Armagh City 3
Lurgan Celtic 0
Armagh City got back to winning ways in the NIFL Championship on Saturday with a strong team performance against rivals Lurgan Celtic highlighted by a lethal hat-trick from striker Conor Mullen.
Without the suspended Dale Montgomery, manager Marty Rice gave 17-year-old Conor Kerr his home debut at right-back while Stephen Hutchinson deputised in the middle of the defence for Eoin Toal who was only fit enough for the bench. Up front, Mullen was joined by Jasir Camara who made his first start for City.
The opening period saw little in the way of goal-mouth action, as Celtic had the better of the ball while the home side struggled to find their feet.
Despite having the better of the ball in midfield, former City manager Colin Malone’s men didn’t threaten John Connolly in the City goal until five minutes before the break when former City player Ryan Lawless broke free on the left and fired a shot which Connolly took the sting out of before Paul Carvill cleared to safety.
Just as Celtic thought they were in the ascendency, the Eagles sprung to life as Camara showed his speed down the left to get past full-back Conor Hagan, but couldn’t find anyone to cut the ball back to and the danger was eventually cleared.
Minutes later, City grabbed the opening goal of the game after good work by Johnny McSorley saw John Cochrane’s attempted clearance break to Mullen who fired a superb 25-yard effort beyond the sprawling Conor McCorry in the visiting goal to give Armagh the lead with the last kick of the half.
Celtic came out after the break determined to find an equaliser and while both sides struggled to create any chances in the early stages of the half City were looking more comfortable in a new shape which saw Mullen on the left and Camara up front on his own.
Indeed, as the visitors streamed forward the Eagles looked a counter-attacking threat and used the ball much better than in the first half.
Celtic, however, produced the first dangerous moment of the second half, as Josh Barton did well on the left and fired across a dangerous cross but it evaded everyone and drifted to safety.
With just under 20 minutes to go City produced the move of the match with an incisive piece of counter-attacking football. Youngster Kerr picked the ball up midway inside his own half and, after beating a pair of Celtic players, slid a perfect through-ball to Mullen as he cut in from the left wing. Through one-on-one with the keeper, Mullen wasted no time dispatching the chance into the net with a thunderous strike from outside the area to give City a commanding two-goal lead.
The visitors went immediately on the attack in a desperate attempt to get back in the game, and they almost did so after Dale Malone broke free on the right and fired a menacing cross through the six-yard area but Aaron Rogers’ full-stretch effort rebounded off the post and to safety.
The home side put the result beyond doubt with 10 minutes to go, as Mullen alertly nipped in front of a dithering Celtic defence to steal a bouncing ball which he instinctively dispatched into the bottom corner of McCorry’s goal to complete a superb hat-trick.
Malone had Celtic’s last effort to get on the scoresheet as he fired in a 20-yard free-kick effort with 3 minutes remaining, but Connolly made a fine diving save to preserve City’s clean-sheet and seal three points after a strong team performance.
The victory saw Marty Rice’s side move within two points of Knockbreda in the race for safety at the bottom of the Championship. Next week, City will be looking for three more points when they host a Larne side which has struggled in recent months. Kick-off at Holm Park on Saturday is 3pm.
Armagh City: John Connolly, Conor Kerr, Paul Carvill, Ultan Lennon, Stephen Hutchinson, Luke Grimley (Ben Rice), Eamon Kelly, Matthew Hynds (Sean Mallon), Johnny McSorley (Thai Blevins), Jasir Camara, Conor Mullen. Subs not used: Eoin Toal, Gary Boyle.