Toal's Steel & Sons Cup, Round Three
Crumlin Star 0-2 Immaculata
THINGS could not have got off to a worse start for visitors, Immaculata, in North Belfast on Saturday afternoon, when five minutes into the match winger Emmett Fallon got a little too overzealous in an attempt to lay down an early marker.
The Immaculata man came straight through the back of full back Breandan O’Neill, leaving the referee no choice – Immaculata down to 10 men, and barely five minutes on the clock.
Following the sending off, the tone for the match had been set; the 10 men of the Mac behind the ball and Crumlin now faced with the unenviable task of breaking down a team firmly parked deep inside their own half.
The early parts of the first half were scrappy. Whilst Crumlin enjoyed most of the possession, the likes of McNeill and McKervey were having no luck breaking down an extremely resolute Mac defence.
A few scares and threats from Mac midway through the first half served as a reminder to Crumlin that, despite their man advantage, the game was far from over - the first of which came following an incredible first touch and turn from forward Logan Brady, allowing him to draw a foul from Crumlin defender Aidan McNeill giving his side a free kick in a threatening position.
This was to be the catalyst for a short period of pressure for the Mac. Too many sideways passes and poor deliveries from wide areas for the Crumlin, who were continuously wasteful with the ball, gave the visitors a bit of belief.
In the 28th minute, Crumlin were punished for not taking full advantage of the extra man - yet another poor cross from the wide areas allowed defender McCaul to hoist the ball up into the air to give James Haughey something to chase.
The forward benefited from an awkward bounce, which saw defender Mark Lyons lose his bearings, forcing goalkeeper Ciaran McNeill to come crashing out in an attempt to make amends for the multitude of errors made by his defence.
Haughey just managed to nip in first, and was dragged to the floor – penalty to the Mac. Some residual anger and frustration for what they believed to be a harsh sending off earlier in the match resulted in the Mac bench and players calling for the ref to even the odds – a yellow card for the Crumlin goalkeeper, who now faced McCaul from the spot. The defender, who never looked like missing, slotted it calmly to the goalkeepers left. 1-0 to the Mac.
Crumlin picked up where they left off following going a goal down, more sideways passes and poor attempts to break the lines of a rigid Mac back line.
The home team were also seemingly hindered by Breandan McNeill at full back who, being a left footer playing right back, was reluctant to overlap and get crosses into the box.
The full back enjoyed much more success when cutting in and picking passes from a narrow position linking up with McNeill and McKervey. However, this left the home team lacking significantly out wide on the right.
The frustration from the home team became almost tangible as the half wore on, with Stephen Smyth trying his luck a number of times from distance. As Crumlin struggled to break the Mac down, their best chance of the half came from a free kick.
A needless foul on the edge of the box allowed left back Aidan McNeill to try his luck, only to be denied by the cross bar. Despite enjoying most of the possession, 1-0 at half time would have been a tad generous for the home side.
The second half was more of the same, Crumlin looking toothless in attack whilst Mac central defender Begley and O’Riordan continued to enjoy a rather uneventual evening, with either defender rarely tested.
A cynical foul by Crumlin captain Barry McKervey on the halfway line to prevent a counter attack, was just enough for Mac and their bench to ask the referee one or two questions about why the central midfielder wasn’t dismissed. Appeals for a red were swiftly ignored as the captain escaped with just a yellow.
However, the Crumlin number 11 didn’t help his case when just moments later he was once again guilty of leaving the foot in. Despite the volume being increased by the visitors protestations, it looked as though Crumlin would finish the match with 10 bodies on the pitch.
As the home side were beginning to run out of ideas, midfielder Smyth was convinced he should have had not one, but two penalties in quick succession. Mac defenders were none too pleased, feeling the Crumlin player had thrown himself to the ground far too easily.
As the second half grew on, and any hopes of a Crumlin equaliser were denied by the forehead of towering defender Edward Begley.
As the space behind Crumlin’s backline and goalkeeper grew and grew, it became clear for all in attendance what exactly was going to happen next.
Yet another clearance hoofed into the north Belfast sky gave problems for Crumlin defence, who by this stage were stationed five yards inside the Mac half.
An awkward bounce let Mac forward James Haughey steal in front of Niall Hawkins. The forward found himself in a one on one with the goalkeeper; Haughey, the calmest man in the north of the city, sat the goalkeeper down before rounding him and poking it home to score his side’s second and secure their place in the fourth round of the Steel and Sons Cup.
Whatever preparation and game plan had been drawn up by the Mac for Saturday’s cup tie was quickly ripped up and thrown out the window when the side went down to 10 men, but Paul Doherty’s men never faltered, and executed a beautifully improvised plan B, to perfection.
CRUMLIN STAR: C McNeill, B O’Neill, A McNeill, N Hawkins, M Lyons, J McNeill, C McLaughlin, S Smyth, K Lynch, J Doyle, B McKervey.
IMMACULATA: R Murray, B McCaul, M Fisher, E Begley, B McCaul, C O’Riordan, E Fallon, G McVicker, L Brady, S Begley, J Haughey.
Goals: B McCaul 28, J Haughey 77.