back post. Downpatrick were rattled. A number of heavy challenges came in as they tried to cope with Northendís fluent football. Then Duncan finally got free in the box, he brought the ball down and volleyed one in the corner to take the lead. For the most part the back four of Pearce, Calum, Kian and Liam had Downpatrick under control with some very able and aggressive defending. Only once did Downpatrick get a shot away from range which didnít trouble the keeper. D Higgins came on up front offering a new threat and the combination of Duncan and Higgins had them on the ropes. Ben first and then Dara not able to cut the final ball back for their strike partner when in behind. Then a great bit of football saw an exchange between Da Prato and D Higgins and a lay off for King on the edge of the area but the keeper made the save. Probably best chance of the half saw Duncan feed Higgins in the clear. Dara got the ball out of his feet and as he looked to have buried it the defender dived in making a last ditch block which just deflected wide of the upright. Downpatrick resorted to some very dirty challenges. Firstly a player came in through the back of Lavelle with two feet off the ground and then similarly on Da Prato with only one of them seeing the book. Downpatrickís only chance of the half was a free kick from 30 yards before the half end. Number 7 Dalton struck it straight at goal but looked comfortable for the keeper. Lavelle however couldnít hold the catch and a handling error went very fortunately into the net. Not long after a similar opportunity from Northend saw OíNeill strike a perfect free kick in over the keeperís head. The keeper could only palm it down onto the line and Lavelle was there to smash it over. The ref chalked it off for a marginal offside keeping it all level at the break.  Half time 1-1

Northend continued the second half much the way they had the finished the first on the front foot and D Higgins was getting in at will down the right-side but couldnít quite fashion the opening he desired. Lavelle played a great ball in behind to Duncan but he couldnít keep his chance down from the edge of the area and fired just over. It took a great delivery from OíNeill from a set piece to restore Northendís advantage. He dropped it in over the wall to King and Lavelle who had got in behind. Lavelle met the ball on the volley and finished it into the corner first time with some style to take the lead. Downpatrick reacted well and started to get a foothold in this contest and created a few openings. Maguire was being isolated with the Downpatrick fast winger on the left and Lavelle had to pull off a good save with his feet when the winger got a yard in the penalty area. Neeson was brought over to strengthen. Northend didnít seem to be able to hold their shape well and they were getting overrun in the midfield as they tired and a bit of last ditch defending was required. They rode their luck at times with chance after chance being created. Lavelle had to pull off another great save to maintain their slender lead. The bench changed the shape to 4-5-1 leaving D Higgins up as a sole outlet. Northend seemed to be able to smother the ball and limit clear cut openings. Higgins still looked dangerous on the counter. Downpatrick kept using the keeperís long ball in behind the defence. With two minutes on the clock a last ditch tackle from Da Prato blocked number 7s effort when in the clear. Frustration and dissent for Downpatrick resulted in a further couple of bookings and finally a red card. Try as they might they couldnít break down a resolute blue blocked defence. Finally, to rapturous celebration the final whistle was blew for the young colts to record their most impressive victory. This was by far and away the strongest opposition they had faced. There was warriors and leaders all over the pitch today but Neeson was highlighted for strong competitive, resolute defending showing great pace, strength and resolve down the right side.  Full Time 2-1

Man of the Match: Pearse Neeson

Panel: Lughan Hardy, Conor Lavelle, Callum OíNeill, Kian OíNeill, Liam Slattery, Ronan Maguire, Ben Duncan, Eoin Lavelle, Caleb Da Prato (c), Pearse Neeson, Callum Higgins, Dara Higgins, Oisin Gordon, Corey King and Kane McNeill
Northend Colts 4 St Malachys 5    Saturday 10th February 2024

