Muirhevna Mor's Brendan Hughes celebrates his goal against Bellurgan United. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
NEFL Premier Division
Muirhevna Mor 1 Bellurgan United 0
Brendan Hughes' stunning strike condemned Bellurgan United to their fourth defeat in seven league matches at Muirhevna Mor on Friday night.
Two of last season's NEFL top three, both 'Mor and Bellurgan entered the match in dire need of the points following a week of managerial upheavel and, ultimately, it was the champions who settled the quicker with Hughes' cracker on seven-minutes reward for their positive start.
But as the half, and indeed the match, progressed, Bellurgan - who parted company with Wayne Conroy as manager on Tuesday night - grew into proceedings with Brian White and Daniel McDonald impressing. However, for all their probing, especially in the second-half, they rarely breached a well-organised 'Mor back four. Chris Caulfield, but particularly Adrian Rafferty had tremendous games for the Blues.
The goal was worthy of winning any match. A sharp pass from Billy Smith - who started off on the left-flank - was neatly cushioned into the path of Hughes by Gary Clarke and from 18-yards, he picked his spot in the corner of the net. Such was the purity of the strike that the Muirhevna Mor bench were celebrating before the ball had even crossed the goal line.
White had Bellurgan's first effort - a miscued left-footed shot - before chances were traded when Smith and opposite number Barry Carr saw decent openings go abegging.
The play was ebbing and flowing at this point with the midfield battle between White and Philip Duffy central to the pattern of the game. But despite Bellurgan enjoying more possession in attacking areas, the Blues posed the greater threat with Hughes, Smith and Micky O'Kane linking nicely on the breakaway.
However, the home side almost surrendured their lead when McDonald won the ball cheaply from Brian Begley along the end line before squaring to Ciarán Sheelan, though the striker's control was somewhat lacking and by the time he got his shot off, Michael Cooney was well-positioned to save with his right foot.
The second-half saw Bellurgan assume control with White the focal point of their play in midfield. Though clear-cut chances were few and far between in a disappointing fare. Ray Finnegan ought to have done better when connecting with a Shane Finnegan delivery, as should Sheelan when beating the offside trap with seven-minutes to play. But with the angle narrowing, the striker drove wide.
Smith had two opportunities to double the 'Mor lead, however, they only needed the one goal come full-time as Bellurgan were condemned to a third straight league defeat, one which has them looking perilously over their shoulders in the league standings.
They remonstrated with the match official - Brendan Gillespie - at full-time, frustrated at his playing of less than a minute of injury-time. Though, considering their lack of creativity in attack, the answers behind their defeat lie elsewhere.
Muirhevna Mor: Michael Cooney; Brian Begley, Chris Caulfield, Adrian Rafferty, Conall Mulvenna (Stephen Smith 64); Wayne Robinson (Gino Cooney 75), Philip Duffy, Gary Clarke, Billy Smith; Micky O'Kane, Brendan Hughes (Conor Gorham 89)
Bellurgan United: Robbie Arthur; Aoghan McGuinness, Ray Finnegan, Daragh Lafferty, John Smyth (Stephen Finnegan 72); Shane Finnegan, Paddy Keenan, Brian White, Daniel McDonald; Ciarán Sheelan, Barry Carr (Owen Traynor 56)
Referee: Brendan Gillespie