LURGAN Celtic dropped three vital points last Saturday as they lost out to Armagh City in a game in which they never really got going in.
This was a disappointing display by The Hoops, falling well below the standard they have set themselves this season and as a result of the defeat they have slipped to third place.
The team was the same which started last week with a similar bench and the game was played in bitterly cold weather with a low bright sun shining into the Hoops players faces in the first half and this was to have a bearing on the goal that won the game. After just three minutes City forced a corner on the right and when the inswinger was sent in Celtic keeper Ciaran Fox looked to have it covered but he seemed to be blinded by the strong sunlight and the ball fell out of his hands and was scrambled into the net by Cusack to give City the lead.
Shortly afterwards Armagh broke through but Fox made a timely save and then The Hoops were awarded a free kick which Niall Lavery fired straight at the keeper. Both sides spurned chances and halfway through the opening half it was apparent the Celtic midfield was misfiring resulting in the ball coming straight back at the defence every time it was cleared putting the back four under sustained pressure. The home side played long balls down the flanks and Declan McVeigh and Jonny McAreavey had their work cut out in stemming the tide.
With little service to the front men Celtic didn’t create a lot of chances although Aaron Haire made a good run down the left, when he played the ball across goal no-one was on hand to take advantage. Striker Raymond Fitzpatrick, who was starting to get the better of the central defenders, went down after being caught in the back and although he resumed he went down again as the free kick was played into the box and after failing to respond to treatment was substituted with Brendan Mackin coming on to midfield and Haire going up front to partner Daniel Ryan.
Just prior to the break Celtic had the home defence in a tangle and the ball was scrambled away for a corner and the half ended with Armagh getting a corner which was well dealt with by the Hoops defenders.
Celtic started the second half in a bid to draw level and forced two quick corners with Mackin heading too close to the keeper and Ryan forced a save with a snap shot. Armagh then broke down the left and when McGerrigan went down in the penalty area he was given a yellow for diving and as he had previously been booked was sent off leaving the home side with 10 men.
The Hoops had a sustained spell of pressure but there was a lack of conviction in their play although they came close to the equaliser on several occasions as they tried to take advantage of the extra man but City held out.
Halfway through the second period Armagh broke down the right and when the ball was in the area McVeigh pushed a City attacker and the referee awarded a penalty, booked the Celtic defender and he was sent off as he had previously been given a yellow. Fox dived low to his right to make a stunning save from a well hit penalty touching the ball unto the bar and the defence cleared the ball away.
Mackin then went on a trademark surging run deep into the Armagh half and was brought down but the resultant free was cleared and shortly afterwards Haire had an effort cleared off the line and Celtic just got the feeling it wasn’t going to be the Hoops day.
Worse was to follow when a foul was given against Paul Donegan near the half way line and he had words with the linesman and was given a straight red card leaving the Hoops with just nine players. This gave Armagh hope but they didn’t fashion any goal worthy chances and Conor McAnallen, who never looked comfortable in the midfield role, made way for Conor McKavanagh with Celtic finishing the game still pressing for the equaliser.
Celtic’s next match is an Irish Cup tie against Championship 1 side Carrick Rangers at Knockramer Park this Saturday with an earlier kick off of 1.30pm to facilitate extra time and penalties. This is followed by a crunch game against Knockbreda on Saturday, December 15th also at Knockramer due to both clubs receiving byes in the Intermediate Cup.
The two sendings off last week mean McVeigh will miss the game against Carrick Rangers in the Irish Cup but Donegan, who isn’t eligible to play in it, automatically misses the Knockbreda game and will probably get two further games and as he can’t play in the Radcliffe Cup final it could be January 12th before he is able to play again.
With a small squad Celtic can ill afford to be without any players at this crucial stage of the season so hopefully Steven Boyd and Stefan Campbell will be available after injury to step in, but there is still a worry over striker Fitzpatrick who was injured last Saturday. The coming weeks will be a make or break for Celtic’s ambitions.