A topsy, turvy game of two halves saw the young colts throw away all three points today in a nine goal thriller that looked dead and buried at half time. St Malachys earn great credit for their fight, belief and determination in the second half but in many ways this game was gifted to them. Two goals in the last two minutes and a winner with the last kick of the ball saw St Malachys pull off the great escape with an unlikely win.
Northend started the better of the two sides and gained control of the game early using the spaces out wide well and made good use of the Higgins brothers on either flank. St Malachys had camped six at the back at times and Northend had to be clever switching play quickly always trying to find the space on the other side. Cormac was terrorising the St Malachys defence down the left and Dara on the right. Within the first five Cormac got a shot away but just wide and then coming in from the right Dara was slipped from the right but again missed the target. Then a Da Prato corner met the run of Duncan who couldnít keep the ball down and headed over the bar. Then much against the run of play on 10 minutes a long ball was lumped forward to the big number 9. OíNeill did well to contest the ball but Patenall missed his clearance and the ball broke through onto the edge of the area. Hardy was hesitant on his line and did not react to the danger allowing the big number 9 to cruise in unopposed, take his time and calmly slot the ball away into the corner to take the lead. Northend didnít panic and continued to play football, a threaded ball across goal from Cormac found sibling Dara who slotted one at the back post to bring it all level, within a couple of minutes of going behind. Northend were relentless and on the attack again this time a switch of play hitting the referee. The ref awarded a drop ball to Northend and quick thinking from Da Prato put the ball in behind immediately to Higgins to score again on 12 minutes for his brace. Northend were rampant. King came very close with a trademark downward header but just wide of goal. Another Da Prato corner this time meeting the head of Duncan but again just off target. However, not to be outdone younger brother Cormac got in on the action and got another one minuteís later form a deep Da Prato delivery to the backpost. It was starting to become the Higgins show! Northend neednít have relaxed however. St Malachys were still fighting hard and getting the ball forward quickly to their big quick central pairing. A misplaced throw was set upon and the big number 9 took a shot which Hardy had to be alive to make the save. A warning sign to any complacency! However, Northend continued to dominate. Gordon stole a yard on his man and got through on goal but rushed his shot under pressure and just wide. Then a great ball to the back post saw Gordon free. However, lack of communication between Gordon and McNeill saw them both contest the same ball which resulted in a poke wide from McNeill which saw another guilt edged chance go begging. However, Northend finished the half strongly and a dominant Duncan in midfield capped off a strong performance with an absolute belter from twenty five yards leaving the keeper no chance. Half time 4-1

