Hoops take step closer to title with home win

Josh Barton being congratulated by Paul O'Hara on his Man of the Match award against Portstewart.
Josh Barton being congratulated by Paul O'Hara on his Man of the Match award against Portstewart.

Lurgan Celtic are back on top of the table after a home win over Portstewart.

It was vital the Hoops continued in the same style as the previous week against Portstewart who have always given Celtic a tough game home or away over the previous seasons.

Conditions were perfect for the game and Celtic showed their intent almost from the ko when Raymond Fitzpatrick hit a low well struck shot drawing a good stop from Joel Middleton in the visitors goal. Fitzpatrick then sent another effort narrowly wide and on 14 minutes a superb cross from Niall Lavery found Fitzpatrick’s head but the keeper palmed the ball away with Dale Malone forcing another save from a long range shot.

Portstewart looked dangerous when they did go at Celtic and Conor McCorry made a good save after a corner to keep the game scoreless.

By the half hour mark the Hoops were dominating all aspects of the game with Declan McVeigh, Stephen Hutchinson, Jonny McCarron and Adam Rodgers making up a tight back four and Niall Lavery, Josh Barton Malone and Daniel Ryan controlling the midfield with Chris Lavery and Fitzpatrick dangerous in attack keeping the visitors pinned back for long periods but the elusive breakthrough was proving difficult.

Portstewart nearly scored an og when a header back to Middleton was parried by the keeper unto the angle of the goal framework and cleared and by this stage it looked only a matter of time before Celtic would open the scoring.

Portstewart still showed glimpses of danger in sporadic breaks upfield and McCorry had to be alert to claim any through balls coming his way.

In the 35th minute Niall Lavery passed superbly for Ryan whose low cross was cleared for a corner but four minutes later the deadlock was broken after a ball was played into the penalty area and Fitzpatrick despite the attentions of two defenders controlled the ball and rifled home.

Three minutes later the lead was doubled when Chris Lavery took control of the ball and cut in down the left side beating two defenders and from an acute angle chipped home.

After the break it was more of the same with Barton and Niall Lavery running the midfield setting up the attack giving no respite to Portstewart and on 57 minutes Chris Lavery took the ball on the right and left several defenders in his wake as he bore down on goal but just as he was about to let fly the ball took a bobble and his shot went high and over the bar.

Shortly after this Fitzpatrick was unlucky when his header beat the keeper and hit the bar while Ryan made a tremendous run down the right and cut in to blast a drive to the near post which Middleton just cleared away but the pressure eventually told when Barton put a well delivered ball into the heart of the defence and a cushioned header by Ryan found Fitzpatrick who belted the ball home from close range.

Jason Rogers and Aaron Haire then came on for some game time replacing the impressive Niall Lavery and the tiring Chris Lavery.

The change didn’t give Portstewart any breathing as the assault continued with both Malone and Ryan going close .

Celtic are now back on top with three games in hand over second placed Limavady but there are plenty of tricky games ahead starting with Saturday’s top of the table clash at Knockramer with Annagh United who now look like the Hoops’ closest rivals in the race for the title followed by another home game against Newington on Tuesday the 14th at 6.45pm as the league draws to an exciting conclusion.

Special credit to the referee and his assistants who added to a sporting game with a good display of officiating and the McLeans Man of the Match was awarded to Josh Barton whom was superb in midfield

The match ball was sponsored by Conwell Cleaning services. At the game on Saturday there will be a collection for Downs and Proud and no doubt the crowd will be generous in their support of this worthwhile cause.