Clinical Rovers Put League Leaders to the Sword.
A bright and early start on the Ballybay Road on Sunday morning saw the home side Carrick Rovers AFC entertain the current NEFL Division 1 table-toppers Athboy Celtic FC.
The early kick-off seemed to suit Rovers as they almost scored inside the opening moments. Kevin Lambe intercepted a wayward pass just inside his own half and raced forward. Cian Matthews was in support as Lambe neared the Athboy area but the fullback dragged his shot wide off the upright when well placed. It was obvious from the early encounters that both sides wanted to keep the ball on the deck and play some very expansive football. The Rovers reflected their current situation with a good blend of youth and experience scattered throughout the squad and it was a combination of both that created Rovers next opportunity in the 8th minute when David Wilson won possession in midfield before drilling a terrific through ball into Dylan Ward’s path on the right wing. Ward gained control before flashing a ball across the area where Wayne Kerley just failed to make a telling connection. It was Rovers in the driving seat at this point and they could have forced the opening score in the 18th minute when Gerard McGeown burst forward towards the Athboy goal but was bundled over 5 yards outside the area in a central position. Kerley and Matthews stood over the ball but the latter’s low drive was brilliantly pushed around the upright by the visiting keeper.
Athboy began to show why they were the early pace setters in this division when they settled into the flow of the game. The Rovers back line of Lorcan Kwan, Barry McNally, Stephen “Titch” Carroll and Matthews, had to be alert at all times as visiting forward unit of Athboy were constantly asking questions of them with their quick and clever movement. This eventually lead to Athboy carving out some decent opportunities and in the 34th minute Rovers were grateful to their keeper, Mickey McDermott as he palmed a stinging long range effort over his crossbar for a corner. From the resulting corner an Athboy player was allowed a free header but Niall Babbington was in the right place to clear the danger. The half somehow ended scoreless even though both sides had shown great adventure going forward.
Half Time: Carrick Rovers AFC 0 Athboy Celtic FC 0.
Rovers failings of not being able to convert a larger proportion of their chances so far this season came back to haunt them within 3 minutes of the restart when the Carrick defence allowed a long punt up field by the Athboy Keeper, to bounce just outside their area and when Carroll and McDermott got into a tangle the ball fell to the Athboy striker with still some work to do. He slipped passed McDermott’s lunge and struck for goal but McNally somehow stretched to clear off the line but the Athboy Number 4 smashed the loose ball to the back of the net. Rovers made a substitution shortly after with Paddy Larney replacing McGeown, who wasn’t his usual industrious self. Before Larney could settle into the game McDermott was called into action again in the 54th minute when he had to get down low to smother a well struck goal-bound effort. The substitution paid off for Rovers however 3 minutes later when Wilson again threaded a ball into Larney’s feet just outside the Athboy area. Larney took control before brilliantly slicing open the Athboy defence with a slide-rule pass into Kerley who made no mistake placing the ball into the bottom corner beyond the Keeper’s dive. Within 5 minutes Larney again was involved as he somehow managed to steer Kerley’s deep cross from a corner kick, in at the Athboy’s near post from an impossible angle, to give Rovers the lead. Rovers shuffled the pack again in the 65th minute when Benny McSkeane replaced Carroll with Wilson slotting back into the backline. Athboy came back at Rovers and forced the home side to concede numerous corner kicks and free-kicks in dangerous positions which the Carrick defence dealt with comfortably. As the game entered its final phase Rovers again utilised its impressive bench by introducing Ciaran Flanagan for Ward in the 74th minute. Again the switch paid off as Flanagan added a delightful third after Kwan and Lambe combined on the Rovers right flank and when Kwan floated an inviting ball into the heart of the Athboy area, Flanagan ghosted in at the far post to slot home a fantastic half volley. Deco Moran came into the action for Kerley with 10 minutes to go, to make his Senior debut for Rovers. Athboy mustn’t have known what had hit them but Rovers weren’t finished as they again pressed the visitors defence. Again Larney was at the heart of things as he picked up a pass from McSkeane just outside the area and weaved and dribbled, tormenting the Athboy defence before rolling a pass into the on-rushing path of Niall Babbington who stroked the ball, low and hard beyond the Keepers reach into the bottom corner to round of a clinical performance from the home team. Robert Berg made a welcome return from injury to make a cameo appearance for Babbington with time running out.
Full Time: Carrick Rovers AFC 4 Athboy Celtic FC 1.
Team: M. McDermott, L. Kwan, B. McNally, S. Carroll, C. Matthews, K. Lambe, D. Wilson, N. Babbinton, G. McGeown, W. Kerley and D.Ward.
Subs Used: P. Larney for McGeown, B. McSkeane for Carroll, C. Flanagan for Ward, D. Moran for Kerley and R. Berg for Babbington.
Unused Subs: Padraig Marron and Liam Og Murray.