The coaches made a number of changes at half time and Northend started the half a little disjointed allowing St Malachys opportunity to take the initiative. St Malachys came out on the front foot getting the ball forward quickly and Northend looked at sixes and sevens at the back applying no pressure on the ball and giving St Malachys time and space. St Malachys lined one up from outside the box and Hardy could only parry the shot downwards. Northend were slow to react allowing St Malachys opportunity to poke one over the line and give them glimmer of hope. Game on! Northend didnít seem to be able to get out and up the pitch and when the ball was played forward a number of offside calls broke momentum, some dubious. Slattery moved back into the defensive centre and Maguire moved into a sweeping role supporting Duncan which seemed to nullify St Malachys threat. Northend didnít look clinical going forward and when the opportunities arose panic set in. McNeill was put through in on goal first but wary of the central defender didnít get a clean shot away. He then had another opportunity which deflected just wide. McNeill nearly scored from the resultant corner with a direct shot that hit just off the upright. McNeill was then clear in on goal but blew up for another offside. This time he was about 15 yards onside as the right back hadnít moved out with his defensive line. A mistake by the referee. Then Gordon finally beat the offside trap and was in the clear one on one with the keeper. The keeper stood on his line and Gordon had all time and space to run in on goal and pick his spot but rushed it, shooting early straight at the keeper. Panic had set in and the composure of the first half wasnít there. The keeper launched the ball in over the midfield and on top of the Northend defence. The big number 9 used his pace and strength to gain a yard and poke a shot at goal. Hardy off balance got down to save the shot but the ball hit him in the face and somehow spun and trickled over the line. 4-3. The coaching staff unhappy at the performance, rung the changes and strengthened the team brining back on the Higgins brothers and captain Da Prato. Northend now had a much better balance and regained control of this tie. They spent the next 15 on the front foot trying to restore their two goal cushion. D Higgins was in down the right on a number of occasions but the final ball was just missing as numbers were in the box but they were trying to force it a little. Duncan continued to dominate the midfield hitting several shots which were either well held by the keeper or just over the bar. A Da Prato direct free kick was again well saved by the keeper as the big men lined up at the back post for anything spilt. St Malachys again hoofed the ball long trying to get their number 9 on the end of it but Slattery and McKay were strong and resolute. Then the number 9 pumped a long and high shot from fourty yards but just over the bar. Finally, Northend created the guilt edged chance to put this game to bed. Dara beat two men to the ball and drove in behind the defence. He got to the six yard box and squared a perfect ball into king and Gordon who were free in the box. Somehow King completely missed the ball as the net was begging and the keeper was able to lift it. To compound the misery St Malachys got the ball forward quickly and then another 35 yard speculative effort was pumped up high into the air, this time just dropping in under the cross bar to tie the game with a minute on the clock, 4-4. Northend pushed every one forward in one last attempt to win a game that should have been dead and buried long ago. With everyone back St Malachys smashed the ball back into the Northend half and out to clear their lines. The ref said 10 seconds left and Patenall tried to get the ball back on the pitch quickly but in a panic threw it straight to the opposition. The big number 9 took a snap shot at Hardy. Hardy saved it comfortably but spilt the ball as he hit the ground. Hardy seemed to take an eternity to regain the ball and the St Malachys forward slid in and poked the ball under Hardy as he attempted to smother it. Instantly the final whistle blew and Northend dropped to the ground uncertain how that game was lost, as St Malachys celebrated wildly. Sometimes these things happen in football but Northend will be kicking themselves after that. Nobody seen that coming but hopefully the young Colts donít rue this as wasted opportunity come end of season and instead use it as a springboard to remove complacency.  Maguire was highlighted for a composed display at the back not putting a foot wrong and then a very classy compose display as he moved into a different role in midfield.    Full Time 4-5

Player of the Match: Ronan Maguire

Panel: L Hardy, P Martin, C OíNeill, E Drysdale, P Martin, P Devlin, L Slattery, R Maguire, B Duncan, C Da Prato (c), P Neeson, D Higgins, C Higgins, O Gordon, C King and K McNeill
Northend Colts 5 Antrim Rovers 2   Saturday 3rd February 2024

A home tie this week at Wakehurst saw the young blues take on Antrim Rovers. In good playing conditions Northend made the most and took all three points comfortably today, maintaining their strong league position.
Much like the week before the game was a bit scrappy to begin, Northend not making enough use of the space offered on the outside. However, Northend did get on the scoresheet when the keeper couldnít hold a direct Da Prato free kick and King was onto it in a flash, to slot the rebound into the back of the net. Da Prato was getting more of the ball wide right with great interplay with Gordon and put in a number of good deliveries. Oisin had a great chance near post but didnít get enough contact and the ball was flicked over. Da Prato then threaded a ball through to Gordon who was clean through in on goal. He beat the keeper at the near post but was just wide. Then Gordon was slipped through again this time beating his man and just as he was about to pull the trigger he was bundled over from behind. Referee waved play on. Then Da Prato made a run through into the penalty area and again was fouled in the box but stayed on his feet and clipped it back into to Higgins. Dara somehow couldnít get the ball over the line and the ball was cleared. Antrim Rovers hit on the counter and caught the defence cold. Patenall missed his clearance and the Rovers striker was free one on one with the keeper. With the sun in his eyes Hardy had lost his bearings and was standing right side of goal exposing the rest of the net to the attacker. He slotted it into the corner, leaving Hardy no chance, to draw level. Duncan was brought back into the middle to help support Drysdale as he was being overrun with numbers but had been holding his own for the most part. This give chance for Duncan to stretch his legs from deep and drive at the defence. His first attempt was just over the bar. Then on second attempt he opened up on his favoured right and smashed it back across goal. The keeper did well to make the save but spilled it. He made his best attempt to recover the second ball but Higgins was onto it and knocked it out of his hands and slotted it home to regain the lead. Higgins was seeing more of the ball and when he got in behind the defence wide right he cut the ball across the face of goal. This was met beautifully at the back stick by Devlin who knocked it into the back of the net to earn daylight between the teams. Northend were now dominant and went close again when the ball broke to Da Prato on the edge of the area, he smashed it goal bound with the laces but the ball rebounded back off the underside of the upright. From the corner Da Prato flighted it in near post and McNeill got the right side of the defender and hooked it back across goal but straight into the keeperís hands. Minutes later Da Prato flighted it in deeper and again McNeill beat the defender to the punch and hooked the ball back in across goal and in over the keepers head. Kaneís goal was celebrated very popularly on the side-line, a reward for his continued improvement in all round play. Half time 4-1

