Ardee Celtic suffered their second North East Football League defeat in the space of three days on Friday evening as a Billy Smith inspired Muirhevna Mor won 3-0 at Townparks as the champions won back-to-back league games for the first time this season.
It looked as if Ardee Celtic would go into the dressing room at the end of a forgettable first half level but when Niall Sharkey fouled Gary Clarke on the stroke of half time, Billy Smith smashed home the penalty kick. Tiarnan Mulvenna doubled the lead before the hour and Smith scored his second of the game as Celtic were put to the sword on home soil.
Successive defeats against OMP United and Muirhevna Mor means it’s three losses from four league outings for the newly promoted Deesiders – a stark contrast from their impressive cup form so far in 2017/18. Every league game so far has pitted the Ardee side against high quality calibre and Conor Lynch will know no point acquired this term come easy.
Having gone down to a controversial 98th minute penalty against OMP on Tuesday, Ardee Celtic’s task of bouncing back straight away was going to be far from straightforward. Muirhevnamor, arrived at Townspark as the first side to win back-to-back First Division and Premier Division titles in the NEFL.
They began their 2017/18 defence of the latter in inconsistent fashion but with absentees piling up for the home side, no one was under any allusions about the size of the task at hand. Centre back Oisin McGee was suspended for for the visit of the side from Dundalk while Fintan Clarke was unavailable and John Flanagan, arguably their player of the campaign so far this season, was injured. The player coach watched on from the dugout, on crutches.
Having picked up a serious injury against OMP, fears are that the veteran has damaged cruciate ligaments. His season looks to be over. Tiarnan Mulvenna, a former team mate of Flanagan’s at Dundalk, led the Mor to league success last year but after Sean Maguire’s departure, they are once again on the lookout for a new man at the helm. Mulvenna started wide on the left for the away side.
If there’s a void at management level, you couldn’t have told by their start in Ardee. Brendan Hughes curled a shot just wide of Stuart Reynolds goal while right back Brian Begley hit an effort straight at the goalkeeper.
That said, in the early stages Celtic were much improved to their first half display on Tuesday. Paul Matondo and Gareth Kane showed some neat touches and the home side exhibited some slick passing too. Ross Gaynor played in brother Darryn. His shot was saved by Michael Cooney before James McMullen blazed over.
Before the opener, Cooney was well behind Gaynor’s free kick and Mulvenna headed over. The side from Dundalk were seeing mor eof the ball in the first, but had little in the way of clear cut opportunities to show for their supremacy. That changed on 45 minutes. Centre back Niall Sharkey, one of two Ardee Celtic centre backs making their first senior team appearances of the season, upended Clarke on the edge of the area.
Reynolds dived the right way but striker Smith found the top corner with his effort from 12 yards. A much changed Celtic team, including debutant David Fairclough and the returning Robbie Reynolds, had performed admirably to that point, if lacking a cutting edge in the final third.
They were fortunate to go in at half time just one goal behind however when Mikey Nulty conceded possession straight from the restart. Reynolds saved from Smith and then Nulty redeemed himself by blocking Michael O’Kane’s shot on the line.
The Mor doubled their lead 12 minutes into the second half, Mulvenna getting on the end of a fine pass which beat the Font offside trap. He dinked the ball over the onrushing Reynolds who committed early. Before then, Philip Duffy was unfortunate to see his thunderbolt smash off the crossbar and out. One for the famed Townspark goalline technology.
Lorcan Myles, Stuart Osbourne, Graham Tighe and Wayne Reilly were all introduced by Celtic as they sought a way back into the game, with Ross Gaynor pressed into action up front. In fairness to the former Cork City and Sligo Rovers star, he made the most of what came his way. He had some success in holding the ball up and forced a save from the Mor stopper at his near post.
With 15 minutes remaining, O’Kane flicked the ball into the irrepressible Smith’s path and his left foot effort hit the net. It wasn’t to be Ardee Celtic’s night. Gaynor was denied at point blank range by Cooney after Myles’ square ball and the midfielder himself skewed wide late on.
There was time at the end for the introduction of former Louth inter-county player Darren Clarke, who made a surprise return to the soccer field. He slotted in at right back for the last two minutes. He signed this week to provide another defensive option for Celtic.
ARDEE CELTIC: Stuart Reynolds, Robbie Reynolds (Darren Clarke, 90+1), Niall Sharkey, David Fairclough, Ciaran Clarke (Graham Tighe, 62), Mikey Nulty (Wayne Reilly, 71), Paul Matondo, Ross Gaynor, James McMullen (Stuart Osbourne, 62), Gareth Kane, Darryn Gaynor (Lorcan Myles, 52).
Subs Not Used: Kenneth Thornton, Brendan Matthews
MUIRHEVNA MOR: Michael Cooney, Brian Begley, Conall Mulvenna (Stephen Smith, 67), Chris Caulfield, Adrian Rafferty, Philip Duffy, Gary Clarke (Thomas McShane, 76), Michael O’Kane, Brendan Hughes (Colin Hoey, 59), Billy Smith (Gino Cooney, 84), Tiaran Mulvenna (Conor Gorman, 86).
Subs Not Used: Niall Hearty
REFEREE: Joe Dyas