Berthas FC and Glebe Rangers Old Boys continue to set the pace at the top of the Hutchinson Tiles Winter League after both kept clean sheets in victory at the weekend.
The two teams meet in a crunch game this Saturday in what is sure to have a big impact on where the winners trophy ends up in May. West Bann Athletic and Portrush Old Boys continued to keep up the pace just behind as both recorded big wins against Coleraine Olympic and Brook Street respectively. Balnamore got back to winning ways with a narrow win at home to The Villagers while Ballyrashane and Hazelbank shared the points in their match.
Berthas FC 4 Finn McCools 0
The home side took the lead in this game after only five minutes of play when Stewart headed on McGarvey’s long throw but the Finns keeper couldn’t hold onto the ball and Adrian Drake was in the right place to put the ball into the empty net. Berthas found the going tough after this with a fit and enthusiastic Finns side full of energy and running and causing the Berthas defence a number of problems.
Despite this they defended stoutly and should have increased their lead when Stewart found his strike partner Drake in space but Henderson in the Finns goal made a smart stop to keep the deficit to one. The away side kept at it and came inches away from drawing level when Callaghan’s powerful header crashed off the post and cleared to safety.
The second half was very similar with Berthas struggling to find their game however they did increase their lead when Stewart found space in the box before smashing the ball into the net. He grabbed his second and his team’s third soon after when he controlled MacAulay’s cross and lashed into the back of the net. Finns kept at it and should have pulled another back but Elder was quick off his line to make a great block from Boyd’s shot. Right at the end Berthas got their fourth when Stewart latched onto a long ball, found McLaughlin in space, he beat his man before squaring to Stewart and he poked home for his hat-trick. Man of the Match: Willie Stewart (Berthas FC)
Dunaghy Old Boys 0 Glebe Rangers Old Boys 2
When local sides Dunaghy and Glebe meet it is sure to be a hard-fought battle with no quarter asked or given and this proved to be no exception at Dunaghy on a damp Saturday morning. For the first time in memory Ian Bellingham fielded an unchanged starting eleven whilst Arnie Blair brought back an extremely trim Ricky Chin Blair hoping he could reproduce his standout performance of earlier in the season.
In a tight opening period chances were at a premium. Glebe stopper Danny Allen, on top of his game all day, produced a number of fine stops the pick being a tip over from a powerful Blair header whilst at the other end Steele’s headed effort clipped the bar. Then in first half injury-time Lee Kyle sent in a free-kick which Bellingham reached first to divert past home custodian Ian Blair and send his side in a goal to the good at the interval.
The competitive nature of the game continued in the second half as both sides cancelled each other out with Gary Dunlop a standout in the Dunaghy backline. Chances were at a premium although Gaston shot wide when well-placed. In an attempt to draw level, player-boss Blair withdrew and brought on evergreen Richard McNabb in an unfamiliar forward role, but the old-stager was unable provide the breakthrough. With Elder still suffering from a recurrence of groin problems, wildman Colin McFetridge returned after his recent indiscretions to slot in at right back. However it was another sub, Paul Gaston, who made the decisive impact as he steered past Blair with five minutes remaining to clinch the points. Man of the Match: Gary Dunlop (Dunaghy Old Boys)
West Bann Athletic 5 Coleraine Olympic 1
West Bann Athletic met bottom of the league Coleraine Olympic at Rugby Avenue looking to bounce back and keep the pressure on the teams around and above them. Athletic took the lead in the eighth minute with Martin Fleming finishing well. Athletic almost made it two moments later however debut boy Davy Caldwell’s powerful header was cleared off the line to safety. Athletic pushed for a second going close on several occasions however they had to wait to the 28th minute when Martin Fleming found the top corner when played in by strike partner Davy Caldwell.
Athletic now with a 2 goal cushion were playing some good football and were rewarded for their efforts with a third goal in the 35th minute with Davy Caldwell marking his debut with a goal. Athletic continued to push looking for goals for the remainder of the half and made it 4-0 on the stroke of half time with Aaron McLelland finding the net on his return from illness.
