LURGAN 2 ARDS 1
LURGAN opened their Premier League campaign with a hard fought but deserved victory against a determined Ards side at the Junior High School on Saturday.
Both teams were keen to get off to a good start to the season as both will be pushing for I.H.L. places by the end of it and it was Ards who made the more positive start.
They pushed forward from the whistle, pegging Lurgan back in their own half, probing for opportunities on the edge of the Lurgan circle and not allowing the home side any time on the ball to relieve the situation.
Lurgan defended stubbornly and kept the Ards attackers at bay gradually freeing themselves from the stranglehold they were in and creating a few opportunities for themselves. Indeed, they managed to engineer three penalty corners for themselves in the opening 15 minutes, against the run of play, all of which were well defended by the visiting team.
The deadlock was broken on 20 minutes with a piece of quality play which got the finish it deserved. Superb link up play involving Serena Barr, Sarah McClure and Penny Joyce found the latter on the edge of the Ards circle and she squared a beautiful pass to Lucy McKee on the penalty spot to draw and side-step the keeper before sweeping the ball home to give Lurgan the lead.
Ards retaliated and won a penalty corner of their own from their very next attack but Chloe McCann averted the danger with a superb run out and block to prevent a strike on the home goal.
Lurgan were hugely unlucky not to increase their lead three minutes later when a Lucy McKee shot thundered off a post and bounced to safety. Another Lurgan penalty corner just before half-time was scrambled clear by the Ards backline.
With the second half only three minutes old Lucy McKee was certain she had scored with a fierce goal-bound shot but the Ards keeper dived to her left and pulled off a tremendous save to get a glove to the ball and tip it over the bar.
Two minutes later Ards equalised and there was a degree of good fortune about their goal. A strike from an Ards penalty corner saw the ball loop in the air and as it bounced the spin on it caused it to hop over the defenders stick and creep into the net just inside the post.
A bitter blow for Lurgan who should have been a couple of goals to the good by this stage and looked to be heading for a comfortable victory.
The Ards keeper was in tremendous form and pulled off two more superb saves to deny the home side from restoring their lead.
Lurgan have been working on varying their penalty corner moves and it paid off on the hour mark when a practised set up involving Sarah McClure and Hannah Grieve created a slap in opportunity for Lucy McKee at the far post to put Lurgan back in front.
Lurgan pressed forward to increase their lead and only amazing saves by the Ards keeper prevented Lucy McKee on three further occasions from registering her second hat-trick of the season.
Lurgan were looking comfortably in control but some physical Ards challenges and a couple of harsh cards for Lurgan players made for a nervous finish but the home side held on for a well deserved win.
On Saturday Lurgan travel to neighbours Portadown for the first Premier League encounter between these local rivals.