Northend made a number of changes and looked very disjointed in the second half. They had completely lost shape and control of the game and Antrim Rovers started to get opportunity and look lively on the counter. Drysdale and Slattery had to work hard as a central pairing and made a number of recover tackles to stem the tide. Again Maguire and Neeson had to work very hard down either flank to prevent efforts in on goal. Despite this Hardy had to be alive and made a couple of good saves above his head to keep the scoreline down. It was coming and Rovers got in down Northendís right and slotted it passed Hardy, 4-2. Minutes later a carbon copy of the goal this time down the left. Hardy did well to parry the cross but Rovers missed a guilt edged opportunity to go 4-3 by shooting wide. Northend bench reacted immediately making a number of changes to both shape and personnel. This had immediate effect and impact with Northend able to take back control of this tie. Devlin beat his man on the left and whipped in a great delivery. It was met by King with a powerful header downwards back across goal for his brace. Another ball in from Devlin this time to Higgins saw him control it with his back to goal. He swivelled and shot but just wide. Then Da Prato slipped King through one on one with the keeper. King shot but the keeper pulled off a great save and Northend were unable to get the second ball over the line. Then a Devlin cross from the left was met by King in the air and he headed it down across goal but somehow just wide. Devlin made another darting run to the backline and flashed a cross across goal and King sliding in at the back post just missed the conversion. All in all a good day at the office and some great football played at times. King was highlighted for his all round play and work rate making great runs and on the end of a number of chances, scoring a brace.    Full Time 5-2

Player of the Match: Corey King

Panel: L Hardy, P Martin, C OíNeill, E Drysdale, P Martin, P Devlin, L Slattery, R Maguire, B Duncan (c), C Da Prato, P Neeson, D Higgins, O Gordon, C King and K McNeill
Northend Colts 6 Antrim Soccer Academy 0   Sunday 28th January 2024

On a very windy day in Mallusk the young Blues continued their strong league form with a comprehensive victory over Antrim Soccer Academy (ASA).
The game was a bit scrappy in the first ten minutes as Northend tried to settle into the game and learn to play with the huge wind advantage. ASA could not get out of their own half but indeed the midfield three of Higgins, Duncan and Da Prato were over hitting the through pass. As instructed by the coaching staff Northend eventually started making better use of the spaces on the outside and play the balls through the lines to feet. This paid dividends when D Higgins was fed by younger brother Cormac wide left. Dara strolled into the box, cutting onto his favoured right and caressed the ball into the far corner on the 13th minute to go one up. Minutes later a carbon copy of the first would see Dara clinically finish again to get his brace. Northend created a number of openings as they started to relax on the ball with King coming close and then the keeper pulling off a good save from McNeill as he broke the backline. Da Prato was giving great delivery from the right side creating a number of openings. Then on the 26th minute Da Prato flighted a perfect delivery from the left corner flag. The ball was whipped in over the keeper and using the wind to his advantage scored directly from a corner kick. Then midfield partner Duncan got in on the action. A one two between Da Prato and Duncan saw Ben free in the penalty area. He clipped a shot back across goal lifting it into the wind and over the keeperís head. Another great Da Prato delivery was flighted to the back post which King confidently nodded into the back of the net to get in amongst the goals. Then on the half hour Da Prato capped of his impressive first half display with one of his best strikes in a Northend shirt. He took the ball out of the air from the keeperís kick out with a deft touch and then on the half volley rifled the ball back towards goal. The thirty-yard screamer flew, with the wind behind and smashed into the back of the net. Da Prato was very close to getting his hattrick when on the half end another whipped corner was fired in over the keeperís head, this time just marginally over and nestling on the roof of the net. Half time 6-0

