ONE goal proved enough in the end to see Lurgan Celtic reach the semi-final of the Mid-Ulster Cup after an exciting tie at Loughgall.
The Hoops were missing no fewer than five regulars but they signalled their intentions by going on the attack from the first whistle and Brendan Mackin had a shot saved within the first few minutes while McCabe picked out Mackin who headed on to Fitzpatrick and the striker shot narrowly wide.
Fitzpatrick then sent Toland on a run but the ball ran out as he took on the defence down the right and Loughgall simply couldn’t play their way into the game in this opening spell and any attempts to break down the Hoops defence were dealt with by Paul Donegan and Ciaran McEvoy in the centre and McCabe and Conor McAnallen on the flanks.
A feature of the game was not only McCabe’s tackling but his coolness and distribution making good use of the ball and setting up attacks especially when linking up with Toland who was proving a handful for the more experienced Loughall defenders.
Loughgall were awarded a free on the right hand side but the ball was cleared upfield where Fitzpatrick took possession and beat two defenders only to shoot narrowly wide of the post and shortly afterwards Toland had an effort saved.
The only home player who showed any danger was former Portadown player Wesley Boyle who showed glimpses of his class as he made a break but shot well wide of Ciaran Fox’s goal but it was mostly a tale of Celtic attacking with the home side keeping the Hoops at bay.
Towards the end of the first half Toland and Niall Lavery combined to set up Damien McPartland who crossed the ball into the box but it was cleared and the home side broke quickly to be awarded a free kick in a dangerous area but Dale Malone’s low struck shot was well taken at the near post by Fox and the half ended scoreless with Celtic feeling they should have been at least a goal to the good by this stage.
The second half opened up with Celtic taking an even firmer grip on the game and Loughgall couldn’t get going despite the probing of Shane Ferguson who looked their best performer on the day and Boyle but
Celtic were in no mood to concede any ground to their opponents. Fitzpatrick played a great ball to Toland who fed McCabe and his cross was turned away for a corner which found Mackin whose shot was saved at the second attempt. Minutes later Mackin cut into the area and was taken down but the referee waved play on as the Hoops players and supporters claimed a penalty and seconds later O’Hare hit the side netting with an effort.
Toland was then fouled and Loughgall cleared the free kick and at this stage the home side were merely kicking the ball upfield to relieve the pressure on an overworked defence with any attempts at attacking being well marshalled by Celtic’s defenders.
Celtic nearly took the lead after they were awarded a free kick around 20 yards out and Lavery’s fine effort clipped the top of the crossbar with the keeper beaten.
Fitzpatrick was then played into the penalty area and it looked like he was shoved off the ball but again the penalty appeals were ignored by the official and it looked like extra-time was on the cards.
The Hoops then struck the decisive goal. Toland took possession on the right side and moved in on goal with a Loughgall defender climbing all over him and again the referee ignored calls for a penalty but the ball broke free and Fitzpatrick lurking in the box smashed an unstoppable shot into the net scoring what would prove to be the only goal of the game in the 80th minute.
Loughgall tried to salvage something from the game but it was the Hoops who came closer to scoring with efforts from Mackin Lavery and McPartland being saved prior to the final whistle.
This week The Hoops have travel to league leaders Knockbreda and will be further weakened with two more players out but Daniel Ryan should be back from his travels with the NI Regional side although the side will be missing four regulars through suspension, however they have shown the ability to play through adversity and the stage is set for the last push for promotion with no fewer than six teams in the battle for the two places.