Albion Rovers made it two wins from two in group qualifiers for the big NEFL cup competitions on Thursday night, overcoming a young Ardee Celtic team to go top of Group A for a few days at least. The experienced Manny Smith was the matchwinner for Rovers, with his two second half goals.
The home team were more than good value for the win, but it seemed like Celtic may spring a surprise when Bryan O’Connor headed in a free kick in the game’s early stages. Set pieces were to prove the main avenue of attack for the Deesiders and Albion’s superiority showed throughout.
A mixture of wasteful finishing and good defending ensured the game ultimately was won by the narrowest of margins. Having beaten Torro United 10-2 just six days previously, Albion will know those kind of days are hard to replicate.
The defeat is a third straight defeat for Ardee Celtic, who battled gamely but were undone by the strength of their opponents. Smith’s two moments of quality in front of the posts proved decisive for David Martin’s team.
Alan Dyas proved a handful on the left of Albion’s attack early on, beating Ken Thornton for pace twice but on each occasion, he couldn’t produce a delivery. Ardee Celtic hit the front with their first meaningful attack of the game. David Adetuyi was found and Mikey Nulty’s free kick was perfectly weighted. All O’Connor, in between two defenders, needed to do was glance it beyond Keith Carolan and in.
Albion almost benefitted from the route-one approach minutes later. A Carolan free kick was flicked on by Smith and Jordan Tan was quickest to react but his toepoke towards goal was saved.
Government guidelines, as advised by NPHET, declared on Tuesday that no spectators would be attending these games for the foreseeable and fans of both clubs were probably grateful they were spared from the drencing downpours that spilled throughout the course of the game.
In a wet and windy, Monasterboice, Dyas’ long range shot was no problem for David Anderson, nor was James Tester’s tame effort when well placed. Albion were in the ascendency for much of the first half but Nulty – Ardee’s standout performer – almost found an route to goal. A superb Lee Kavanagh tackled brought an end to that move.
Albion were level within two minutes of the restart. The goal wasn’t dissimilar to the opener. From a short corner, right back Karl Harding curled in a cross which Smith met with his head. Getting a good connection, the diving Anderson could do little to stop it flying into the net.
Tan curled a shot over soon after as it appeared Albion were set to step up a gear. But Ardee Celtic should have taken the lead at the other end. Brendan Matthews shot wide, somehow, with the goal gaping.
His night ended through injury just six minutes later – the third loss to injury the Deesiders had suffered in less than an hour of play.
They might have felt luck wasn’t on their side but there was no time to feek sorry for themselves. Albion were hungry for a winner and soon capitalised on Celtic’s reshuffle. Ciaran Hartnett’s cross from the left wasn’t cleared and Smith was on hand to steer a low shot in.
To Ardee’s credit, they came back into the game, at one stage forcing three successive corners. On a slippery evening, Rovers were aware of the dangers – and the slenderness of a one goal lead. The visitors couldn’t create anything of note however. Albion did at the other end.
Sub Joao Moreira twice had opportunities to extend the lead while Anderson had to be quick off his line to deny Tan after a good passing move. Robbie Reynolds defended well when Tan ran clear again in the final minute, after Albion had defended an Ardee free.
We’ll have a full gallery of images from the match on LouthNow.ie on Friday. Keep an eye out.
ALBION ROVERS: Keith Carolan, Karl Harding, Lee Kavanagh (Gary Maher, 59), Helder Mota, David Woods, Danny Starrs (Eoin Hancock, 59), Manny Smith, Ciaran Hartnett, James Tester (Joao Moreira, 59), Alan Dyas, Jordan Tan (Gerry Harding, 54).
ARDEE CELTIC: David Anderson, Ken Thornton, Finn Kelly, Killan Scott (Keith McCloskey, 46), Robbie Reynolds, Mikey Multy, Keith O’Donohue, David Adetuyi (David Jibona, 21), Brendan Matthews (Adam Farrell, 58), Shawni Dowdall (Daniel Kerr, 82), Bryan O’Connor.
REFEREE: Andy McNamara