Muirhevnamor take giant step towards title
Muirhevnamor took a big step towards securing their first premier division title in the North East League with this win over fellow title challengers Bellurgan at Flynn Park on Sunday.
Bellurgan United 2 Muirhevnamor 3
Bellurgan, in third place, were more in need of the points and put up a really stern fight to twice come back from behind and at the death Brian White under pressure knocked a glorious opportunity over the crossbar only yards out straight in front of a yawning goal to earn a draw.
However, the goal getting ability of striker Billy Smith not for the first time this season was the crucial difference between the sides. He scored a brace, including the decisive goal in the closing ten minutes when the impetus appeared to have swung the home side's way.
Ciaran Sheelan just a minute beforehand had put Bellurgan level for the second time when he took control of Stephen Finnegan's probing pass inside the box and while David Cooney managed to get his hand to his low angled shot couldn't prevent it entering the far corner of the net.
The leaders at this stage had been reduced to 10 men, with Declan Grimes who was introduced as a substitute in the second half, receiving a red card. The forward made a clumsy challenge in the air on Diarmuid Murphy on the edge of the visitors box, and in the ensuing melee involving most of the players on the field he appeared to kick out while lying on the ground.
Brian White fired the resulting free-kick over the crossbar, but with Armstrong making it two all with eight minutes of normal plus stoppage time left, Bellurgan seemed to be in the driving seat. However, almost straight from the re-start a long ball was flicked over the home defence and Smith fastened onto it. Robert Arthur made a valiant effort to keep his volley out of the net with the help of a defender, but the ball crossed the line.
Still Bellurgan keeping plugging away, and a brilliant piece of play by Ciaran Sheelan enabled him to get past Paul Mallon to the right side of goal and laid an inviting low cross in front of in-rushing teammate Brian White, but he couldn't convert the chance.
Smith put Muirhevnamor ahead after 15 minutes when the visitors sprung the home side's attempted offside trap and the tall striker delivered a superb curling finish into the far corner of the net.
Owen Armstrong equalised a couple of minutes into the second-half. Muirhevnamor goalkeeper David Cooney could only slap down Stephen Finnegan's teasing cross from the right and Armstrong shot to the net from eight yards.
With under a half an hour remaining Brendan Hughes regained the lead for the visitors when Chris Caulfield evaded the home defence at the back post to head a corner kick by Jimmy Cooney back across the goal and Brendan Hughes rose to nod it home at the near post.
Robert Arthur made a great save to defy Smith as a headed flick by Hughes put him racing clear into the box with the chance to tie up victory.
However, the home side failed to heed the warning from this let-off and it was virtual a copycat move that resulted in the winning goal that increases Muirhevnamor's lead at the top of the table to ) points.
Bellurgan : Robert Arthur, Daniel O'Connor, Ray Finnegan, James Renaghan, Sean McEvoy, Brian White, Diarmuid Murphy, Stephen Finnegan, Owen Armstrong, Ciaran Sheelan, Niall Donnelly (Paddy Quinn70).
Muirhevnamor: David Cooney, Steven Smith, Ray McCann, Paul Mallon, Chris Caulfield, Jimmy Cooney, Mickey O'Kane, Gary Clarke (Declan Grimes), Brendan Hughes Billy Smith, Paudie Hearty (Sean Dixon 88).