Tuesday, 29 April 2014
WARRENPOINT Town will play Irish Premier League next season despite losing on Saturday.
Town's first season in the Danske Bank Irish Premier League ended on a dismal note as the Seasiders lost 3-0 to Ballinamallard at Milltown on Saturday afternoon.
Previously this was going to be the season-defining match but with both sides safe in the Premier League for another season, the match became a meaningless fixture.
However, last Tuesday at Milltown a Daniel Hughes goal was enough for Warrenpoint to see off Irish Cup finalists Ballymena United and combined with Bangor's win in Championship One it meant that neither Warrenpoint Town or Ballinamallard would face a relegation play-off regardless of Saturday's result.
On 62 minutes striker Hughes latched onto a great ball by his brother Stephen before racing clear and drilling low into the Ballymena net. And a third brother, Mark also had a hand in the goal.
It was a truly deserving score from Daniel as he had gone close at least three times before finally finding the target.
And manager Barry Gray is delighted to have secured another season in the top flight of Irish football.
It is been a tough year on and off the field, with problems getting Milltown ready and being forced to play most of their games away from home.
“We are delighted that we have started a foundation in the league and it is key that we did that to build and move forward. Now we have that opportunity," said Gray.
“A lot of people gave credit to playing so many games away from home and that was a massive task and had an impact on us but really the big task was making a squad of local inexperienced players and management at this level with a club that has totally no experience at the top level - crossing those bridges to where we are now - that is an evening greater achievement than playing so many games away from home, that's for sure."
“It is fantastic and full credit to the players because they are the guys who week in week out had to absorb a lot of content this year. And the management team had to be driven this year, constantly even when results weren't going our way.
“We had to show that we were making progress in different areas and it isn't always easy to do that all the time and keep players heads focused and keep the squad where it needs to be."
Saturday's defeat at Milltown was a dour battle.
The only thing was that the winner would snap up that 10th spot with the loser finishing second from bottom. Unfortunately that's where the Town finished in the table.
Richard Leckey gave the Mallards an interval lead and in the second half the visitors added two more goals, via a harshly given Jason McCartney penalty kick when Stephen Moan was adjudged to have handled. Yet everyone in the ground, bar the referee, saw the ball strike the young defender's hand and not the other way round.
Also substitute Ryan Campbell ensured there was going to be no way back for the Town as he rounded Jonathan Parr and slotted home the third on 70 minutes.
In truth Warrenpoint didn't deserve to win. True they did create a few scoring opportunities with top marksman Daniel Hughes firing into the side netting in the first half. While early in the second Darren King headed over a Mark Hughes right wing cross and midway through the half substitute Stephen McCabe blasted over with the best chance of the game. And near the end Daniel Hughes was also too high with a 25-yarder.
But games like these are best forgotten.
Warrenpoint manager Barry Gray wasn't too despondent however, as he told the Democrat: "It was a typical end-of-the-season match and it's job done. How we got there is irrelevant."
And he's right. Warrenpoint did enough to stay in the top flight. Also they had some marvellous days and some memorable matches during the 2013-14 season - such as holding the League champions Cliftonville to a 1-1 draw at Solitude and indeed going close to winning that match.
Also the Seasiders recorded a magnificent 2-1 victory over Glentoran in horrendous conditions at the Oval and they held Portadown to a draw at Dungannon.
They were just three of the highlights and they were close to defeating the mighty Linfield at Milltown in a match they led 2-0 with 10 minutes left to play. But the Blues spoiled the party with three late goals and that game rankles as one of Gray's season lows.
“We had plenty of lows as we had days like when we went to Windsor that we were outplayed but a personal low for me would have been the defeat to Linfield at Milltown when we threw away a 2-0 lead. I think the players would highlight that game as one that got away from us," said Gray.
“We had plenty of highs in terms of performances than in terms of results but the 4-0 win over Dungannon was an important result at the crucial end of the season. We had good days even though the results didn't show that. We have worked very hard in training and the things that we have worked on have paid off come the match day."
Gray revealed to the Democrat that he will hold on to his current squad for next season, with the exception of two players who are leaving, they had little game-time this year and he will be bringing in at least an additional seven new players in the close season, but said it was too soon to give names. And he hopes playing more games at home next season will encourage a stronger support-base.
“We hope that we can get settled into Milltown quickly next season, build a decent support, similar to what we had around the Christmas period and I think when we are at home the local support will back the team in what will be another tough season ahead," he said.
“Just because we survived one season doesn't give is a divine right to do that every year. So the same amount of work will be required off the field if not even more."
Warrenpoint Town: Jonathan Parr, Ruairi Devlin, Darren King, Jonathan Cowan, Stephen Moan, Timmy Grant, Shaun Parr, Mark Hughes, Daniel Hughes Stephen Hughes and Martin Havern with subs: John Boyle (Cowan: halftime), Liam Bagnall (for Havern: halftime) and Stephen McCabe (for Grant: 63 mins). Padraig Smith and Gregory McCabe (both not used).
Ballinamallard: F Murphy, D Keohane, M Stafford, D Kee, R Leckey, A Crawford, J McCartney, C Beacom, L Martin, C Hill and L McMenamin with subs: R Campbell, S Feeney, A Rouse, D McManus and J Currie.
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