TWO goals from Niall Lavery helped ten man Lurgan Celtic see off a stubborn Glebe Rangers 2-1 at Knockramer Park on Saturday.
The Hoops were knocked back before the game by the news striker Raymond Fitzpatrick was injured playing gaelic on the Friday evening and is out for the remaining games this season and were also missing defender Ciaran McEvoy who was unavailable.
Returning from injury was Dee McPartland who slotted in at left back with Ryan Lawless in midfield and Daniel Ryan partnering Aaron Haire up front. Glebe, playing with a wind advantage, took the game to the Hoops from the start pumping high balls at the heart of the defence who found difficulty clearing their lines against the strong wind.
The visitors took the lead on 14 minutes when they sent in a free kick which Ciaran Fox in the Celtic goal turned away for a corner which when delivered caused panic in the Celtic ranks and Rice scored to put Glebe in the driving seat. Haire and Niall Lavery combined for the latter to shoot just wide but for the most part the visitors dominated proceedings with their direct approach to the game.
Celtic made a few inroads at the Glebe defence but mostly it was a tale of visitors pressure and good defending from Paul Donegan (captain for the day) Declan McVeigh, Shannon Drainey and McPartland kept the visitors at bay. On the 25 minute mark came the pivotal moment in the game when Glebe fastened unto poor midfield play by Celtic and broke down the Hoops right and the ball was played in for a forward to shoot. The ball clipped a Celtic defender and somehow Fox changed direction in mid flight to get a hand to the effort and keep it out with McVeigh following up to clear. A superb and timely piece of goalkeeping which had even the away supporters applauding. Shortly after this Glebe put a header wide and then the Hoops started to get to grips with the game as Haire started to cause problems with his ability to hold the ball and bring players into the game but the team looked only a pale shadow of the side that scored 12 goals in the two previous games.
Just prior to the break Haire burst through and looked to have been pushed to ground in the penalty area but the referee waved away appeals for a penalty kick and soon called time on the opening half with the visitors thankfully only a goal to the good.
Celtic started the second period with McCabe taking over from McPartland and Celtic going all out for a goal as they got a free which went close but on 48 minutes they suffered another setback when Conor McAnallen, who was showing good form in midfield, got involved in an altercation with an opposing player and received a straight red card leaving the Hoops to play the last 40 minutes with 10 men and immediately afterwards Glebe hit the Hoops post in another let off.
Despite this setback Celtic suddenly seemed to find another gear and went at the visitors defence with Haire unlucky when he received the ball with his back to goal and tried to turn and shoot but his effort went wide. The breakthrough came when Celtic were awarded a free kick just outside the box and up stepped Lavery to send the ball into the top left hand corner despite the keeper getting a touch and he squared the game to the relief of the home support. Glebe weren’t finished and from a corner Fox saved a goalbound header but the Hoops had the bit between their teeth and were in no mood to let go despite the fact they were a man down. They went all out and Haire, Lavery and Ryan all came close with attempts with Glebe fighting a desperate rearguard action to take something from the game. Brendan Mackin then replaced Lawless and he shot just over after Haire crossed from the right and Lavery was unlucky to see a free just go past the angle of the goal as Hoops pressure was beginning to tell.
Celtic then got a free outside the box which Ryan sent in low and the ball was scrambled away to safety and Michael Toland then replaced Drainey with the Hoops going three at the back in an all out attempt to take the points. A Celtic corner then found Haire who headed narrowly over the bar as time started running out and Ryan burst down the right to send a shot narrowly past the far post with the keeper well beaten. The Hoops threw everything at Glebe who then moved upfield to force a corner which Fox took cleanly to start another attack. Five minutes from time Celtic attacked through the middle and Lavery fastened unto a loose ball, turned a defender and strode several feet before rifling the ball low to the keeper’s left with his putting Celtic 2-1 ahead.
The visitors who had given everything had nothing left in the tank and the Hoops saw the game out to keep the challenge for promotion on track. This was a tremendous victory for the Hoops with the 10 men showing great character and resolve with Lavery’s goals after his midweek hat-trick being vital but every player from the keeper out showed real determination and although not a vintage display from the Hoops they can win ugly when required and this was their seventh win in a row.
The Hoops entertain second placed Armagh City at Knockramer on Saturday 3.00pm in a top of the table clash before finishing off the home league programme with Wakehurst the visitors on Tuesday 30th. April so everything is still up for grabs in Celtic’s bid for promotion.