Good comeback but sluggish start proves costly in the end

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Lurgan Celtic took on Queens at the Dub for their first league outing since 11th January after a spate of cancellations due to the weather and cup competitions had left them kicking their heels.

The last time Celtic were there in early December they went down to a crushing defeat in the Irish Cup and with the home side due to play Bangor next week in the quarter final the Queens players were playing for their place in the starting line up after last weeks shock exit from the Intermediate Cup at the hands of Ballymoney.

The home side were first out of the blocks taking the play to Celtic who looked sluggish and the Hoops were on the back foot against a strong wind.

Queens took the lead on 12 minutes after a shot was blocked but the ball was deflected off a Celtic foot and fell to Mark Prenter who slotted home.

The home team kept up the pressure and were gifted by a soft goal after they took a throw in which went right across the six yard area and with keeper Ciaran Fox failing to cut out the ball it was back heeled back in for Prenter to scoreagain.

Queens missed at least two other chances to extend the lead and on several occasions Shane McCabe made telling interceptions and tackles to thwart the students.

As the game progressed towards half time the Hoops were awarded a free kick and Dale Malone sent in a great delivery which Niall Lavery got his head to but could not get a good direction on and the keeper saved it.

Just as it looked like Celtic had weathered the storm they conceded another goal on 42 minutes when Fox threw the ball to Conor McAnallen but he conceded a free out on the right and while a few Celtic players started to remonstrate with the referee Queens took the kick quickly and the ball was crossed in for James Lavery to head home.

Whatever manager Colin Malone must have said at half time had the desired effect as Celtic came out for the second period a different team closing down the home side and dominating midfield.

Lavery sent a 40 yard pass to Malone and he cut in past two players to unleash a fierce drive but it was too close to the keeper and he took the ball chest high and seconds later Conor Hagan got in a header from a corner but could not get enough power to beat Brown in the students goal.

The Hoops kept a firm grip on the game as they pressed Queens back at every opportunity and the back line of Declan McVeigh Jonny Montgomery McCabe and McAnallen looked a totally different proposition to what they had been in the first and the students who had looked so assured in the opening half started kicking the ball anywhere to clear their lines.

Malone then had a free kick go inches over the bar as Celtic and Lavery was unlucky to see a cross shot go inches wide with the keeper well beaten.

Michael Toland then replaced a tiring Hagan as Celtic chased the elusive goal they deserved and it finally arrived on 80 minutes after a ball was played towards the home defence who failed to connect with it and Conor Forker lobbed the out rushing Brown with a well placed effort making the score 3-1 .

A Lavery free then found Raymond Fitzpatrick’s head which the keeper saved but the Hoops were not to be denied and with five to go Fitzpatrick headed towards Forker who played a neat flick towards Toland who cracked in a beauty to leave the score at 3-2.

The Hoops were not finished and Lavery was unlucky with an effort which took a deflection on its way towards goal but the keeper got enough of a touch on the ball to turn it away and from the resulting corner Fitzpatrick headed narrowly wide with the referee calling time shortly afterwards.

After the passive performance of the first half it turned out to be a close run thing with Queens probably deserving the points.

The McLean’s sponsored Celtic Man of the Match was awarded to Shane McCabe who had a very consistent 90 minutes. Celtic entertain Moyola Park at Knockramer on Saturday at 3.00pm.