Ardee Celtic hit the top of the North East Football League O’Neill’s Sportswear Division One for the first time this season on Sunday – as a depleted Celtic squad edged a seven goal thriller against Johnstown 4-3 at Townparks.
The win moves the Ardee men above rivals Enfield Celtic – who lost at home to Athboy – and OMP, who’s match with Woodview Celtic on Friday was postponed due to a bereavement, in the table. Fourth placed Black Bull’s away match to Square fell foul of Sunday’s bad weather.
Regardless of their rivals various woes and postponements, Ardee Celtic themselves had a job to do and a brace from Lorcan Myles was added to by Eddie Burke and Robert McNeice as they edged past a dangerous Johnstown, themselves still in with a chance of promotion to the Premier Division comes the season end.
The good surface at Townparks meant there was no chance of this game being called off late in the day. Amidst heavy downpours and swirling winds out on the bog, the home side hit the front within 10 minutes. Lorcan Myles finished well with a low right foot shot across the static visiting keeper after running onto a forward ball from McNeice.
McNeice joined Myles up front for Celtic, having slotted in at centre back in last week’s draw with OMP. The versatile left footer has also played at left back, left wing and in central midfield this season and his adaptability this term has proved a godsend to management duo Niall Taaffe and Conor Lynch.
The makeshift striker was unlucky not to go in at the break with a brace to his name. The Johnstown netminder saved twice from McNeice – pushing two shots wide of his goal – and made other crucial interventions as Ardee Celtic dominated. Ever-present Mikey Nulty impressed alongside the returning Paul Matondo in the middle.
That’s not to say Johnstown didn’t have chances of their own and Celtic had the woodwork to thank for the retention of their 1-0 advantage. Shortly before the break, that lead was doubled. The unmarked Burke met a corner at the back post and headed in his first goal of the season.
Whilst content with a 2-0 half-time lead, the home side were dealt a serious blow at the break when they lost goalkeeper Declan Butler to injury. An ever-present throughout the season to-date, his withdrawal meant centre back Kenneth Thornton had to don the gloves for the second 45 minutes. Niall Conlon also replaced Gareth Kane.
Those weren’t the only changes – after a torrential downpour in the first half – Ardee Celtic emerged for the second in a new kit. While Manchester United famously swapped grey for blue-and-white, this was blue for blue – a change only brought about after a first half drenching.
Lorcan Myles scored his second of the game and seventh of the season to extend Ardee Celtic’s lead further shortly after the resumption. From close range, he finished smartly for 3-0 after the Meath men failed to deal with a corner. However, the game was far from over. With uncertainty in the ranks after a change between the posts, Ardee were guilty of failing to clear their lines. From 3-0 down, Johnstown roared back with two goals to trail by the narrowest of margins.
Their hopes were seemingly soon extinguished however when McNeice was finally rewarded with a deserved goal. While he couldn’t find the net operating as a striker, he scored from two yards out after Burke had squared a spilled free-kick back into the six-yard box. By then, he had reverted back to left full.
In a hectic finish, Johnstown had the ball in the net twice – one counted, one was ruled out for offside.
All season, Ardee Celtic have been playing catch-up with their rivals in terms of games played meaning that while they were always within touching distance, the league summit eluded them. Until now. Six games remain, all of them away from home. The first of those is a short trip face Square United in town next Sunday.
ARDEE CELTIC: Declan Butler (Stuart Osbourne), Graham Tighe, Kenneth Thornton, Fintan Clarke, Robbie Reynolds, Gareth Kane (Niall Conlon), Mikey Nulty, Paul Matondo, Eddie Burke (Shawni Dowdall), Lorcan Myles (Aaon Roche), Robbie McNeice.
ELSEWHERE THIS WEEKEND
Square United’s home game against Black Bull was called off on Sunday after heavy rain left the pitch at the Boys School Field unplayable. During the week, the league confirmed Square were awarded the three points from their recent league match with Athboy which saw the Meath outfit fail to turn up on the day.
On Saturday, Ardee Celtic’s second string beat their Square United reserve counterparts 4-0 to progress in the Gerry Reilly Memorial Cup. The holders had goals from Dave Sharkey, Jackie Agnew, Conor Osbourne and Conor McGill to thank for the comprehensive win.
On the same day, Ardee Celtic’s thirds beat BJD FC 6-1 to stay within three points of the top of the Premier Reserve table.
Thanks to Ardee Celtic Media Officer Padraig Wright for additional reporting.