On Saturday, we faced Mountjoy United at Connolly Park, Kesh in a relegation play-off match. With so much at stake, it was always going to be a close game filled with nervous tension, but we certainly rose to the occasion and ran out worthy winners to preserve our first division status after a tough, nail biting season. The opening period of the match was a bit scrappy, which was to be expected. Mountjoy forced several early corners, and we gave away numerous needless free kicks in our final third, which invited more pressure. In saying that, we defender well with Stuart Cochrane and Gareth Carrothers immense in the heart of our defence, with Sam McDonald easily dealing with anything that made it his length. We gradually began to settle in to the game as it wore on, William Armstrong and Ryan Lindsay were key to this as they really started to dominate the midfield area.
Paul McGrath had our first meaningful chance, but his low side foot effort fizzed just wide with the keeper rooted to the spot. We took the lead shortly after when a Ryan O’Keefe corner was headed home at the back post by none other than Matthew Woods, to send the supporters in to raptures. Mountjoy then had their best opportunity shortly after, a dangerous free kick was whipped in and the attacker found himself in acres of room but just couldn’t stretch far enough to make meaningful contact on the ball. At the other end we very nearly doubled our advantage, Ryan O’Keefe fed McGrath through on goal but he close range effort was well saved by the Mountjoy keeper. Then O’Keefe had a shot from the edge of the box again superbly tipped round the post by the Mountjoy keeper. From the resulting corner, the ball was only cleared as far as Matty Woods, who turned sharply and drilled a low shot which looked destined for the bottom corner, but somehow their keeper managed to turn this one round the post as well, which was a top class save in fairness to him. Then O’Keefe was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, he rose well and bravely got on the end of a cross, but his header from just inside the six yard box was straight at the goalkeeper who was leading a charmed life at this stage. So we went in at the break 1-0 up, but despite having so many clear cut chances the game was very much in the balance, and we knew we had another massive 45 minutes ahead of us.
The opening period of the second half was going to prove crucial, and fortunately we were able to score twice more in the opening 8 minutes to leave us 3-0 up and within touching distance of safety. Firstly, a fine move down the left culminated with Paul Elliott feeding the overlapping Sean Keenan in to the penalty area, and when he shot was only parried, Ryan Lindsay was on hand to guide the ball home. Then, from another corner, Matty Woods headed the ball back across goal for the onrushing Gareth Carrothers to prod home from close range. After that we had a few great chances to make it four.
Again, another fine header from Woods beat the keeper but someone the ball was clear off the line by a Mountjoy defender. Stuart Cochrane then had a great chance when he found himself unmarked with only the keeper to beat but he blazed his shot wide.
With about 15 minutes remaining, Mountjoy scored a superb goal to throw themselves a glimmer of hope. We failed to get organised quickly, and from a throw-in the striker turned sharply and produced a thunderous strike from 20 yards in to the top corner. We regained our composure, and braced ourselves for an onslaught, but in truth it never came and we quickly regained control of the game, William Armstrong really excelling in midfield in a man of the match performance. Mountjoy were then reduced to 10 men when their right back was shown a second yellow card following a reckless lunge on Paul Elliott. That really ended the game as a contest and we were able to see the remainder of the game out relatively comfortably. Indeed, we nearly scored again in the final few minutes. Aaron Lindsay somehow finding the energy to go on a 50 yard sprint down the wing, bursting past two or three players before slipping the ball inside to Shane Ingram, but his shot went in to the side netting. Paul Elliott then weaved his way in to the box but was unable to get a clean strike at goal as the keeper gathered easily. Nevertheless, the referee blew the final whistle shortly after, much to the delight and the relief of everyone involved. Commiserations to Mountjoy and Strule who have been relegated. It has been a tough battle all season, but huge credit to the players for fighting right to the end, and to the supporters who have backed us all season and turned out in force today.