Da Prato and Higgins were hauled off at half time with a brace each and OíNeill and Slattery were moved into the midfield. Within minutes of the restart Northend scored another. Some impressive interplay down the left saw Martin slip Gordon and in turn Slattery who picked up the ball wide right and slotted it away nicely across goal. Minutes later similar interplay on the left saw Gordon cross the ball across the face of goal. Slattery was on hand again to meet the cross and smash it into the roof of the net. This game as a contest was long gone and Northend started playing some silky one and two touch football, knocking the ball round at ease. Gordon was having a field day and his touch, control and interplay was first class. He was fed in this time himself but he slipped as he tried to get the shot away and scuffed his shot wide of the post. Then at second time of asking he cut in on the left and slid the ball into corner to get his first of the game. Not long after he got in again and showed great composure and touch to control the chance and finish off with another goal. King finished off the game with another composed finish on the volley within the penalty box and the game was blew up early as this game had ended as contest long before. Some impressive work by the young blues and continued improvement all over the pitch. Gordon was named man of the match for hard work and determination in the first half and then a touch of class in the penalty box in the second half.   Full Time 6-0

Man of the Match: Oisin Gordon

Panel: L Hardy, O Gordon, P Martin, C OíNeill, H McKay, L Barnett, L Slattery, R Maguire, B Duncan (c), C Da Prato, P Neeson, C Higgins, D Higgins, C King and K McNeill
Northend Colts 2 Aquinas Star 0   Saturday 20th January 2024

After an interruption to football with artic like conditions, Sally Gardens 3G would be the venue for the young Blues return, facing Belfast based side Aquinas. After the big thaw this game took a while to heat up but yet again Northend ran out comfortable winners in the end.
Northend started a little slowly and found it hard to get a foothold against a very packed defence. They were comfortable at the back and Patenall, McKay, Maguire and Slattery looked composed. Duncan was dominating the centre of midfield but was unable to find a telling ball to release the front three of Higgins, King and Gordon. Everything was over hit and difficult to judge with the wind behind but there was always numbers in the box. The only telling effort was from Duncan from range which sailed over the bar. A slight adjustment of shape saw Da Prato pull out into the space wide right. Almost immediately Da Prato got onto the ball and a whipped ball across the face of the goal saw Gordon time his run perfectly and slot home to take the lead. Not long after Northend nearly doubled the lead when Da Prato whipped in another ball, this time to the near post. King made a good near post run but the keeper made a save and out for a corner. Da Prato produced another good delivery from the right and both Duncan and Higgins just missed their headers as it looked to be buried. Aquinas pumped the ball long on the counter and got numbers forward but Hardy was alive to the danger and made a good clearance. Slattery moved onto the left and was offering width and penetration down the wing. He made a good run but was dragged back as he had beat his man, he continued into the box but was fouled again as he attempted a shot. With no advantage the referee brought it back for a free kick on the edge of the area. Northend had the numbers at the back post but with the wind behind Da Prato skied it over the bar. Caleb redeemed himself minutes later when he headed a clearance forward to Higgins. Dara flicked it onto to McNeill whose first time dipping volley beat the keeper but unfortunately rebounded off the inside of the post. Half Time 1-0

