Stephen's strike earns Seasiders victory
Tuesday, 1 October 2013
BALLYMENA UNITED 0 WARRENPOINT TOWN 1.
AN OPPORTUNIST Stephen Hughes strike earned Warrenpoint Town their first three Danske Bank Irish Premiership points against an established side.
Forty-nine minutes into Saturday's game at a sunny Ballymena Showgrounds, and just four minutes after coming on as a halftime substitute, the wee marksman, known to everyone as Rambo, latched onto an accurate Stephen McCabe left-wing cross before coolly drilling into the net past a helpless United keeper Dwayne Nelson.
And that goal earned the Seasiders three points that kept them above basement team Ards, who Warrenpoint had beaten earlier in the season. Incidentally Ards also won on Saturday. Furthermore, as well as the win and a battling performance, it was the first time Warrenpoint have kept a clean sheet in the Irish Premiership.
So there were loads of positives to take from the match, as a happy manager Barry Gray was delighted to point out. The Town boss speaking to the Democrat minutes after the final whistle, said: "It was a brilliant performance. We did what we needed to do. We had opportunities today and took one and made sure we didn't give away too many. We also kept a clean sheet.
“Last week we asked questions of the players in terms of them doing what they have been told and working on the system I have provided them to work with. Today they followed instructions, worked hard and got their reward.
“In past weeks we made individual mistakes and carried too many players for large patches of each game. Today we didn't do that and that's why we have the result," said Gray.
Although the Seasiders didn't create a host of scoring chances, the display was a triumph for an outstanding backs-to-the-wall performance. Keeper Johnny Parr was the proverbial rock, solid and confident throughout. But the Point net-minder really excelled himself
on 20 minutes when he somehow plunged to his right to block a blistering close-range Alan Taggart rocket. It was easily the save of the match.
Ballymena had several other first half openings but so too had the Town. Indeed after just four minutes Daniel Hughes should have had a penalty kick when Dwayne Nelson upended the Warrenpoint striker in the box, but referee Andrew Davey shook his head.
Another seemingly poor refereeing decision came on eight minutes after Ruairi Devlin crossed from the right flank, Stephen McCabe fired into the United net - but the official ruled that ball had gone out before Devlin pulled it back. Giggsy remonstrated with the ref and rightly so, as from where I was sitting, about 20 yards away and looking straight at the end line, the ball most certainly didn't seem out of play.
On 27 minutes Timmy Grant created another scoring opportunity with a great right wing cross but there was no one far enough up the park to get on the end of it.
In the second half and after that Stephen Hughes goal, Warrenpoint set about defending their lead.
Midfielders Liam Bagnall and Shaun Parr tackled like the proverbial tanks while John Boyle marshalled his defence superbly. Stephen Moan had come into the Point rearguard to play in an unaccustomed sweeper role and he did a grand job there with full backs Darren King and Mark Hughes also rock-solid.
Still, even apart from his match-winning goal, Stephen Hughes was a class apart and every time he got the ball he put the home defence under the cosh.
Meanwhile as time (and victory) slipped away, an increasingly desperate Ballymena side threw everything at the Town defence, including a series of corner-kicks that should have been really dangerous with their fistful of giants dwarfing their much smaller opponents. Yet in truth the Town never at any stage appeared unduly ruffled and were resolute and strong to the final whistle.
However, Warrenpoint will need that dogged temperament and they will also need to produce another courageous backs-to-the-wall display as they face Premiership leaders Portadown at Stangmore Park, Dungannon this Saturday with a 3pm kick-off.
Warrenpoint Town: Johnny Parr, Darren King, Mark Hughes, Stephen Moan, John Boyle, Liam Bagnall, Shaun Parr, Timmy Grant, Ruairi Devlin, Daniel Hughes, and Stephen McCabe with subs: Stephen Hughes (half-time for Grant), Paudie Smith (for Devlin: 65 minutes), Marty Havern (for D Hughes: 76 minutes).
Ballymena United: D Nelson, T Kane, M McCullagh, J Taylor, M Ruddy, A Steward, G Thompson, A Jenkins, D Cushley, G Liggett and A Taggart with subs: S Dolan, M McLellan and A Davidson.
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