West Bann Athletic started the second half the way they finished the first with Nathan Black ghosting in from an onside position, rounding the goalkeeper to make it 5-0 only to see his effort ruled out for offside. Athletic went close on several occasions over the next twenty minutes however finishing, final ball and good defending were to deny them. However, Athletic weren’t to be denied as Martin Fleming made it 5-0 on the hour mark with a cute finish to register his second hat-trick of the season against the same opposition. Olympic scored a consolation goal via the penalty spot five minutes later with HTWL veteran Jon Sweeny making no mistake with his spot kick to complete the scoring on the day for both sides and leave it 5-1 at the final whistle and a welcome first three points of 2014 to West Bann Athletic. Man of the Match: Davy Caldwell (WBA FC)
Balnamore FC 3 The Villagers 2
Balnamore got back to winning ways on Saturday after last week’s mauling at the hands of Glebe Old Boys. Balnamore opened the scoring when Andrew Hegarty pounced five minutes before the break to steer the ball into the net after the keeper had saved the first effort. Andrew Hegarty struck his second two minutes after half time as he raced into the box and fired beyond the Villagers keeper.
The home side probably thought it was game over but the visitors had different plans. Slack defending from two corners saw the Villagers get right back into the game, Lee Wilson notched a goal, closely followed by an equaliser by Trevor Hutchinson. Either team could have won it but Andrew Hegarty put the smiles on Balnamore faces as he completed his hat-trick with a powerful run and shot, beating Villagers keeper yet again.
The on form Hegarty could have had a fourth but was denied by the post as Balnamore ran out the winners in what was an tight entertaining game. Man of the Match: Andrew Hegarty (Balnamore)
Portrush Old Boys 6 Brook Street 0
The Old Boys of Portrush kicked off this fixture in positive fashion, and pushed forward to apply early pressure on the visitors defence. Brook Street however stood firm early stages despite a few close escapes. However, a corner for Portrush gave DD Mc Clelland a tap in to open the scoring. He was then replaced after 20 mins after picking up an injury. Ciaran Doherty was introduced and made an immediate impact by scoring after some excellent approach work on the right flank, as he rolled in the second for Portrush.
Brook Street struggled to force any real opportunities, but a free kick 25-yards out forced Mc Cullough in the Portrush goal to push the ball round the post. This save was outdone by the Brook Street keeper, as he kept out Doherty again, with the save of the match. The second half proved difficult for Brook Street to maintain any possession as Portrush continually created from midfield as Newton and Mitchell dominated. A corner from the left was driven in by McAllister and Doherty took advantage of his space to powerfully head home his second and number three for Portrush.
It wasn’t too long before he completed his hat-trick, as he collected the ball on the left but beat a defender, rounded the keeper and slotted home for an accomplished finish. Brook Street battled and created chances from their left side and caught Portrush on the break and were unlucky to see an effort rebound off the inside of the post. Portrush always had the upper hand though and Gareth Kerr was rewarded for his work rate with a header at the back post.
‘Dossy’ Mitchell then completed the proceedings with a powerful run, winning the challenge and had the composure to beat the keeper from 12 yards. Overall a strong performance from Portrush against a battling Brook Street team who had a few players unavailable on the day, but had an impressive performance from their keeper. Man of the Match: Gareth Mitchell (Portrush)
Ballyrashane FC 1 Hazelbank FC 1
Ballyrashane bounced back from last week’s disappointment as their recent signings and returning players showed their worth.
New man David Weatherall was proving to be a worthy replacement for departed veteran Davey Campbell to lead the line in another excellent display even without the prolific Neill who was unavailable through injury. Hazelbank started to knock the ball around well The returning Newman in the home team’s goal pulled of a number of great saves during the half to deny McClarty and Tosh.
With the home team set up for a counter attack style of play they had to soak up the pressure and wait for there moment to come. And that moment did come On the 25th minute Ballyrashane had a corner that was only partially cleared falling to the feet of Lennon who delivered a wonder cross come shot that caused confusion for Crawford in the away goal resulting in the home team taking the lead.
After the break the away team continued to come at the home side though the back line of Dallas, captain Alan freeman, Buick, Gray and Doey stopped any oncoming attacks. The home team got themselves a corner and the two Gray brothers linked up well when Jack delivered a great ball onto the head of his brother Lee for it to rattle the bar and deny the home side a 2-0 lead the desperately wanted.
Hazelbank came alive after that and had a great chance when tosh had a strike that was matched brilliantly by then in-form Newman. The away side did however get there reward when a mix up in clearing ball by the home side resulted in them rattling home the equaliser. Both teams battled on well to the end playing some good football between them and they will feel unlucky to not a win, although the draw seemed a fair result. Man of the Match: Alan freeman (Ballyrashane)