Ballymena United 4 Northend United 1 Saturday 25th November 2023
It was Derby weekend for the Macaulay Wray sponsored 07s with an early kick off at the Showgrounds. A large crowd turned out for this NIBFA cup game and the exchanges were fast and furious in the opening minutes with both sides having chances. On 9 minutes a strong run by Lyttle saw him leave 3 players behind but his effort was straight at the keeper. The Northend lads were playing a high pressing game and looked the more likely to score as Crooks stole possession and passed to Loughran but his first-time effort was gathered by Lowry.
On 15 minutes Lyttle raced for the ball with Graham near the touchline, the Blues midfielder went down awkwardly, after a 15 minute delay Lyttle was stretchered off with what looked a nasty injury. On the restart substitute O’Donnell showed strength and pace down the right but his cross was cleared at the back post. On 38 minutes a rare mistake by Matchett gave Graham enough of a head start in the box, his first touch was good and his finish superb to the top corner.
The Blues response was instant as McKay regained possession on the halfway line and played a perfect ball in behind the defence to Loughran, the big striker’s control was superb but his thunderous effort rattled the post. Loughran and Crooks combined well just before half-time, but Loughran’s early shot was too close to Lowry in the Ballymena goal. Half time 1-0
The game was effectively over in the first 5 minutes of the second half as Graham fired home his second and one minute later Penney gifted Ballymena a third as he took too much time on the ball in the box and Graham squared the ball to King who finished from close range.
The Blues continued to battle hard with a back three of Neeson, Matchett and McKay steadying the ship. On 60 minutes a through ball from Neeson found Heggarty who raced in on goal only to drive a low effort straight at Lowry. Crooks showed fancy footwork inside the box making light of the Sky Blue shirts around him but his shot was blocked by Peacock. On 69 minutes Campbell gave away possession on the halfway line as the Blues went in search of a consolation, Kings cross from the right was turned in from 4 yards by McCaig to make it 4 nil. A spell of late pressure from the Northend lads saw Campbell square the ball to Crooks who drew a fine save from Lowry but Robb was on hand to tap home from 3 yards.
This was a game that turned in a 5 minute spell just after the break, but take nothing away from Ballymena who looked the hungrier, for the blues Murray, Matchett, Neeson, McKay, Loughran and Crooks battled to the end and played to their potential. Our thoughts turn to Tommy who now faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines and we wish him well. Full time 4-1
Player of the Match: Callum Matchett
Panel: J Stewart, M Murray, C Matchett, R Neeson, F Penney, T Lyttle, C McIlhatton, J McMahon, F McKay, C Loughran, R Crooks, L Campbell, M O’Donnell, L Heggarty, A McKee, R Robb
Northend United 2 Groomsport 2 Saturday 18th November 2023
It was another late, late show from the Macaulay Wray sponsored 07s salvaging a point in injury time on this league game at Mallusk on Saturday morning. Missing top goal scorer Loughran and the versatile Murray both through illness meant a reshuffle and a first start for McKee who has impressed the previous week off the bench.
The Blues had the biggest share of the chances with Crooks and Lyttle having early chances. The best chance fell to McKee who skipped past two defenders on the right and cut inside but his effort shaved the post. The high pressing game from the Blues was causing difficulties for the Groomsport defence, on 14 minutes McKee again found space down the flank but his effort was blocked. The resulting corner saw Neeson’s header partly cleared but Matchett was on hand to fire home from 10 yards.
The Blues continued to press and a superb through ball from McIlhatton set Heggarty clear, but his low effort was well saved by Neeson on the Groomsport goal. On 21 minutes a mix-up in the Blues defence saw Lyttle give away possession with Haslam getting on the end of a through ball to level the score. Half time 1-1
The second half started much as the first with the Blues dominating the early exchanges. The introduction of McLaughlin at half-time had given the Blues a bit more composure in the middle of the park. It was the wee No 7 who showed great control and vision to set Campbell free down the left, the winger beat his marker on the edge of the box but stabbed the ball wide of the far post. On 52 minutes a clearance from a Blues corner was mis-judged by Penney on halfway giving Groomsport the opportunity to thread the ball through to Haslam who slotted home from just inside the box. For a second week in row the Blues found themselves chasing a game in the closing stages.
Chances came and went with Campbell missing two and then one disallowed on a fine margin off-side call. Crooks showed his class as he danced around six red shirts in the box only to see his effort saved by Neeson. With time running out Campbell was up-ended on the edge of the box. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Stewart made his way into the box. From the free kick it was the big keeper who rose highest at the back post to turn the ball back across goal. The Groomsport melting pot bubbled over as they struggled to clear and Heggarty smashed home from 12 yards. In a crazy 90 seconds Groomsport went close but were denied firstly when McKay slid in to block a close-range effort then Stewart pulled off a double save to keep the game level.
