Queen’s University 0-1 Armagh City
Armagh City travelled to Belfast on Saturday, but it was the hosts who made the best of the opening exchanges at the newly-refurbished Dun Lane stadium, bossing possession for long spells though without many attempts on goal, until the quarter hour mark.
Queen’s winger Conor Mulholland crossed to the near post for the lively James Lavery who turned sharply before having his shot saved smartly by ‘keeper John Prentice, making his debut after an injury to Sean Morgan during the week.
The youngster soon had to deal with a variety of aerial threats as a series of corners and free kicks allowed the students to get Matt McManus forward to create problems for the City defence.
Another cross, this time from the left, put Lavery through for another chance soon afterward. He beat Prentice at the near post, but the woodwork came to City’s rescue to keep the game scoreless.
By this stage Armagh were firmly on the back-foot, but finally managed to muster some possession with Marty Lavery and Gavin Cusack starting to get involved as the half progressed.
On the 23 minute mark the visitors marked their arrival on scene with a shock lead after Dale Montgomery strode forward from his right full-back position. He collected the ball from the energetic Lavery, stepped inside a defender and struck a stunning left-footed effort inside the near post from 25 yards, beating QUB keeper Duff.
The goal seemed to shock the home side and certainly aided City’s confidence as they started to gain more of the possession as the first half wore on. Queen’s, on the other hand, seemed to lack the energy and creativity to break down Armagh’s midfield, and had only a flying volley from Tumelty to worry Prentice before the break.
The home side made a change at half-time, introducing the experienced Paul McDonald and he immediately made a difference, bossing the game from the centre of midfield. The students went straight on the attack to begin the half, and good work down the left from Philip Prenter saw a golden opportunity for Mulholland, but he headed over from 12 yards.
City were again struggling to get a foothold of possession and were reliant on counter-attacking once again, though a strong defensive effort by the entire team left Queen’s struggling for openings as the game got bogged down in a midfield battle.
On 66 minutes, however, McDonald manufactured some space for himself with a clever one-two on the edge of City’s box, and his right-footed shot from 18 yards looked destined to be the equaliser the home side craved, but once again the woodwork came to Armagh’s rescue as the ball thudded off the angle of post and crossbar and was eventually hooked to safety after a goalmouth scramble.
City had to be alert in the ensuing minutes as Queen’s forced a series of corners, but it was Armagh who had the next good chance. The speedy Christopher Maxwell took on defenders on the left wing and as he arrived inside the box cleverly pulled the ball back for the on-rushing Liam Cullen who seemingly had just to slot the ball home to seal City’s victory, but a last ditch block meant the game was still in the balance.
Queen’s continued to press forward searching for the equaliser, leaving space at the back which City’s counter-attacking style seeked to exploit, and again it was Maxwell who posed the biggest threat, as he popped up in the box with ten minutes remaining. The youngster received the ball with his back to goal and somehow smuggled the ball to striker Adam Nesbitt who could only shoot into the side netting with just the ‘keeper to beat.
In the end, City’s young defence held on with a great degree of competency, in a performance that wasn’t pretty by any means, but brought three welcome points. While he’ll hope for a better footballing display in the weeks to come, manager Marty Rice can be proud of his side’s grit and determination against a tough opponent.
Armagh City: Prentice, Montgomery, McGerrigan, Lennon (y/c), Noonan, Kerr, Lavery (y/c), Cullen (y/c), Cusack, A Nesbitt, Maxwell. Subs: Mallon, Quinn (for A Nesbitt), Grimley (for Maxwell), Crooks, J Nesbitt.
Queen’s: Duff, Culbert, P Prenter, Harper, McManus, Mulholland, M Prenter, Hagan, Lavery, Tumelty, Keenan. Subs: McDonald, McGuicken, Donnelly, Boyd.
Referee: Colin Rainey