Gareth Kane’s second half equaliser earned Ardee Celtic a hard fought 1-1 draw with Johnstown FC at the MDL Grounds in Navan – putting the Ardee men clear at the top of the North East Football League Division One.
Heading into the game, Celtic knew that a win would edge them ever closer to securing automatic promotion to the top tier for next year. After going behind after 30 minutes of play, Kane’s seventh goal of the campaign meant they came away with a point at least.
But with Black Bull and OMP United to finish the season, there is little doubt the ‘Font’ will see this as an opportunity missed.
The clash brought to an end a busy week for the Meath men. They went down 2-4 to Athboy Celtic on Tuesday and marooned in mid table with just two games to play, the visitors arrived at the MDL Grounds hoping their opponents wouldn’t offer up too much much resistance in the next challenge to their title tilt. It didn’t prove to be the case.
The teams met as recently as two months ago. Then, Ardee Celtic raced into a 3-0 lead before Johnstown roared back. Robbie McNeice’s goal proved the winner in a 4-3 victory. The previous two encounters between the teams saw 15 goals between them but they all count – and here, Celtic would take any sort of win to put them clear at the top of he table with just two games left in the league season.
In their attempt to go clear at the top of the division, the visitors started the better. Eddie Burke had their best opening when he ran through on goal but after a heavy first touch the ball got away from midfielder and Dylan Byrne gathered.
Celtic were denied the chance to take the lead when captain Lorcan Myles was brought down in the area by Johnstone’s full-back but referee Fullam waved play on. Despite calls in unison from the away team for the award, the official was unmoved. Celtic felt harshly done by.
They were really feeling it just moments later when the hosts took the lead. A superb strike from Arnold Luco left Declan Butler beaten and Celtic’s chance to put another three points on the board in the balance. The goal didn’t deter the Deesiders who continued to press for the remainder of the half. Just prior to the whistle, Gareth Kane latched onto Graham Tighe’s ball over the top of the Johnstown rearguard but he blazed over meaning Ruksenas’ goal was enough to send them in at the break with a one goal deficit to make up.
After the restart, the visitors again saw plenty of the ball but rather than work the ball into dangerous areas they were adopting a shoot-on-sight policy, perhaps a indication of panic given the need for a precious equaliser and vital points.
The coaching trio of Conor Lynch, Niall Taaffe and Paul Lumsden went three at the back with 15 minutes to play and that move paid almost instant dividends. A ball forward from the back skimmed off a Johnstown defender’s head an fell kindly for Kane.
The teenager showed composure and poise in the area before striking the ball past the keeper for 1-1. Substitute Reynolds went close soon after entering the fray but his shot was easily saved by the Johnstown stopper Byrne. Midfielder Paul Carrie was shown a second yellow card and then red right at full time and that was that as far as the Friday night action was concerned.
Ardee Celtic now sit a point clear of OMP at the league’s summit, having played a game more. Enfield Celtic and Black Bull remain in the promotion race too. It’s going to be tight.
ARDEE CELTIC: Declan Butler, Graham Tighe, Fintan Clarke, Kenneth Thornton (Niall Eccles, 75), Robbie Reynolds, Paul Carrie, Mikey Nulty, Paul Matondo, Eddie Burke (Robert Taaffe, 56), Gareth Kane (Stuart Osbourne 90), Lorcan Myles (Stuart Reynolds, 83).
Subs Not Used: Lorcan Malone, Niall Taaffe.
Additional reporting by Adrian Taaffe.