Another below par performance from the Blues with Stewart pipping POTM for a second week following his assist and late saves. Full time 2-2
Player of the Match: Jack Stewart
Panel: J Stewart, M O’Donnell, C Matchett, R Neeson, F McKay, L Heggarty, J McIlhatton, J McMahon, T Lyttle, A McKee, C Loughran, R Crooks, D McLaughlin, R Robb, L Campbell, F Penney
Dromara Village 2 Northend United 2 1-3 penalties NIBFA Cup Saturday 11th November 2023
The Macaulay Wray sponsored 07s kicked off their NIBFA Cup campaign with an early Saturday morning trip to Dromara. The game was played in perfect conditions on an excellent pitch with no shortage of drama.
Chances were rare in the early stages with both defences on top and the midfield battles intense. Dromara looked the most dangerous particularly from the aerial threat at set pieces. On 18 minutes McIlhatton won the ball in the middle of the park and showed great strength to hold off 2 defenders and play a through ball to Loughran but the big striker at full stretch failed to connect. At the other end Stewart was called into action blocking superbly at his near post with Crooks clearing the ball off the goal line from a follow up shot. With a minute remaining Heggarty played a pinpoint pass to Loughran who turned his marker superbly and fired a thunderbolt to the bottom corner from 25 yards to give the Blues the advantage at the break. Half time 0-1
The home side were quickest out of the blocks with Stewart denying Green with a fine save to his left. The pressure eventually paid off in the 39th minute with the Blues getting caught on the counter-attack, the overload coming down the right and an early ball finding Holland-Hanna in space to hammer home from 8 yards. The Blues continued to struggle to find rhythm in their game and on 46 minutes Myers fired home from inside the box following a corner. The introduction of McLaughlin, Campbell and McKee added energy to the Blues midfield. In the closing stages Dromara hit the woodwork but the Blues kept battling, as time ticked away Murray and McKee played a neat one-two on the right, McKee skipped passed his marker and won a free kick on half way. Matchett’s long ball found Campbell in space just outside the box, he skipped past two defenders and won a corner. A quick check with the referee brought a response of 1 minute to go, up came Stewart for a last throw of the dice, Neeson’s header was cleared to Crooks on the edge of the box and no better man as he danced past two defenders to create space and fire home through a crowded box low to the net, a lifeline for the Blues.
The game was then to be decided on penalties, Dromara fired home their first, Crooks levelled, Dromara cleared the cross bar with their second, Neeson thunderbolt made it 1-2, Dromara missed again, Loughran calmly slotted home for 1-3. So, pressure on for Dromara, a well struck penalty but Stewart dived superbly to his right to push the ball away, a smash and grab with 2 penalties to spare.
This wasn’t the free-flowing football that the Blues produced against Dundela midweek but the cup is all about the result. Crooks and Loughran were candidates for POTM both showing composure for their goals and spot kicks but the man who plays the lonely role at times nicks the award for a solid performance and the winning save in the penalty shootout. Full time 2-2 (Northend win 3-1 on penalties)
Player of the Match: Jack Stewart
Panel: Jack Stewart, Michael O’Donnell, Callum Matchett, Rory Neeson, Feargal McKay, Liam Heggarty, Charlie McIlhatton, James McMahon, Tommy Lyttle, Robert Crooks, Ciaran Loughran, Matthew Murray, Diego McLaughlin, Ruairi Robb, Luke Campbell, Alfie McKee
Northend United 0 Portavogie Rangers 1 Saturday 4th November 2023
The Macaulay Wray sponsored 07s returned to competitive action after a two-week break and it showed in this lacklustre performance.
Portavogie started the brightest creating two good opportunities in the first 10 minutes but on both occasions Stewart produced two fine saves to keep the game scoreless. The Blues reshuffled defence got to grips with the challenge with Matchett and stand-in right back O’Donnell starring. In an attacking sense McMahon was the only Northend player showing the desire to ask questions of the Portavogie defence hence it was no surprise he had the only effort on goal in the 35 minutes. Half time 0-0
The second half was a tame affair with both defences rarely troubled. In the 53rd minute Penney limped off with a knee injury which could see him miss a few weeks. The re-shuffled blues defence were caught napping on 56 mins when Torrans fired home from just inside the box. With 15 minutes remaining the game puttered out with one shot on target for the Northend lads.
On a day when performances were hard to find Heggarty, Matchett and McMahon stood out with POTM O’Donnell the star performer with his defensive display and his desire to get forward and try to haul the Blues back into the game. For those who travelled thoughts were no doubt on the live curling that they chose to miss. The Blues must dust themselves down as they play table toppers Dundela in a Monday night game. Full time 0-1
Player of the Match: Michael O’Donnell
Panel: Jack Stewart, Michael O’Donnell, Callum Matchett, Finn Penney, Liam Heggarty, Matthew Murray, Rory Neeson, Charlie McIlhatton, James McMahon, Tommy Lyttle, Ciaran Loughran, Diego McLaughlin, Ruairi Robb, Feargal McKay, Luke Campbell, Alfie McKee