SOUTH FOURTHS 2 BALLYMENA SECONDS 1
AFTER news of Newry dropping points last week, South were well up for this game against a Ballymena side they hadn’t faced since the first day of the season. The first match finished 5-0 to the Lisburn side, but they knew this wasn’t going to be an easy match.
With the Fourths playing in the prime slot this week at 2.30pm, they were hoping to continue their 100% home record, but word quickly spread that Ballymena’s 1st XI’s match had been cancelled, South started to worry about a few players hoping to still get a game at the weekend.
South started very poorly, sloppy play all around, epitomised by Andrew Smylie missing the ball from a simple pass and then mis-hitting a clearance. And eventually they were made to pay. Ballymena crashed the ball into the D, South keeper thought the ball hit a Ballymena foot, so left it, but the umpire, who turned out to be correct, gave it as a goal as it came off a South stick.
A few heated moments then followed, with Adam Pyper and Jonny McBride both receiving a warning from the umpire and Andrew Smylie seeing off a threat from a Ballymena forward. But these just fired up South, and they responded in a manner that has become typical of them this season. They quickened up the pace, started playing their fast flowing hockey and the defence started getting stuck in and were getting to every ball first. They got their reward when, who else, Junior Hamilton broke away, one on one with the keeper. The keeper saved his first effort but could do no more than push the ball back out to him, and Junior, cool under pressure, reversed the ball into the gaping net.
Ballymena were still looking very dangerous on the breakthrough, and if it wasn’t for a few excellent interceptions and tackles from Alan Smith and Andrew Smylie at the back it may have been a different story. South were dominating play for most of the match from here on in. But when young Josh Curragh standing in at right back got the ball, no one expected what happened next. He picked the ball up just inside his own half. He beat several Ballymena men, leaving them for dead, cut in along the by-line, beat two more men, and just as everyone was expecting him to cut the ball back, but he decided to go for an audacious chip at the near post. And it paid off. The goalkeeper went to ground and left the space for Josh to dink the ball over him to take the Fourths into the lead for the first time in the match.
At half time South decided they would ensure no more silly goals were conceded and assumed the goals would come eventually. So they took off Josh Curragh, and moved “Mr Versatility” Gary Hylands into right back.
The second half was fairly uneventful, with South creating a few chances but unable to convert them, and Ballymena only really offering anything up top in the last 10 minutes. A few routine tackles from Alan Smith, Jonny McPolin and Andrew Smylie all nipping attacks in the bud helped ease some nerves, but when a ball was crashed into the D, past everyone it seemed as though Ballymena would get a heart-breaking equaliser, but Nathan Donald, having to fill in at left midfield due to personnel losses in the second, came up with a clearance any defender would be proud of to save South’s skin. South then made a decision to close the game out, bringing off a midfielder for a right back. So when the final whistle went the score was 2-1 to South, meaning Laurelhill is still very much a ground that teams will not look forward to playing at.
Thanks to Eric for umpiring and to all those who turned out to watch the game, support was excellent and very much appreciated as always.
South have reached the business end of the season now, with only 3 games left to play until the end of the league season. The Fourths play PSNI at home again next week, with the Police-based team pulling out last minute at the start of the season, South will be keen to get at them. All support welcome as always. The louder the better!