Ardee Celtic’s hopes of Leinster Junior Cup progress were dashed at the last on Friday evening as visitors Usher Celtic struck with just 10 seconds of normal time remaining to complete a second half comeback and record a 2-1 win at Townparks.
Brendan Matthews had given the Deesiders the lead on the stroke of half time as some resolute defending helped Ardee weather a first half storm by the AUL side. However, it took the Dubliners just two minutes of the second half to respond through Tony Grouse. Wayne Walker’s header broke home hearts.
That’s three one goal defeats on the spin for the Font, who will regroup and in particular refocus their energies on pulling themselves away from trouble at the bottom of the Premier Division post-Christmas. This was as tough a test as Ardee Celtic faced in 2017/18 – with Usher having already beaten Sheriff YC this term – a result which leaves them as among the FAI Junior Cup favourites.
Having progressed to the last 16 of the Leinster Junior Cup at Ardee’s expense, they’ll be heavily tipped to win this competition too.
In an even first half, Conor Lynch’s side had the first glimpse of goal. Lorcan Myles hit the side netting inside the first 60 seconds. The opening 20 minutes saw little in the way of a threat to Sean Connolly’s goal from Usher, but their threat was evident as they put together some neat passages going forward.
Myles had another opportunity when he chased down the full back and stole the ball. Having cut inside and made a beeline towards goal, the Usher shotstopper was out to block. Brendan Matthews also saw a shot spin up easily for the visiting goalkeeper before Usher began to exert control.
Robbie Reynolds and Niall Sharkey were required to make timely interventions after some good sequences, with Walker heavily involved. Reynolds stopped a run from deep, while the switch to their rampaging right back was always on and something Usher were constantly looking to utilise.
The Dublin team had a guilt edged opportunity to in front, before Ardee duly did. A crossfield pass out to the Usher right was headed down and then a diagonal ball was drilled across the area. It fell to Jordan Buckley, all alone, but he could only manage to divert it wide of the post. How it didn’t ripple the net remains a mystery.
Managing to withstand the pressure, the home side then did what their opponents couldn’t. Reynolds touched a clearance into Ross Gaynor’s path. The captain sent a cross into his brother Darryn. The striker got his header all wrong but Ross followed the ball in, preventing it from running out of play and standing up a cross to the back post. There, Matthews was all alone to head in.
Within two minutes of the restart on a bitterly cold evening on the Bog, Usher had cancelled that lead out. Connolly could only parry Walker’s shot from the edge of the area, leaving winger Grouse with all the time in the world to compose himself and tap in. From Connolly’s original save – the ball spun up, leaving the stopper helpless.
The younger Gaynor brother was denied minutes later, after Mikey Nulty’s run created panic in the Usher backline. At the other end, there was a let off when Walker headed a goalbound header over the bar and then Connolly had to save well from Buckley after a brilliant cross.
There was some forward thrust for Celtic in the home of centre back Niall Sharkey while his defensive partner Oisin McGee went closest to a winner late on when he met Gaynor’s corner at the back post. He couldn’t direct his effort on target. With ten seconds of normal time remaining, Walker headed in a right wing cross to break home hearts and win it for Wes Doyle’s men.
That is it for Ardee Celtic until January when NEFL league and Challenge Cup action resumes.
ARDEE CELTIC: Sean Connolly, Mikey Nulty, Niall Sharkey, Oisin McGee, Robbie Reynolds, Lorcan Malone (Ryan Ward, 87), Paul Matondo, Ross Gaynor, Brendan Matthews (Ben McKenna, 8), Lorcan Myles (Shawni Dowdall, 67), Darryn Gaynor.
Subs Not Used: Ciaran Clarke, Kenneth Thornton.