Annagh United 4
Armagh City 4
A wild game at Tandragee Road on Saturday saw Armagh City throw away an opportunity to gain ground on their rivals in the relegation battle, as they saw a late lead slip away against the Championship’s bottom side, Annagh United.
Marty Rice was still without the injured Ultan Lennon, so Stephen Hutchinson partnered Eoin Toal once again at the heart of the defence, with the latter just back from Torquay having led Northern Ireland U18 schoolboys to a 4-1 victory over their English counterparts on Friday. In two changes to the side which unluckily lost to Knockbreda the previous week, Johnny McSorley came into the midfield for Matthew Hynds, while Sean Mallon started in place of Thai Blevins.
City started brightly with some neat passing and an urgency to attack from the outset. However, despite bossing the play in the opening minutes, Armagh found themselves behind with less than 10 minutes on the clock. A long punt forward from Annagh keeper Ciaran Fox was allowed to bounce by Hutchinson and the ball was immediately pounced upon by striker Aaron Duke who made no mistake with a lethal finish from 20 yards.
Despite the disappointment, City went straight back on the attack and had the ball in the net themselves with just over a quarter of an hour gone, but Conor Mullen’s close-range finish was ruled out for offside after good work on the right by McSorley.
The scores were level two minutes later, however, as Dale Montgomery swung in a superb free-kick from the left which Shea Campbell couldn’t direct towards the target, but the ball fell kindly for Hutchinson to poke home and make amends with less than 20 minutes gone.
City continued to be in the ascendency following the equaliser, though without creating many clear-cut chances. Jasir Camara was put through on goal after an excellent pass from Mallon, but he blazed wide of the target as the ball ran away from him.
Just before the half-hour mark Annagh were back in the lead following their second real foray into the City half. Some slack defending down the left saw the ball cut back to Nathaniel Ferriss, and the young United attacker squeezed the ball into the net past the diving effort of keeper John Connolly.
City were dealt a further blow five minutes before half-time when Conor Kerr was injured in a strong challenge down the Armagh right, and the young defender was unable to continue. As he received treatment, City’s defence switched off once again as a deep cross from that side of the pitch wasn’t dealt with in the box and Duke grabbed his second goal of the game with a well-placed header to make the score 3-1.
It looked like City might have nabbed a goal back before the break when Campbell tapped into an empty net following Mullen’s header off the crossbar, but the latter was again adjudged to have been in an offside position.
Keen to put the defensive mistakes of the first half behind them, City came out strongly to start the second period and were immediately on the attack again, with McSorley and Camara pushing forward at every opportunity to join Campbell and Mullen.
City were back in the game on 50 minutes, as Mullen flicked on a floated ball forward and Campbell made no mistake dispatching the ball past Fox to make reduce the deficit to 3-2.
Campbell had a golden chance 3 minutes later when Annagh failed to clear a long throw from Montgomery, but he headed over the bar when well-placed.
Moments later, though, City were back on level terms after a corner from the left was only half-cleared by United, and Toal did well to turn inside the box and cross the ball left-footed to the back post where central defensive partner Hutchinson was on hand to bundle the ball home at the second attempt.
The frenetic pace of the game continued, and City were in the lead with just over an hour on the clock when a lovely move down the right involving Camara and Mullen saw the ball crossed for Campbell who made no mistake to give the visitors their first lead of the game at 4-3.
Either side of the goal City were given further warnings about Annagh’s own attacking prowess, as Connolly was called upon twice to stop Ferriss and Duke respectively.
Johnny McSorley almost grabbed the insurance goal that City needed on 75 minutes when he picked the ball up from a short corner on the left and curled a looping effort off the far post with the keeper beaten.
Annagh pushed forward in the last 10 minutes as City struggled to maintain possession and their attacking impetus.
Ferriss volleyed a warning shot over the bar when well-placed, before the equaliser eventually arrived in the first minute of injury time as City failed to deal with a corner. The half-cleared ball fell to full-back Christian Stewart on the edge of the box and his low effort found the bottom corner of the goal despite Connolly getting a hand to the ball.
The result did little for either side in the table, with Annagh almost certain to be relegated as City missed an opportunity to draw closer to Knockbreda who lost on Saturday. In the end, however, a point apiece was probably a fair result given the chances created and poor defending at either end.
Armagh City are at home to Harland & Wolff Welders this Saturday, 1 April, needing a win in the race to avoid a relegation play-off spot. Kick-off at Holm Park will be at 3pm.
Armagh City: John Connolly, Conor Kerr (Paul Carvill), Dale Montgomery, Eoin Toal, Stephen Hutchinson, Sean Mallon, Eamon Kelly, Johnny McSorley (Matthew Hynds), Shea Campbell, Jasir Camara, Conor Mullen. Subs not used: Ernestus Verenka, Ben Rice, Buchanan.