Championship Roundup: Defeat for Comrades Sees Stute Move Top

NIFL Championship

There were five games in total in the Bluefin Sport Championship on Saturday with plenty of goals and talking points from the matches as well as a change at the top of the table. Midnight on the 1st January not only signifies the start of the New Year but also the opening of the transfer window and some clubs have already been busy with new signings as well, so without any further delay let’s get cracking.

Larne 3 Newry City 2

There was some big news prior to kick off in this game as Larne announced the signing of former Dundalk striker Thomas Stewart. Stewart is a former Northern Ireland youth international and has previously played for Linfield, Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and was also an apprentice at Wolverhampton Wanderers in his youth. Stewart is also no stranger to silverware having won two league and cup doubles with Linfield, a League of Ireland and a Setanta Cup with Shamrock and a League of Ireland Cup with Derry City. Stewart joins David McDaid, Martin Donnelly Ciaran Caldwell, Chris Ramsey and Paul Finnegan in signing for the Championship side and is a real statement of intent for Tiernan Lynch’s side.

On the pitch both sides went into this game on top form, Larne had taken 13 points from the last 15 available to them and you would have had to go back to the 23rd September for the last time Newry lost a league game. It was the home side who opened the scoring within the first five minutes when Ralph Kottoy scored from the penalty spot, after Newry keeper Stephen Maguire had tripped David Scullion inside the area.  The lead didn’t last for long and 12 minutes Mark McCabe had fired the side’s level and after 57 minutes Newry were awarded a penalty of their own following a handball, James Walker duly dispatched to put Newry ahead. With 15 minutes to go Larne equalised when Jerry Thompson headed home from close range and just when it was looking like it would be honours even, Kottoy’s corner was met by the head of Matthew Henry to put Larne ahead with just 2 minutes left to play. The game wasn’t over yet though and Larne keeper Conor Devlin had to be alert to save a late effort on goal from Stephen Hughes to make sure of the points. This win moved Larne into the top half of the table for the first time this season and Newry have now dropped a place to 4th.

Portadown 3 PSNI 0

Larne weren’t the only club getting their business underway in the transfer market as Niall Currie announced two new signings for the Ports prior to kick off, in the shape of former Greg Hall and Liam McAuley. Both players have previously played for Currie at Ards and Hall in particular was a key player in the two promotion winning sides that Currie was in charge of.

In terms of the match, going into play on Saturday the Ports had won three on the spin and scored 17 goals in the process and they didn’t show any signs of letting up on Saturday as they were 2-0 up inside the first quarter of an hour, Adam Salley scoring both goals to make it 6 goals in his last 7 appearances. The Ports controlled the game from start to finish really and Darren Henderson scored their third goal with a finish from a tight angle in the second half. Portadown remain 5th in the table and PSNI drop a place to 9th.

Harland and Wolff Welders 1 Ballyclare Comrades 0

The Welders are another side who find themselves on a good run of form of late, they had won two games in a row before Saturday and were unbeaten in seven. Ballyclare on the other hand went into this game still top but had lost two games in a row and dropped points and a win for Institute would see them knocked off top spot. Ballyclare were on top for much of the first half but the Welders rear-guard stood firm and didn’t give them much sight of goal, though Adam McCart’s header after 32 minutes looked destined for the back of the net only to be cleared off the line. The Welders came into the game more in the second half and scored the deciding goal just after the hour mark when Lukasz Gwiazda played in Gary Spence after intercepting Comrades keeper Paddy Flood’s clearance and Spence finished first time. Welders keeper Robert Robinson had to be alert to deny Adam Gray’s free kick and was relieved to see Mark Kelly’s follow up go wide but late in the game it was the Welders who went close to scoring a second but David Rainey was denied by a Curtis Woods tackle. The Welders are now sitting in the top three, three points behind second and six behind 1st.

Institute 2 Limavady United 0

Thanks to this win at ‘home’ for Institute and Ballyclare losing against the Welders, Paddy McLaughlin’s men now find themselves three points clear at the top of the table and still have two games in hand against their nearest rivals. The pitch at Stute’s current home Wilton Park was inspected on Friday afternoon and due to concerns over whether the game would be able to go ahead it was switched to Limavady Showgrounds but was still classed as an away game for United. Stute started the game brightly and Dean Curry headed them into the lead after 10 minutes, Stute dominated the first half and it was no surprise when Niall Grace doubled their lead before the interval. United did come out for the second half guns blazing and did have a number of chances but couldn’t find a way to penetrate the defence and Stute finished the game winners. After an impressive first half of the season overall Paul Owens’ United side have not lost five in a row and have slipped to 10th place. If they don’t get some points on the board soon they could be looking over their shoulder if they aren’t already.

Lurgan Celtic 1 Knockbreda 1

Saturday was perhaps a day of mixed feelings for Celtic manager Frankie Wilson, on one hand he will no doubt be relieved to have got his first point on the board as manager, not to mention ending a 3 game losing streak but Celtic may also have been also been looking at this as an opportunity to gain ground against a team not too far above them and also on their own five game winless run. There was another early goal in The Championship as just minutes into the game Celtic were awarded a penalty for handball and Stefan Campbell stepped up to score but the lead was short lived and veteran Irish League striker Michael Halliday soon sent a looping header over Shane McPartlan’s head from a free-kick. Breda were in control of the first half but good defending and some wasteful finishing seen them score no further goals and David Ferguson had to save well from Celtic’s Rioghan Crawford after 32 minutes. Knockbreda were reduced to ten men early in the second half when Jamie Patterson was dismissed for a poor challenge. After this the tide swung in Celtic’s favour but despite Jordan Bell going close a few times they couldn’t find a winner and both sides had to settle for a point apiece and remain as they were in the league.

There are no games in the Championship this week due to the 5th round of the Irish Cup taking place but normal service resumes the week after as we edge closer to the league splitting in two.