Championship Roundup: Stute Edge Closer as Leaders Ballyclare Fall to Defeat

NIFL Championship

Christmas has been and gone and football is back already, in the Bluefin Sport Championship we had action last Saturday and on Boxing Day so I’ll be covering all seven of the matches that were played across the in this roundup.

Knockbreda 1 Harland and Wolff Welders 2 – Saturday 23rd December

The Welders spent Christmas Day in the top three thanks to this away win over Knockbreda but the men from the East had to work for the three points after going behind after 39 minutes to a Karl Hamill goal, an impressive strike that seen the defender beat two men and fire home from a tight angle. Gary Smyth’s side weren’t behind for long though and were back on level terms before the half-time whistle, a deep corner to the back post met the head of Dan McMurray to draw the sides level. The Welders winner came through Lukasz Gwiazda, who won the ball down the left hand side and cut infield to fire another great strike into David Ferguson’s top left hand corner.

Lurgan Celtic 1 Larne 3 – Saturday 23rd December

Lurgan Celtic took a surprise early lead in this game as Stefan Campbell sent Conor Devlin the wrong way from the penalty spot, after Andy McAlinden was fouled by Matthew Henry. Celtic couldn’t extend their lead though and despite having posed very little attacking threat on goal the visitors pulled level when Barry Holland’s through ball found Darren Stuart, who beat the offside trap and finished past Shane McPartlan in goal. Larne then turned the score line on its head by taking the lead with half-time approaching and this time it was a great strike from range, David Abe picked up a loose ball outside the area and let rip with a great strike that gave McPartlan no chance. The young Celtic side performed admirably in the second half but Larne controlled the majority of the game and made sure of the win towards the end when they won a penalty of their own that was duly converted by Ralph Kottoy.

PSNI 4 Limavady United 1 – Saturday 23rd December

Limavady have went from being on a great run of form and sitting in the top half of the table, to now being on a four game losing streak that has seen them fall to 10th in the table, they still have a five point cushion over 11th placed Dergview though. The PSNI took an early lead in the game through Owen Moody and it wasn’t long before Johnny McClurg doubled that lead. Colin Murray did pull a goal back for United before the break but there would be no comeback as five minutes after the restart Paul McDowell restored his teams two goal advantage and with the game nearing its end McClurg added his second of the game to make it 4-1. This win sees PSNI climb two places to 8th in the table and they also have games in hand against teams both above and below them.

Ballyclare Comrades 0 Larne 2 – Boxing Day

Larne have been on a good run of form of late but went into this Boxing Day derby fixtures as slight underdogs against league leaders Ballyclare it would be fair to say. Comrades never really got going in the early stages of the game and after 7 minutes their defence failed to deal with a Gerard Thompson cross and Darren Stuart was on hand to put Larne 1-0 up from close range. Larne dominated the remainder of the half and Ballyclare were fortunate the scoreline remained 1-0 at half-time. The home side did improve after the break but it was Larne who struck again with Ralph Kottoy scored to make the points secure. Ballyclare remain in 1st place but Institute are closing in fast, Larne are now up to 7th in the table and with three games to go before the split have their eyes set on a top six finish.

Loughgall 1 Portadown 4 – Boxing Day

It’s now three wins on the spin for Niall Currie’s Portadown side thanks to this Boxing Day win at Loughgall. It didn’t take Portadown long to open the scoring as Adam Salley headed home a Chris Lavery free kick after 8 minutes and 7 minutes later Gary Warwick helped himself to what would be his first goal of the game when he scored from a long range free kick. Warner Mullan converted Dale Montgomery’s cross to pull one back before half-time but soon after the restart the two goal cushion was restored when Warwick reacted quickest Salley’s shot being saved and scored the rebound. Salley went close to scoring a brace of his own but the woodwork denied his free-kick and it was Warwick who completed the scoring to claim the three points as well as the matchball to boot. Portadown now edge ahead of Loughgall into 5th place in their own right, having previously only been ahead of their opponents on goal difference.

Newry City 5 Lurgan Celtic 0

Mark McCabe helped himself to four goals as Newry thrashed bottom side Lurgan Celtic on Boxing Day, Ruairi Cunningham scoring City’s other goal of the game. The result moved Newry back into the top three having previously been dislodged due to not playing on Saturday and the Welders taking full advantage but as was probably expected Darren Mullen’s side continued their lengthy run of good form in the table. In contrast there was no Christmas miracle for Lurgan Celtic who continued their wretched run of form, Celtic are only two points behind Dergview who currently occupy the promotion/relegation play-off spot but they are 7 points off outright safety and it’s hard to see Frankie Wilson’s side getting out of danger anytime soon.

Institute 2 Dergview 0

This result along with Ballyclare’s defeat means Stute now trial the Comrades by just goal difference and still have two games in hand over their fellow title challengers. The only goal in the first half came from the penalty spot after 26 minutes when Jake Morrow was fouled and Aaron Harkin converted. Stute weren’t able to extend their lead for quite some time though but the pendulum did swing further in their favour when Aaron Arkinson was giving his marching order for Dergview. Stute did eventually make the extra man count when Aaron Jarvis scored right at the end to seal the deal for Stute.

Things are heating up in The Championship as we edge ever closer to the league splitting in two, the powers that be are spoiling us as we have a full programme of Championship action to look forward to this Saturday and as always I’ll be back next week to round up all the action.