Title race wide open as South suffer first defeat

On the ball in a recent match for South Antrim. US1448-591cd  Picture: Cliff Donaldson
On the ball in a recent match for South Antrim. US1448-591cd Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Raphoe were the visitors to Friends’ School on Saturday to take on a South side sitting nicely perched at the top of the Senior One table, having won their previous seven fixtures to date.

South had, however, succumbed to Raphoe (10-9 on penalty strokes) in their only previous encounter this season in the Linden Cup semi-final just prior to Christmas.

The hosts got off to an absolute dream start, scoring with less than 40 seconds on the clock. A surging run and reverse stick cross from Patric Cochrane was deflected high into the net by Paul Maguire – his 14th goal of the season.

South dominated proceedings in the first half and won a couple of early short corners but failed to extend their lead further as both efforts were competently dealt with by the Raphoe ‘keeper.

Midway through the first half, Raphoe won their first short corner of the game and, through Ben Wallace, levelled the scoring at one apiece.

The hosts continued to pressurise the Raphoe back-line with Mark Gray proving to be an effective piece of the South jigsaw with some splendid marauding runs from right back.

Two further short corners were won by the hosts before the break but, again, neither was converted and so the score remained 1-1 at the interval.

The second half continued where the first had left off, with the visitors seemingly camped in their 25 yard line and committing only two or three players to attack.

For this reason, South struggled to carve out efforts on goal from open play and had to content themselves with the winning of short corners.

Unfortunately, it was not their day in this regard as effort after effort was squandered despite the varying routines.

As the game progressed, Raphoe upped the ante in terms of physicality, leaving their mark on a few South players in off the ball incidents.

Jonny Long, for Raphoe, saw yellow for cynically breaking down play and not long after, South captain Lee Marshall also walked following a simply awful tackle.

With 12 minutes remaining the visitors were controversially awarded a short corner when one of Raphoe’s forwards was adjudged to have been pushed in the 25. The resulting corner, cleverly switched to captain Ian McGonigle, was rifled home to put the Donegal side 2-1 up.

Despite converting to a back 3, and the winning of three more short corners, South couldn’t put the ball in the net and ultimately lost their first game of the season; a result which blows the title race wide open again.

South will be hoping to get back to winning ways when they travel to Ballycastle on Saturday to face Portrush.