Narrow win moves Celtic level at top

Lurgan Celtic's Nial Lavery is brought down for what appeared to be a certain penalty. INLM48-718.
Lurgan Celtic's Nial Lavery is brought down for what appeared to be a certain penalty. INLM48-718.

LURGAN Celtic secured another three points on Saturday and are now level with Knockbreda at the top of Championship 2 but the Belfast side have a massive goal difference of 15 over the Hoops.

After last weeks disappointment of having their game called off late because of glass on the pitch the players were keen to get back into action and the side were on the usual lines with Conor McAnallen in midfield and Brendan Mackin on the bench the only significant switch.

The game was played under cold and grey conditions with the pitch very tacky after a heavy overnight frost, but both sides started off very brightly and in an early exchange Aaron Haire shot over before Paul Donegen intercepted a Queens attack to feed Haire who cut in and saw his effort saved by the Queens’ keeper.

The visitors then looked dangerous in a quick move upfield but Declan McVeigh calmly headed back to Ciaran Fox in the Hoops goal to ease any pressure. Celtic moved up the right with some good interplay resulting in the ball being quickly switched over the full width of the pitch where Haire gained possession and ran down the left before checking back and delivering a deep searching right footed cross into the penalty box finding Raymond Fitzpatrick who rose in front of the defence to glide a brilliant header into the net putting Celtic a goal up.

Niall Lavery then broke through but saw his left footed effort go wide and the Hoops applied the pressure with several shots being charged down before they reached the goalmouth. The visitors were looking menacing in their attempts to gain a foothold in the game and the two front men looked dangerous keeping the defence on their toes. By this stage the match was very even with some fine passages of play from both sides lighting up the dark afternoon. Lavery passed to Haire who hit a stunning long range shot which the Queens keeper spilled but held at the second attempt with no one following up and the visitors broke down field in a sweeping move where Prenter cut through the Hoops defence shot but the ever alert Fox made a stunning save with his foot to save the day.

There were quite a few good individual battles around the field with Celtic Jonny McAreavey showing up well when Queens came down the right hand side and Shannon Drainey and Donegan patrolling the middle very diligently to keep the forwards at bay while up front Fitzpatrick was winning a lot of high ball and Haire’s strong running had the defence under pressure.

The second half saw Queens in a more determined mood as they took control of midfield but Celtic still looked dangerous when they counter attacked and should have increased the lead when Daniel Ryan burst down the left and sent in a low cross which flew wide with the goal gaping. Shortly after this Queens went on the rampage with Celtic’s defence coming under pressure and a long range shot by James Lavery beat Fox low to the left but hit the post and was cleared, a lucky let off for the Hoops. Ryan then made way for Brendan Mackin in a straight swap and Celtic had another good effort when McAnallen fed Fitzpatrick who played across goal but no one was on hand to take advantage. Queens then gained a few corners and a free kick but the Hoops held firm and when a dangerous corner came over Fox rose above everyone to take confidently and quell the danger.

The referee played over five minutes injury time but neither side could make the breakthrough and despite having the better of exchanges in the second half the only shot on target Queens had was the effort that hit the post. All things considered Queens will feel unlucky not to take home a point but this was a good win for Celtic against the fourth placed team.

The Hoops next league game is away to third placed Armagh City on Saturday and fans please note the game has a 3.00pm at Holm Park.

Celtic’s game on the 8th of December in the Irish Cup sees them drawn at home to Championship 1 side Carrick Rangers managed by former Northern Ireland International Michael Hughes and fingers crossed the Hoops can get through this to put themselves in line for a tie against one of the big Premier League clubs.