Square United were denied a first home win and first clean sheet of the NEFL Division One campaign by a second half Johnstown equaliser at the Boys School Field on Sunday – but the Ardee side will take a point which edges them closer to safety.
Evan Farrell’s first half header gave Square a deserved lead but Arnold Ruksenas was on hand to earn the Meath men a share of the spoils with a 73rd minute lob that left Square stopper Vincent Clinton beaten.
Relegation rivals Woodview Celtic and Kentstown Rovers both lost over the weekend and with neither Trim Town or Torro United in action, Square now sit eighth with 15 points – two places and one point above the bottom three.
The Ardee men were missing several key players on Sunday – none of Andy Rogers, Jonny Sheridan, Andrew Egan, Derek Minogue, Brian Corcoran, Martin Duffy or Emmett Farrell were involved. Goalscorer Farrell, Benny Curtis, Jamie McKenny and Dermot Caraher were among the starters.
The first sight of goal came Johnstown’s way via a Square man. Jamie Rooney got his head to a Johnstown free kick and Clinton had to be alert to tip the ball over the bar. The home side defended a series of corners well before Kuskenas took aim for the visitors.
McKenny was United’s most dangerous outlet down the right wing in the first 30 minutes. His skill and seering pace was causing the opposition defence a whole host of problems. He almost played in Farrell with a through ball but his outing was a short one. Struggling with illness, he withdrew before half time.
Clinton tipped a Johnstown free-kick around the post shortly after but Square, who had yet to force goalkeeper Dylan Byrne into a save, were in front five minutes before the interval. Kian Moran swung in a corner from the right and Farrell escaped his marker to plant a firm header past Byrne and into the net.
On the stroke of half-time, Clinton again had to be on his toes to deny Mark Grumley again from a free kick. Square had yet to win a game on home soil in 2016/17 nor had the senior side kept a clean sheet in the league this year so the incentive to do so in the second half was high. The three points would have elevated them even further clear of the battle at the bottom.
The second half was like the first – relatively even – with Square having ample opportunity to go even further ahead as Johnstown looked to work their way back into it. Clinton was out quickly to block after Arron Mooney latched onto Dylan Bolard’s cross.
After Kelly fired narrowly wide and Curtis saw his free kick hit the wall, Mooney failed to connect well with his ranger from the edge of the area. Curtis was soon off after suffering a bad looking knee injury. Like McKenny’s withdrawal, it was a loss for Square as Curtis had been an effective shield in front of the back four to that point.
Minutes after Jamie Rooney’s free kick was headed on by Farrell and Moran blazed over, the men from Navan were level. Ruksenas lobbed Clinton after Square failed to deal with a ball over the top of the defence. The goalkeeper raced out but the Pole striker provided a composed finish to guide the ball into the empty net.
As the game neared it’s end, Square had little more than half chances and off-target sighters from range. Farrell was holding the ball up well and winning headers, even late on, but United were feeding off scraps. The hosts were unhappy too when referee Andy McNamara waved away claims that Byrne handled the ball outside of his area. It was Johnstown who went closest near the end.
Ger Lynch’s shot was deflected over and four minutes into injury time his knock down was met by Justin Flynn but the winger couldn’t keep his shot down and it went over. Adrian Conlon’s men were happy to take a point by the end – just their second point won at the Boys School Field in Ardee all season.
SQUARE UNITED: Vincent Clinton, Darren Henry, Stefan Halpenny, Jamie Rooney, Dermot Caraher, Jamie McKenny (Gary McKenny, 28), Benny Curtis (Mark Rooney, 64), Kian Moran, Chris Kelly (Cian Halpenny, 82), Darren McNeil, Evan Farrell.