Swifts spot on for Boxing Day

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

IT took extra time and spot kicks to decide one of the best cup semi-finals witnessed at Bear Park in recent years.

Heavy weights Annalong Swifts, the holders, and Celtic Bhoys played out a superb game of end-to-end football with both sides giving their all in a full-blooded game that certainly did the age-old cup proud.

In fact it only took two minutes for the ball to enter the back of the Annalong net, when Celtic striker Chris Mullan nipped in to score a well-taken goal before Annalong had realised they were in a game.

Both teams named offensive line ups and Annalong were causing real trouble for the Celtic defence, especially Ryan McMurray who with his pace, was leaving Kelly and co in the Celtic back line with embarrassment written all over their faces.

McMurray, who was unlucky not to be named man of the match, was running amok and it was no surprise that he was on the end of a Maybin cross to level the scores after eight minutes.

Eventual man of the match, goalkeeper John Sloane made valuable saves to keep Annalong in the game after Celtic continued to try and prise open the Swifts' defence on the counterattack. In fact one of those was a classy save that any goalkeeper at any level would have been proud of.

The second half started with Annalong again the better side with attack after attack, but they were guilty of squandering some gilt-edged chances created by the lively Leslie Maybin. He was a class act on the right flank and was ably supported by Stephen Burden from midfield, who could have been on the scoresheet himself had he been more patient with his final ball.

Celtic did not give up in any way, keeping the pressure on the Annalong defence with player-manager Alan Henning the pick of their back four, snuffing out any wide threat the Bhoys tried to conjure up, preventing the cross, thus denying Celtic's classy sub BJ McMenemin.

The deadline was broken four minutes into the first period of extra time, when Celtic sub Jordan McAlister knocked the ball home to put the Downpatrick side ahead for the second time in the game.

But Annalong were not finished by any stretch of the imagination and they were back in the game after nine added minutes through livewire, Leslie Maybin.

Out of nothing down the right, he surprised everyone, maybe including himself, when he took on the Celtic full back for the ball somehow to find its way to the back of the net from some 15 yards.

This goal set the Annalong supporters wild with delight, realising they were still in with a chance of a Boxing Day showcase.

Penalty shoot time was glory all the way for 'keeper John Sloan, who brought off two great saves to deny Celtic.

With Annalong scoring all the penalties needed to beat Celtic 3-1 in the shoot-out, it was 'Drumaness here we come' for Alan Henning and his well-drilled side.

They await the outcome of the second semi-final between derby rivals Newcastle and Tollymore, which looks like being played on Saturday, 10 December at Bear Park.

The game was excellently refereed by Ballynahinch man, Anthony Russell assisted by Tom Degans and William McConnell.


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