Limavady United 3, Donegal Celtic 2
The only two unbeaten sides in the Premier Intermediate League met as league leaders Donegal Celtic travelled to the home of champions, Limavady United, for a game that would have a big say on the destination of this season’s title.
And what a game they produced with the Belfast side 3-0 down and on the ropes before scoring twice in as many minutes to ensure a frantic last quarter of an hour.
Limavady started well and, after a near miss on 10 minutes, took the lead three minutes later when McClelland continued his recent run of goals, stabbing the ball home from six yards out after reacting quickest to a loose ball.
The visitors were only momentarily disconcerted, and proceeded to dominate the game for the next 20 minutes with United were grateful to Wells for keeping the visitors out.
In the 19th minute the Limavady keeper reacted quickly to parry Conway’s shot after DC broke away down the right flank but this was nothing to the double save he produced a minute later. First he dived low to his left to stop Rossborough’s free kick from just outside the box before then blocking the follow up effort at point blank range and he was also at his best to foil Conlan on 32 minutes.
Gradually United the home side reasserted themselves with Lee Harkin in particular reproducing some of the swashbuckling form which marked him out as a real prospect early in his career. However it was Joe McCready who started to boss the game.
On 36 minutes, McCready flashed a shot just wide of the post from wide on the left before, three minutes later, he out-muscled his marker on the left before crossing low to back post for Hume to ghost in at the back post and double the lead.
It could and should have been better just before the break as the big forward twisted and turned inside the box but unfortunately his shot was straight at McIlhone.
DC remained a threat with Conlan’s injury time free header at the back post a timely reminder that Limavady’s half-time lead was a fragile one.
United started the second period determined to maintain their grip with Harkin’s cushioned pass putting McCready into space. He barged into the box before shooting past McIlhone only to see his shot come back of the base of the post.
In the next minute Conor McCloskey, who had been quietly effective, collected the ball 20 yards out and unleashed a ferocious shot which Sean McIlhone tipped over the bar.
DC were struggling to get into the game and on 64 minutes it looked ‘game over’ as United went 3-0 up. McCready collected the ball just outside the box and turned his marker inside and out before firing low into the bottom corner.
On 71 minutes, Celtic pulled a goal back with a scrappy effort from Valentine Feher who finished from close range despite Crown’s best effort.
Within two minutes the game was back in the balance as Niall Derry got to a cross from the right to score with a thumping header.
The game was in the balance with the visitors in the ascendency for the first time but to Limavady’s great credit, not only did they batten down the hatches, they gradually regained control of the game.
Indeed, Hume missed a chance to score when lurking at the back post to meet McCready’s looping cross.
On 81 minutes, both Hume and Owens chipped the ball over their markers with Owens finding McClelland rushing into the box but McIlhone saved well.
As DC pushed for an equaliser, United held firm and should have made the points safe as, first McCready with a venomous 88th minute shot, and then Watt with a close range header, brought the best out of the visiting keeper.
The victory puts the Roesiders right back in contention after Paul Owens team passed a major test of their character.
Limavady United: Paul Wells, Johnny Watt, Bryan McClelland, Graeme Crown, Hugh Carlin, Gary McFadden, Conor McCloskey, Lee Harkin (Paul Owens), Robbie Hume, Joe McCready, Blain Morrison (Colin Murray).
Substitutes not used: Ray Kelly, Declan McKeever, Conor Harkin.
Donegal Celtic: Sean McIlhone, Ciaran Conway, Maurice Curtis (Graeme Steenson 65), Artur Kopyt, Sean Southampton, Karl Rossborough, Thomas Conlan, Niall Derry, Paul Brown (Anthony Philpott 78), Darren Munce, Valentine Feher.
Substitutes not used: Robert McVarnock.
Referee: Tony Clarke (Newtownabbey)