Square United hit back from the concession of a first half penalty as they scored twice in the second half to come from behind and beat Johnstown 2-1 on the opening day of the NEFL O’Neill’s Sportswear Division 1.
It looked as if it might not be Square’s day when Jonny Sheridan missed a first half penalty but he earned a reprieve for his side with a 70th minute equaliser after the Meath men took the lead. The returning Paddy Farrelly, back in the mix after a season away, scored the winner.
United began their competitive season in midweek and, despite a battling performance, went down to Boyne Harps in the Kilmessan Shield opener. The visit of Johnstown FC marked the first match of the new NEFL league season. As ever, optimism abounds at the beginning of a new campaign.
The starting XI was unchanged from the side that played four days ago. Last year, Square began the campaign – also at home – with a 2-2 draw against Kentstown Rovers. Aaron Kerley scored their opening goal of the campaign 12 months ago and he again took his place up front, partnering last year’s POTY Chris Kelly.
Hopes this year are that Square can avoid another relegation battle. Last year’s struggles saw the Ardee men finally secure their status with two games to spare. Already, they’ve gotten this year’s effort off to a strong start.
The home side started the better, exerting all of the pressure in the opening period. Captain Andy Rogers went closest on 12 mins when his long range shot was tipped over the bar impressively by the Johnstown stopper.
The continued pressure from Square resulted in several corners – one of which resulted in a Square penalty. With 18 minutes on the clock, Square were handed an opportunity to notch the lead goal when referee Joe Dyas pointed to the spot. A tussle in the area convinced the official to blow his whistle.
Sheridan stepped up and sent the ball the keepers right and wide. The away side came more into the game as the half wore on but they couldn’t muster much to overly concern the Square rearguard.
United won just once on home soil in the league last term and Tony Boyle would have been wary that his side might miss a good chance to get early points on the board. They went close again when centre half Mark Quinn came forward to take a free kick after Rogers was fouled. His effort was accurate but the away goalkeeper stretched to his left to keep the ball out.
Johnstown were faster out of the blocks for the second half, doing most of the attacking. Their endeavours were rewarded in the eight minutes after the restart when from a Square throw just inside their own half, the ball was lost and Johnstown counterattacked. Malone was beaten by a powerful shot.
Fresh legs brought a new lease of life for United and the game changed gear soon after. Sheridan – who scored four league goals last term – put the disappointment of his missed penalty behind him, scoring from close range. Farrelly, who had been on the pitch for just four minutes having replaced Kerley, was the man who secured the win.
He immediately caused serious problems for the Johnstown defence upon his introduction, with his quick turn of pace. He put Square in front with 82 minutes on the clock in what was his first appearance back after a year with Newtown United.
SQUARE UNITED: Pauric Malone, Killian Murray, Stefan Halpenny, Mark Quinn, Martin Duffy, Pearce Callan (Darren McNeil, 57), Jonny Sheridan (Cian Halpenny, 84), Andy Rogers, Jamie McKenny (Andrew Egan, 57), Aaron Kerley (Paddy Farrelly, 78), Chris Kelly.
Subs: Andrew Egan, Darren McNeil, Cian Halpenny, Josh Gargan, Paddy Farrelly.
REFEREE: Joe Dyas
Thanks to Square United’s Lisa Conlon for the additional reporting.