Derby win for Athletic
Thursday, 16 March 2017
STRABANE Athletic's recent run of good form continued when they defeated neighbours Ardstraw FC 3-0 at Melvin Park for an Intermediate League fixture last Saturday.
There was additional significance to this contest because both teams are in hot pursuit of Portstewart for the Intermediate League title.
The opening exchanges were lively with Ardstraw's Robert Godfrey forcing some good defensive work from Strabane's Cal Ryan and Aaron O'Hagan. Athletic replied with a brilliant pass from Conal Crawford which Shane Brennan just failed to control. Kenny Williamson then drew the first save of the game from home keeper Ruairi McElroy and Robert Godfrey made a fine run from the left wing but his shot went over the Strabane crossbar.
Ardstraw were having a good spell but Athletic began to build some momentum of their own and a series of corners were capably dealt with by the vistor's keeper Andrew Gailey.
It was an even contest around the half hour mark with possibly Ardstraw having the better of the chances and they were almost rewarded when a fine low cross from Gary King eluded his strike force and went narrowly wide. Straight away Strabane responded and Aaron Porter's pass just failed to find Conal Crawford in a good position.
The home team were finishing the half strongly with Conor Carlin intercepted as he lined up a shot and another series of three corners once again bringing the best out of keeper Andrew Gailey. The first period ended with Gregory McIvor firing wide for Ardstraw and the whistle sounded with the score line still 0-0. Both teams had shown attacking intent but solid defensive work meant that neither keeper had many clear cut chances to deal with.
Strabane came out for the second half in a determined mood and after three minutes Oran McShane created a half chance but shot wide. Shortly afterwards Cal Ryan and McShane combined to set up Conor Carlin but his effort was also just past the post. Ardstraw were still very much a threat and they forced a corner from which centre back Kyle Mills headed over the bar.
Gregory McIvor's free kick also went over the bar for the visitors before the deadlock was broken by a great piece of skill and finishing from Athletic striker Aaron Porter. The centre forward controlled a high ball superbly before advancing at speed and beating the onrushing Gailey with a clinical finish.
Shortly afterwards Porter nearly had a second but his volley from Conal Crawford's pass just missed. The Strabane tails were up now and a fine passing move involving full back Cal Ryan and Aaron Porter ended with Conal Crawford drawing a brilliant save from Andrew Gailey.
Athletic's pressure was rewarded by a second goal with 10 minutes remaining. Porter was the provider on this occasion setting up Conor Carlin for a confident close range finish. With Ardstraw fully committed to attack in the closing stages a great pass from Athletic's defence gave substitute David Taylor a run on goal and he shot low past Gailey to seal the points for the home team.
Strabane Athletic's victory was achieved through a defensively solid first half and a fine display of attacking, passing football in the second. They have now notched up five victories in a row and have emerged as major challengers if current league leaders Portstewart are to falter. Athletic have no games over the next two Saturdays.
They are home again to Newbuildings Utd on April 1 in a Challenge Cup tie. Kick off is 2pm at Melvin Park.
Ardstraw meanwhile host Oxford United Stars on March 25 in a tie they can't afford to lose if they are to keep up with the unbeaten Portstewart, who still have games in hand over the chasing pack.
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