IT was not a case of tiger tiger burning bright in the forests of the night, but Dungannon Tigers were snuffed out as the Crusaders staged a great comeback to win 2-1 in the opening Division 1 fixture of the season.
Manager Stephen McArdle started the match with Ruairi Feeney playing out wide on the right side, in a change from his usual striker’s role, mirrored on the left by his cousin Mark, with Ryan McDowell and Michael Cunningham playing up front.
Returnee Sean Montgomery resumed his role at left back with the rest of the defence made up by team captain Kieran McCourt, Stephen O’Hare and Seany McAlinden. The midfield consisted of Richie Gartland and Scott Greenaway. Nets were kept as ever by Martin Savage.
Dungannon Tigers set their stall out early on this warm afternoon as they broke straight from the kick off forcing Savage to turn the ball round the post for a corner which was easily defended by Gilford. The boys quickly found their stride and started pressing forward in attack with some great runs down the right as Ruairi Feeney started enjoying his new role.
Crusaders first clear cut chance came in 12 minutes when McDowell received the ball wide right at the opposition penalty box. He cut the ball back in for Ruairi Feeney to float the ball over Dungannon’s defence for Stephen O’Hare to head just over the bar.
Two minutes later Ryan McDowell’s fierce low drive from the edge of the box seemed net bound before ricocheting off the back post before being hit out for a corner. It was the Tigers’ turn next, as they broke free and attempted to lob the Gilford keeper with the ball sailing over the bar.
On 22 minutes Dungannon won a free kick 25 yards out with the thunderous drive being touched over the bar by Savage. From the resulting corner Dungannon took the lead when three Gilford men got in each other’s way, allowing the opposition player to sneak in and head pat the goalkeeper.
This seemed to take the wind out of Gilford’s sails somewhat and they struggled to get back to playing as they had before falling behind. Passes just didn’t find their intended as neither team failed to create any more chances this half. Down but, by no means out the Gilford boys welcomed the half time whistle in the growing heat.
Things were about to get hotter as McArdle roasted his players during his half time team talk. Urging his players to remain calm and play the game to the best of their abilities he sent them back out determined to seize the game by its scruff.
Crusaders did just that within three minutes of the restart when Gartland volleyed home from McDowell’s perfectly weighted corner. Gilford were back in the game and back on top as they relentlessly pushed forward looking to take all the points from the match.
The two Feeney’s then switched wings and continued to torment the Dungannon defence with probing runs, as the midfield won every ball and set them loose with precision passes. Ten minutes after the match was levelled Ruairi Feeney broke inside from the left to link up with Mark Feeney out on the right. Mark’s stunning drive beat the Tiger’s goalkeeper all ends up to give Gilford a 2-1 lead.
Gartland had a chance to put the match out of reach on the hour only to see his effort go wide. From here on in it was Gilford who dominated the game with Dungannon unable to penetrate the defences. Few clear chances were created by either team until the 82nd minute when Ruairi Feeney, again, saw a great chance fly wide of the mark.
As the minutes counted down to the final whistle, Donaghy and Finnegan replaced Mark Feeney and Seany McAlinden respectively. The match then played out with no more chances being created. Within three minutes of a very tired Mick Cunningham being substituted the referee brought this hard fought and enthralling match to a close.
So, a great result for Gilford Crusaders and three points in the bag. The next fixture is a home match against Hill Street on Tuesday August 14 at 6.30pm.
Team: Martin Savage, Sean McAlinden, Sean Montgomery, Kieran McCourt, Stephen O’Hare, Scott Greenaway, Richie Gartland, Michael Cunningham, Ruairi Feeney, Ryan McDowell, Mark Feeney. Substitutes: Mark Toner, Conor Magee (Cunningham 87), Stephen Donaghy (M Feeney 74), Paddy Finnegan (McAlinden 85).
Man Of The Match - R. Feeney