Belfast Celtic v Immaculata
(Saturday, 2pm, Glen Road Heights)
PENALTIES can be a lottery in football. A cruel way to exit any competition and Immaculata have experienced both sides of the coin in recent weeks.
Last Saturday, they suffered their first competitive defeat of the season when they lost out to Ballynahinch Olympic (5-3) on penalties.
Yet, they progressed to round four of the Steel and Sons thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over Championship 1 side PSNI and now face Belfast Celtic in a West Belfast derby at Glen Road Heights on Saturday.
Manager Brian McCaul is hoping his side can return to form having previously won eight games in succession.
“When it comes down to the lottery of penalties, anything can happen. We spoke about it afterwards - I was pleased with the performance,” reflected McCaul.
“The Steel and Sons is a competition we’ve more of a chance in. We’ll be hoping for a change of fortune on Saturday.
"It is a derby game and it is a tough place to go, but our boys will be up for it. Bragging rights will be up for grabs and both teams obviously want to do well in the club.
“We’d won eight from eight until last Saturday so we’ve had a positive start to the season.
“We aren’t really prioritising the league or certain cups. We are just trying to win the games which are in front of us.”
Belfast Celtic boss Stephen McAlorum was in attendance last Saturday to watch Immaculata and he was suitably impressed by what he saw.
“I was down at their game and they were very unlucky – I thought they were the stronger side,” stated McAlroum.
“They play a good style of football so I’m expecting a good game on Saturday.
“It is a personal one for me as well as a lot of their players are friends of mine. I like the Mac – they are a good club and I’d have a lot of time for them.”
While McCaul will be without the services of Michael Fisher (hamstring), McAlorum also has some injury concerns with Denver Taggart sidelined with a knee injury.
Goalkeeper Padraig Nugent and midfielder Stephen Beatty also remain unavailable due to their GAA commitments.
Crumlin Star v Newington
(Saturday, 2pm, The Cricky)
The Cricky will also host a derby game as North Belfast neighbours Crumlin Star and Newington clash on Saturday afternoon.
Newington reached the final of the 2019 Steel and Sons Cup, losing out to Linfield Swifts in the decider while Padraig Scollay scored the only goal when they defeated the same opposition to win the competition in 2017.
Scollay now plies his trade for Star along with goalkeeper Dean Smyth and defender Breandan O’Neill who were also part of Newington’s 2017 squad.
However, O’Neill will miss Saturday’s clash with his former club with a broken ankle while fellow defender Paul Prigent is also a major doubt.
Star boss Paul Trainor can ill-afford to be without the experienced Prigent as he knows Newington have a formidable record in the Steel and Sons in recent times.
“Over the last five seasons, they’ve been in two finals and they’ve won one as well,” said Trainor.
“They always do well in the Intermediate Cup and the Steel and Sons Cup. They reached the last final of the Intermediate Cup too so they’ve a very good record in good cup competitions in recent seasons.
“We lost out to Dollingstown on penalties in the Irish Cup, but we beat East Belfast in the Border Cup.
“I love the cups – the Steel and Sons and the Intermediate Cups. We’ve also an affinity with the Border Cup over the last few years and we’re looking forward to Saturday’s game.”
While O’Neill is ruled out and Prigent is doubtful, Star have talismanic midfielder Joe McNeill back from suspension.
Newington duo Richard Gowdy and Daire Rooney have also served their three-match bans following their dismissals in the League Cup defeat to Portadown.
Paul Hamilton is in his first season in charge at the club, but the former ’Ton skipper knows how highly
“I used to play for Newington and I captained them back in the day. I’m from the New Lodge area so I know what the club is about,” stated Hamilton.
“The Steel and Sons is always a cup we target. It is a special occasion to be part of the final on Christmas morning.
“We know the challenge that awaits us on Saturday. We’ve a lot of respect for Crumlin Star - it will be a tough battle for both teams.”
Elsewhere, defending champions Linfield Swifts host Malachians, while Cliftonville Olympic are also on the road against Glentoran II (all games kick-off at 2pm).