TWO free kicks in the last 11 minutes of play from cousins Ruairi and Mark Feeney were the deciding factor which saw Gilford take all three points from this Division 1 fixture against Lurgan Institute.
The mood in the dressing room was positive as manager Stephen McArdle announced the squad, making two changes from last week, with Sean Cunningham starting in place of Mark Feeney and veteran Rony Barry on the Bench. He did, however, retain the 4-3-3 formation which proved so successful in last weeks’ victory.
On a cold, clear day at Woodlands with autumn leaves covering the pitch Gilford were looking to avenge the defeat they suffered at the hands of Lurgan Institute, on the opening day of the season, in The Gerald Kennedy Cup.
Both teams started solidly enough, testing and probing without much success. In the fourth minute Ruairi Feeney received the ball with his back to goal, turned the defender and crossed the ball in. As Gilford appealed for a penalty the referee waved them away.
Two minutes later it was Institute’s turn to put the pressure on as some good play down the left saw them earn a corner. The ball flashed across the goal-mouth before Greenaway cleared the ball forward. Ruairi Feeney, as ever, was making his presence known as he persistently taunted and teased the Lurgan defenders with his skilful footwork. Sadly he was unable to get the final killer ball into the box.
Lurgan kept pressing, winning two corners in quick succession in the 15th minute and forcing Savage into action for the first time in the match as he punched the second one clear. Two minutes later Gilford almost opened their account when Mick Cunningham intercepted a bad clearance from a Lurgan defender and played the ball into the path of Ruairi Feeney who took a touch then fired his shot just past the post.
Ruairi Feeney again came close in the 21st minute when O’Hare beat the offside trap and confidently carried the ball all the way to the opposition penalty box. The resulting first time shot, sadly, sailed over the bar. Feeney almost turned provider two minutes later when he chased the ball down to the goal-ne and fired a terrific ball into the middle where it was just taken off of Gartland’s head as he leapt for it.
Gilford’s persistence final paid off in the 30th minute when Feeney played the ball in from the right. As it broke free Mick Cunningham hit a ferocious shot which took a wicked deflection off of his brother Sean into the back of the net.
Lurgan were down but definitely not out, as they proved five minutes later when they broke down the right and played the ball into the box. The ball was cleared off the line by O’Hare but broke to a Lurgan man on the six yard line who fired home the equaliser.
Disaster struck shortly before half-time when Lurgan played a hopeful high ball into the Gilford half. It took a wicked bounce over the head of McAlinden and McCourt set off to intercept it. McCourt was clearly fouled as he challenged for the ball only to see the referee award a penalty when, off balance he caught the chasing Lurgan forward. Savage, who relishes facing penalties, was helpless as the Lurgan man sent him the wrong way.
At half time they set out to overturn the deficit and get their league season back on track following some dismal away performances. They looked to be getting back on track as they pushed forward. Some great work from Mick Cunningham on the right earned a corner which was swung in by Donaghy to Gartland who saw his header brush past the post. Gilford were definitely the better of the two teams and were at their best as they strung passes together, only some bad finishing prevented them from adding to their tally.
McArdle made the first of two changes in the 59 minute when Mark Feeney replaced Mick Cunningham. Initially it was a straight swap but Feeney was then switched to the left wing following an altercation with a Lurgan player.
With eight minutes left Rony Barry was introduced to take the place of Donaghy who was carrying an injury incurred when he was hit hard in the first half. Greenaway was pushed forward to sit between the midfield and attack as Gilford went all out for the win.
Gilford played themselves right back into the game in the 83rd minute when a finely weighted pass from Mark Feeney saw Ruairi cut a swathe through the middle, as he strode forward he was brought down and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a free kick.
Feeney dusted himself off before hitting a terrific free kick which swung round the defensive wall to bury itself inside the right hand post. 2-2.
The goal energised the Gilford team whilst having the opposite effect on their opponents who now seemed to flag under the constant pressure they were being put under as the minutes ticked away.
The game entered time added on with Gilford looking unwilling to settle for just the one point as they continued to pressure the opposition.
With 94 minutes on the clock Gilford won a free kick just outside the left edge of the Lurgan penalty box. The team flooded forward as Sean Cunningham looked set to float a high ball in to the back post. Mark Feeney, however, had other ideas when calm as you like he curled the ball round the wall into the postage stamp corner to give Gilford a well-deserved lead. Not even a booking for his celebrations could wipe the smile off his face. The referee wasted no time in bringing the match to a close sending the Gilford players and touch-line staff into raptures.
Whilst not the best performance from Gilford this year, the team showed the kind of fighting spirit which typified their performances throughout last season. Seemingly down and out with only 8 minutes to go they dug deep and kept going.
With the Reserves also coming from behind to beat Moneyslane 2-1 this was the first time this season both teams had won on the same day. The next 1st team fixture is away to Ambassadors whilst the Reserves are at home to Banbridge Rangers Swift. Both matches take place Saturday November 3 with the kick off times to be confirmed.