There were five Championship games on Saturday and three last night as we learn who is in the top and bottom half of the table after the split, we’ll be looking back at all the action and were teams stand in the league as we enter the final ten games of the season.
Ballyclare Comrades 2 Knockbreda 3
Having sat top of the tree for so long it’s now just one win in five for Ballyclare as they slip to 4th in the table, seven points behind current leaders Institute. Ballyclare started the game strongly and took the lead after 22 minutes when Mark Kelly headed home Chris Middleton’s free kick. Breda could have equalised a few minutes after but keeper Paddy Flood saved well from Curtis Dempster, there was nothing Flood could do on 33 minutes when Patrick Cafolla sent a shot from 30 yards over the keeper and under the cross bar to level things up. Comrades pushed to regain their lead before the break but Kelly seen an effort on goal miss the target and John Dobbin’s shot come back off the base of the post. The second half started as the first ended with the Comrades in control, Breda keeper Jason Craughwell saved well from Kelly and Stewart Nixon. Breda stunned the Comrades in the 71st minute when Ryan Arthur beat Flood to the ball from a free kick and the ball ended up in the back of the net, Breda extended their lead in the 86th minute when they were awarded a penalty and Ryan Newberry stepped up to convert. Matthew Parker pulled one back for the Comrades in the 87th minute but Breda did enough to hold out for a win, their first since the 28th October.
Dergview 0 Limavady United 1
Limavady manager Paul Owens had a busy week in the transfer market as he announced the signings of striker Joe McCready and defender Stuart McMullan from Premiership sides Coleraine and Carrick Rangers respectively, McCready in particular needs no introduction to Roesiders supporter as he scored 25 goals for the club last season as they won the Premier Intermediate League title. Both United and Dergview went into the game looking for their first win of 2018 but it was Owens men that came away with the points, Ryan Logue’s strike nine minutes from time being the difference between the two sides. The win moves United nine points clear of Saturday’s opponents and further away from the danger area.
Harland and Wolff Welders 1 Lurgan Celtic 0
Gary Smyth added 19 year old striker Ben Arthurs, brother of current Welders player Ross, to his squad this week from Ards and the new signing went straight into the starting lineup for this home game against basement side Lurgan Celtic. The first half was a scrappy affair with not much to report on and the sides went in scoreless at the break, David Rainey and Gareth McKeown had went closest for the Welders while keeper Ben McAuley breathed a sigh of relief when his clearance was blocked by Celtic’s Stefan Campbell but went wide of the post. Early in the second half McAuley redeemed himself when he saved well from Campbell but it was the Welders who scored the game’s sole goal soon after, when Rainey’s corner was headed onto the crossbar and came back out debut boy Ben Arthurs was there to apply the finishing touch. Celtic fought to equalise but could only really produce a number of efforts from range, while at the other end keeper Shane McPartlan had to make a string of impressive stops to keep the score down. So the Welders promotion push continues, while you have to wonder where Celtic’s next points are coming from.
Institute 0 Newry City 0
1st took on 3rd at the Limavady Showgrounds and Newry may be disappointed that they weren’t able to further close down Stute’s lead at the top, especially when Stute midfielder Aaron Harkin was sent for an early bath after just 5 minutes for a challenge on Declan Carville. Newry had a golden opportunity to take the lead just after the 30 minute mark when Carville was brought down by Ryan Morrow inside the area, James Walker’s spot kick was saved by keeper Martin Gallagher though. Newry dominated the second half possession wise but there were few clear chances for either side, Gallagher was forced to save his side again late in the game, when he pushed John Boyle’s effort onto the post. Newry may look at this game as an opportunity missed come the end of the season, Stute will likely have been content with gaining a point ahead of their midweek game under the circumstances.
Loughgall 2 PSNI 1
Loughgall went into this home game with PSNI still in the hunt for a top six finish and they started brightly with Gary Liggett going close to opening the scoring for them after 7 minutes but his effort inside the box hit the side netting. Loughgall did score the game’s first goal after 20 minutes when Marcus Dallas struck home from 35 yards, giving PSNI stopper Jordan Williamson no chance. It only took the Villagers one minute to double their lead when Peter Campbell delivered a corner and Ricky Copeland converted when Williamson couldn’t claim it and the game looked to be as good as over. Loughgall were reduced to ten men after 30 minutes when Jude Ballard was shown a straight red for bringing down Lukasz Adamczyk when the PSNI player was bearing down on goal but PSNI rarely threatened in the first half. In the second half Liggett had opportunities to score his first Loughgall goal but was denied on three occasions by Williamson and couldn’t find the target on another, at the other end Gareth Buchanan was called into action to deny Johnny McClurg and Jake McNeill, PSNI did pull a goal back late on when Buchanan could only parry Paul McDowell’s effort and McNeill tapped home the rebound.
Dergview 1 Loughgall 5
Loughgall went into this game sitting in 6th place knowing that any sort of result would secure them a top six finish for the league splitting in two at the end of the night, and the result was never in doubt against league strugglers Dergview. The night before the game Loughgall announced that popular midfielder Paul McDowell was rejoining the club, McDowell had turned out against the Villagers just two days before for the PSNI. Loughgall opened the scoring when Conor Mullen headed home Dale Montgomery’s free-kick and Nathaniel Ferris added a second goal before the break to put the visitors well in the driving seat. January signing Gary Liggett added two goals after the break; his first goals for the club since joining from Ards, and Peter Campbell wrapped up the scoring for Loughgall and secured their top six finish despite Dergview scoring a consolation goal.
Institute 2 Knockbreda 1
Institute secured victory in the second of their two games in hand to move themselves a massive nine points clear at the top of the table. The first half was an exciting affair with both sides having opportunities to open the scoring but keepers Jason Craughwell and Martin Gallagher were both in fine form. Stute were handed the best chance of the half right at the end when they were awarded a penalty but captain Michael McCrudden couldn’t convert. The second half continued in much the same vein but Stute opened the scoring on the hour mark when McCrudden’s cross was met by the head of Caomhin Bonner and Craughwell was finally beaten. Bonner added the second goal of the game with another header 5 minutes from time, there was time for William McBurney to pull one back for the visitors but Stute held out for a crucial win.
Portadown 2 Larne 2
Both sides went into this game still in the hunt of a top six finish but the odds seemed to be stacked more in the Ports favour and in the end it was Larne who missed out on a place in the top half. Despite that it was Larne who took the lead in the game thanks to David Scullion, they were then reduced to ten men however when Ciaran Caldwell was sent off following a challenge on Ports midfielder and captain Andy Kilmartin. Despite having a man less it was Larne who went into the break 2-0 up after Scullion scored his and Larne’s second. Portadown came out fighting in the second half and Chris Lavery hit the woodwork with a free-kick before Fra Brennan reduced the deficit and Lavery that scored the equaliser, with the draw being enough on the night for the Ports.
So with all the pre-split games now played the league table is looking like this:-
1st – Institute
2nd – Harland and Wolff Welders
3rd – Newry City
4th – Ballyclare Comrades
5th – Loughgall
6th – Portadown
7th – Larne
8th – Knockbreda
9th – Limavady United
10th – PSNI
11th – Dergview
12th – Lurgan Celtic
So for those not aware teams will play the teams in their half twice more to make up the remaining ten league fixtures, with teams in the top half guaranteed to finish no lower than 6th and teams in the bottom half unable to finish higher than 7th regardless of points totals. There are no fixtures this Saturday in The Championship due to the Irish Cup 6th round taking place and remaining fixtures are still to be confirmed due to league positions not being finalised until last night.