Ardee Celtic suffered just their second league defeat of the season on Friday evening as Black Bull ran out 3-0 winners to end any Ardee hopes of a First Division title win and seriously dent their promotion hopes in the process.
In Monasterboice, Celtic saw their 10 match unbeaten run in the league come to an end. Two late goals from striker Evan Corlett put the gloss on a scoreline that didn’t truly reflect a game the Ardee men had well been in – and for much of it bossed – before the opener on 76 minutes. Both teams finished with 10 men as tempers frayed late on.
Now, Ardee Celtic travel to the MDL Grounds for their final game of the season against champions OMP knowing a win will guarantee promotion but anything less and they risk finishing outside of the top three altogether. Having been in the mix all season long, all of a sudden it’s all up in the air.
After last weekend’s results, Ardee Cetlic had the best part of a week to prepare for the penultimate game of the league season knowing exactly what they needed to do against Black Bull – win and automatic promotion was theirs.
Top Four at Start of Play
OMP United secured their own automatic promotion to the Premier Division on Wednesday- and the Deesiders were all too aware that keeping up their end of the bargain would mean the 2017/18 would bring top flight football back to Townparks.
The last time the two sides met was back in October when Celtic came out 2-1 winners courtesy of goals from Fintan Clarke and Robbie McNeice – a result that went some way to marking the the Ardee men out as genuine promotion and title contenders.
Six months later – and they’re still here, entering the game on the cusp of a historic promotion. In the early stages, they didn’t appear fazed by the task at hand.
Despite being without Paul Carrie and Gareth Kane through suspension they were able to welcome back striker James McMullen back into the fold and the forward won some early free kicks as the Deesiders started the brighter.
Their first sight of goal came 14 minutes in when after the hosts failed to clear from a Graham Tighe throw-in, Lorcan Myles fired over. Two minutes later, they went even closer. McMullen was fouled on the right. He took the free kick and Robbie McNeice connected with the ball at the near post but steered his header just over the bar.
David Donovan volleyed over for Black Bull in a rare sight of goal for them in an opening half in which Ardee were comfortably the better side. However, their final pass was lacking and Myles and McMullen were growing frustrated, all the while being marshalled well by Niall Levins and Luke McDonnell.
Paul Matondo had a goalbound effort blocked by McDonnell and Eddie Burke cut inside before shooting staight at Alan Sweeney in the home goal. Shortly before the break, McNeice just failed to connect with Robbie Reynolds ball into the area.
Within three minutes of the restart, striker Corlett gave a glimpse of what danger he posed. He was given time to turn and unleash a fierce volley at goal, forcing Butler to dive to his left and parry away. Minutes later, the Font were fortunate to not be behind. A corner from the right was kept alive by McDonnell and Richie Burke backheeled an improvised effort onto the crossbar.
He had only been on the pitch three minutes. It took Ardee Celtic’s own substitute even less time to make an impact, as Niall Conlon’s ball over the top was almost perfect for McMullen. Burke soon played in Corlett who got down the side of Thornton, holding him off before firing a shot across goal and just wide. Butler seemed confident it was always the far side of the post.
It wouldn’t take long for Black Bull to make the breakthrough however. It came on 76 minutes and shortly after Matondo saw a header clawed away by goalkeeper Sweeney. From a free-kick, the men in red forced the ball over the line for 1-0.
Sub Stuart Reynolds volleyed wide from a sweet Reynolds pass as Ardee Celtic looked for a response. Centre back Thornton was pressed into service upfront and Tristan Knowles and Stuart Osbourne were also sprung from the bench.
With five minutes remaining, Black Bull broke away and Corlett rounded Fintan Clarke before beating both he and Tighe in a foot race to the penalty area. He poked the ball past a hesitant Butler to double the lead. In the final minute of normal time – with promotion hopes on the night long gone – Corlett did it again. He used his searing pace to run through and fire a low shot across Butler and in.
In a late flare up, referee Joe Dyas sent off Black Bull’s Richie Burke and showed a second yellow to Tighe as both teams finished with 10 men. It’s all to play for now – for both teams. The promotion race is going right to the wire.
ARDEE CELTIC: Declan Butler, Graham Tighe, Kenneth Thornton, Fintan Clarke, Robbie Reynolds, Eddie Burke (Niall Conlon, 65), Mikey Nulty, Robbie McNeice, Paul Matondo (Stuart Osboune, 79), Lorcan Myles (Tristan Knowles, 79), James McMullen (Stuart Reynolds, 81).
Subs Not Used: Jamie Myles, Shawni Dowdall, Dessie Jibona.
BLACK BULL: Alan Sweeney, Martin Fitzpatrick, Niall Levins, Luke McDonnell, Philip Meegan, David Donovan, Aidan Rafferty, Mark Gibbons, Gary Nugent, Kenneth Hurley, Evan Corlett.