Square United continued their superb start to the new North East Football League season on Sunday afternoon with a 1-0 win over Rock Celtic at the Boys School Field, a result which leaves the Ardee men as the early pacesetters at the top of the division.
It’s two wins from two now for Tony Boyle’s side as Aaron Kerley capped a brilliant individual performances with a dramatic 88th minute winner against the team relegated from last season’s Premier Division. Kerley caused problems for Rock all afternoon and the 21-year-old was fully deserving of his winner.
For the second week running, Square made things difficult for themselves after missing a first half penalty. This time, Andy Rogers had his effort from 12 yards saved by Celtic stopper Gary Lennon after just five minutes. Kerley himself had been fouled by right back Conor McDonnell.
It didn’t matter though after Square kept a first league clean sheet in well over a year and Kerley met Darren MacNeill’s pinpoint left wing cross with just moments of normal time remaining.
After the disappointing start to the match, Square were unperturbed and looked the better side for the opening exchanges. Lennon was off his line quickly to deny Chris Kelly with his legs and and McNeil blazed over the bar after a good counter attack. When Martin Duffy’s free kick was only partially cleared, Andrew Egan dragged his shot wide.
David Ward shot over the bar after some good footwork but Kerley and Kelly were causing more problems for Shane O’Callaghan and Jack Reid at the other end, despite an obvious height disadvantage. After a Lennon punch clear went nowhere, O’Callaghan had to be alert to head Kerley’s goalbound effort away.
Square’s dream start
It took eight games for Square to earn two league wins last season. In 2017/18, they’ve done it in two. They have also kept their first clean sheet of the season – having failed to keep one in the whole of last season.
The visitors finished the first half stronger. After Square failed to clear a corner, Reid acrobatically overhead kicked towards goal. Only the post spared Square from conceding. Des McKeown headed over a corner over the bar but Square had chances of their own. Martin Duffy curled a free kick over and then Mark Quinn forced the goalkeeper into a flying save from another set piece.
Rock had more of chances in the opening minutes of the second period. McKeown and Ward’s respective shots were no danger to Paric Malone’s goal. Kerley got his head to a Duffy free kick, but glanced wide.
Square substitute A Trialist shot just wide not long after entering the fray. Referee Simon Halpenny said the player was onside but he couldn’t apply the finish. United were unlucky not to get one, or even two, penalties as A Trialist and then fellow sub Pearce Callan went down in the area. The latter was a barge, the first was a clear foul but Halpenny waved play on.
In search of a second win in seven days, there was constant Square pressure as the game wore on, whilst Rock remained a danger too. Concentration was key. Kerley and Duffy was both booked but it didn’t matter with 88 minutes on the clock. MacNeill sent in an inch-perfect cross for Kerley, who found himself free in the area. He directed his header into the bottom left corner.
The goal was no less than Kerley deserved, he excelled all day, causing the Rock back four no end of trouble with his willingness and his pace. Next up for United is a trip to Trim Town next Sunday in a match they will surely approach full of confidence.
SQUARE UNITED: Paric Malone, Killian Murray, Stefan Halpenny, Mark Quinn, Martin Duffy, Darren McNeil, Andy Rogers, Jonny Sheridan, Andrew Egan, Chris Kelly, Aaron Kerley.
Subs: A Trialist for Chris Kelly, Pearce Callan for Andrew Egan.
ROCK CELTIC: Shane Donoghue, Conor McDonnell, Jack Reid, Shane O’Callaghan, Brendan Rogers, Gary Lennon, Liam McDonnell, Feidhlim Joyce, Des McKeon, David Ward, Senan Duffy.