Just one point separates the top four clubs in the NEFL O’Neill’s Sportswear Division One after Ardee Celtic held out for a 1-1 draw with title rivals OMP United at Townparks this afternoon.
That was despite playing an entire half with just 10 men after the dismissal of James ‘Mario’ McMullen by referee Charlie Pierce just before the break. The striker – who had just returned from a long injury layoff – saw his first start for the club since last May cut short after being shown a straight red card by the official.
No sooner was he back in the dressing room, Robbie Reynolds struck from the penalty spot to send Ardee Celtic in front. OMP’s second half equaliser was just deserts for their efforts – but Ardee Celtic’s weren’t overrun in the second half. Their performance betrayed that of a side who were a man down against one of the league’s leading lights.
Going into the game, Ardee Celtic and their visitors had only lost one league game each this season – and so that remains. Along with Enfield Celtic and Black Bull, they look set to contest one of the most closly contested title races in memory.
The first half of this game – or the first 40 minutes, at least – wasn’t particularly memorable. There was an indication of the niggle that would provide a running theme throughout as early as the third minute. Graham Hill and Eddie Burke contested a ball in midfield with Burke left floored and needing treatment before he could resume.
There was more 20 minutes in. A tidy move saw Robert McNeice, deployed at centre back today, find Jackie Agnew. The striker laid the ball into McMullen’s path. From the right, he delivered a dangerous cross that OMP goalkeeper David Nolan just beat Agnew to reaching. The striker was well within his rights to make for the ball, but the goalkeeper disagreed.
The players clashed, briefly, but Pierce saw the incident worthy of no more than a talking to. Before that, OMP had struck the woodwork. From Andrew Kearney’s left wing cross, Stephen Casey saw his header skim the crossbar.
On the half hour, the home team went close themselves. Daire Corcoran was guilty of barging into the back of McMullen and the returning striker got up to hit a well hit free kick from 20 yards. It beat the wall and was on target but was central and Nolan could tip over.
Five minutes before the break, McMullen was again in the thick of the action. OMP midfielder Craig Dixon, who impressed throughout, went down claiming a clash with the Celtic striker. Despite lengthy protestations, Pierce wasn’t convinced.
It proved only a brief stay of execution for McMullen. Five minutes later, he saw straight red after defender Joseph Garvey was left on the deck. Cries from the home support suggested the forward had been harshly treated – and they felt their view vindicated minutes later when Ardee Celtic were awarded a penalty.
DEAD BALL DYNAMO
Reynolds is now the outright top league goalscorer for Ardee Celtic with six goals this season – five of which have come from the penalty spot. The other was a free kick against Square United.
A ball from the right was flicked on inside the area by Burke and on it’s way it hit an OMP hand. Whether it was a case of levelling things up, as home fans claimed, or not – it looked a correct decision. Robbie Reynolds fired his effort from 12 yards low to Nolan’s right.
Within a minute of the restart, Dixon smacked a long range shot off the junction of post and bar but despite their numerical advantage, the visitors weren’t creating a whole lot. They were up against the league’s best defence. McMullen’s dismissal meant Celtic went from a 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1 and not much changed from their perspective.
Infact, Lorcan Myles, Eddie Burke and Mikey Nulty showed no reluctance to get higher up the pitch in support of the now lone frontman Agnew.
OMP’s first real chance to equalise came in the 68th minute. Kearney curled a superb right foot effort from the edge of the area that was curling inside the post but Declan Butler was on hand to preserve the lead. He could do nothing five minutes later.
Kearney broke the Celtic left and he managed to squeeze the ball across to Gavin Boyle. Sub Gareth Kane had diligently tracked Boyle all the way into the area but in trying to block the OMP man’s effort, only could deflect the ball agonisingly into the corner of the net.
Kane netted two from the bench in last week’s 5-0 win over Navan Town and was a threat again today. He narrowly headed over shortly before the visitors’ goal and his dribbling caused problems for OMP as the home side looked to stretch their opponents late on.
As the game neared its end, Ardee Celtic did the majority of the pressing with United seemingly happy with their point. Their endeavour couldn’t bring any further chances. With seven games to play, this was Ardee Celtic’s penultimate home game of the season. Promotion will have to be won on the road.
ARDEE CELTIC: Declan Butler, Graham Tighe, Fintan Clarke, Robert McNeice, Robbie Reynolds, Lorcan Myles (C) (Andrew Hurley), Paul Carrie, Mikey Nulty, Eddie Burke (Gareth Kane), Jackie Agnew (Darren McMullen) , James McMullen.