Despite the lead Northend coaching staff werenít happy with the use of ball or the exploitation of the space in wide areas. The second half was a much improved performance and McNeill, Gordon and Da Prato dominated the right side flank and Neeson, Martin and Higgins the same on the left. This opened up space through the middle for King and Duncan. With the game opening up Duncan ran right through the heart of the Aquinas defence but just blazed his attempt over the bar after beating the last man. Minutes later he would get another opportunity. This time from outside the box he opened up his body and rifled a screamer back across goal and into the far corner to double the lead. Northend were now dominating proceedings and Patenall in a free roll was sweeping everything up around the back and resetting attacks. Another well worked move through the thirds saw Duncan unleash another bullet shot. Somehow the keeper got a hand to it and redirected it off the cross bar when it looked a certain second.  To be fair to Aquinas they didnít give up and kept fighting hard to grab one back, getting numbers forward with every attack. The rear-guard of Maguire, OíNeill, Slattery and Neeson were strong and resolute. OíNeill had a very strong game at centre back stepping out, winning ball and breaking up counter attacks and Hardy had to be alive as the last line of defence on occasion to ensure his clean sheet intact. Northend created another number of openings and McNeill who was very impressive up front unselfishly elected not to shoot when one on one. Instead, he squared to strike partner Higgins but the last defender was able to make the clearance. Another impressive performance from the Colts and continued signs of improvement. OíNeill was highlighted for a very strong centre half performance, winning his individual battles and not putting a foot wrong all day.   Full Time 2-0

Player of the Match: Calum OíNeill

Panel: L Hardy, P Martin, C OíNeill, H McKay, L Slattery, N Patenall, R Maguire, B Duncan (c), C Da Prato, P Neeson, O Gordon,  D Higgins, C King and K McNeill
Northend Colts 5 Loughside FC 1   Sunday 14th January 2024

Return to league football for the young Blues, after the Christmas break, saw them continue their strong league form with a comfortable win over Loughside.
The match began a bit scrappy with neither team able to get a foothold in the game. Slattery, McKay and OíNeill were comfortable at the back and so Patenall was moved into midfield to get numbers in that area and get a foot on the ball. Cormac Higgins was the most aggressive in midfield and seemed to be getting a lot of the ball down the left and linked well with Gordon. With the introduction of Duncan up top Northend looked to have gained the upper hand. Ben wasnít on long before he hit the woodwork from range and then put another just wide. Pressure from Northend saw a well flighted corner from Da Prato pick out King at the back post but his header was just wide of target. The pressure finally told when Duncanís long range effort hit the back of the net after rolling between the keepers kegs. Then Da Prato hit a long range effort that was spilt by the keeper and picked up by Duncan who rolled it in at the second attempt. Northend didnít have it all their own way and Loughside looked really dangerous on the counter. They had plenty of pace up top and looked threatening, needing Slattery to make a few last ditch tackles on the cover and Hardy quick off his line. They should have got one back when a mix up in defence opened up a great opportunity but the shot was just wide. Northend capped off a decent first half performance with another goal. Another good Da Prato delivery was met by Martin at the front post. His looping header dropped in over the keepers head for a healthy half time lead.   Half Time 3-0

Northend started the second half better moving the ball more quickly and creating openings. When McNeill was brought down at the edge of the box Da Prato fired the free kick direct at goal. The keeper spilled it and four men lined up to finish off the chance. The ball was laid off to C Higgins whoís scuffed shot was picked up by the keeper. The ball was launched down the field quickly. Neeson slipped on the ball and their quick forward got in the clear and slotted it away to get one back. To their credit Northend didnít panic and created some big chances, the best falling to Gordon and McNeil. The keeper made a few saves before Gordon finally put the game to bed with a clinical finish. Just before the end Da Pratoís cross was met by the keeper at the front post. Martin recycled the ball and Da Prato teed up a killer ball to the back post for King who composedly finished it with a strong header to end the game on a high. A good start to the new year and lots of good performances but Cormac gets the plaudits for an aggressive, competitive performance in midfield, always on the front foot. Full time 5-1

Man of the Match: Cormac Higgins

Panel: L Hardy, P Martin, C OíNeill, H McKay, N Patenall, L Slattery, R Maguire, B Duncan (c), C Da Prato, P Neeson, C Higgins, O Gordon, D Higgins, C King and K McNeill