Quay Celtic's Shaun O'Connor and Stuart Osborne of Ardee Celtic. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
NEFL Premier Division
Quay Celtic 1 Ardee Celtic 0
Vinny Smith scored the only goal as Quay Celtic got their first win in five weeks on Friday night, accounting for Ardee Celtic at a bitterly cold Clancy Park.
The striker had missed two clear-cut opportunities in the first-half before having another cleared off the line midway through the second, however, his persistence eventually paid dividends as he controlled Shaun O’Connor’s incisive pass to dispatch to the corner of the net with 20-minutes to go.
Ardee created more than enough opportunities to claim at least a point with Ross Gaynor their liveliest threat. The former Dundalk FC winger hit the ‘bar from a free-kick towards the end of the opening-period before Quay ‘keeper John Rogers pulled off a great stop with the use of his right shoulder to deny the attacker in the closing quarter.
But, on the balance of play, Quay were deserving of the points with their midfield trio of Conall and Éanna McArdle ably flanking the excellent Danny Coyle who pivoted the play for Martin Smith’s men.
Both sides entered the match on the back of Cup exits last weekend. While Ardee lost agonisingly in the FAI Junior Cup, Quay suffered an embarrassing Tully Cup exit to lower league Albion Rovers and with their goals against tally mounting to seven in three outings, the hosts were intent on solidifying themselves at the back with a flat back five, manned centrally by Dennis Cholach. Their stringent set-up didn’t inspire much confidence early on, though, as Darryn Gaynor raced on to two downfield punts from Stuart Reynolds with Quay’s central defenders at sea.
The Point Road men gradually took a foothold of the game thereafter, having negotiated the tricky opening. Centre-forward Johnny Lynch began receiving service to feet, while linking the play with his forward runners; most prominently Conall McArdle and Shaun O’Connor on the right flank.
O’Connor played a central role in Quay’s best move of the first-half, showing great strength to race towards the endline before cutting in and feeding Lynch whose vicious shot appeared to be blocked by the out-stretched arms of Niall Sharkey. But Quay’s pleas for a spot-kick fell on deaf ears and, on the breakaway, the Deesiders ought to have taken the lead as Mikey Nulty miss-controlled with a gaping goal at his mercy.
And Ardee went even closer through Ross Gaynor nine-minutes before the interval as his dipping free-kick rebounded off the goal frame. It marked the start of a steadfast ending to the opening-half as Quay replied with Smith’s attempted chip of the advancing Reynolds skewing wide before the same player was involved in a collision with the Ardee ‘keeper; an incident which outraged the Quay reserve as Smith gingerly picked himself up from the freezing turf.
This followed Smith’s penalty claim moments earlier whereby he was booked for simulation despite Robert Reynolds appearing to make contact with the striker as he attempted to breach the last line of defence.
A cautious start to the second-half was so nearly brought to life by Quay’s number 10 – Smith – whose jinking run ended with his trickling shot being somehow cleared off the line by the backtracking Reynolds. However, Quay and Smith would finally break the deadlock as the match entered the home straight. O’Connor intercepted an Ardee move on halfway and played across for the striker to take a touch and bury low past Reynolds.
It always looked as if one goal would be enough to settle the game either way and that was how it proved despite Ardee upping the ante towards the close. Ross Gaynor found himself in the clear, but, with only Rogers to beat, he passed up the opportunity as the ‘keeper deflected it behind for a corner. The miss didn't prevent the apoplectic hosts from berating the officials as they deemed Gaynor to have been in an offside position.
Subsequently, Sharkey nodded over despite being given utter freedom in the area before Stuart Osborne failed to get his shot off after the ball fell invitingly at his feet. The final kick presented Conor Lynch’s side with yet another opportunity as Darryn Gaynor worked his way in to a shooting position, but, out of nowhere, Dean Sheil blocked the goalbound effort as Quay managed to keep their clean sheet intact.
Quay Celtic: John Rogers; Shaun O’Connor, Gary Shevlin, Dennis Cholach, Dean Sheil, Stephen Kilcoyne; Conall McArdle, Danny Coyle, Éanna McArdle; Johnny Lynch, Vinny Smith
Subs: Drew Duffy for Lynch (58), Stefan McKevitt for O’Connor (71), Niall McLaughlin for Conall McArdle (71), Seán Hand for Smith (87)
Ardee Celtic: Stuart Reynolds; Kenneth Thornton, Niall Sharkey, Óisín McGee, Robert Reynolds; Dáire Smyth, Stuart Osborne; Mikey Nulty, Ross Gaynor, Lorcan Myles; Darryn Gaynor
Subs: Ciarán Clarke for Thornton (64), Eddie Burke for Nulty (79), Lorcan Malone for Myles (88)