In a fortnight that saw racehorse owner and Preston North End supremo, Trevor Hemmings, win his third Aintree Grand National with Many Clouds, Town continued their quest for a fourth consecutive Mulhern Cup as they eventually prevailed on penalties against Lisbellaw United in an epic encounter under the Ferney Park lights on Wednesday night last.
Town will hope to complete the job when they return to Ferney Park on Friday 8th May to take on Strathroy Harps in the showpiece final that everyone wants to see. It should be a cracker…
Nonetheless, it will have to go a long way to surpass the thrills and spills that Wednesday night’s attendance were treated to. The only shame is that these writings won’t be able to do it justice. Not for the first time, a technical failure (amongst other things) has left Supercan red-faced. The net result is that the following report will be relying solely on a fast fading memory and the eye witness accounts of others. So, here goes, with apologies to anybody that I may fail to mention and even more sincere apologies to anybody that I may slander.
Kick-off was delayed slightly as confusion reigned over a possible clash of colours. When resolution was eventually achieved, it was Lisbellaw United who emerged in a somewhat unfamiliar candystripe strip. Suitably attired, they bore a striking resemblance to Stoke City – in more ways than one. That is, of course, Stoke City under Tony Pulis as opposed to Stoke City under Mark Hughes.
The opening exchanges were, as expected, cagey before Town hit the front on thirteen minutes. Ryan Hanna’s right wing cross being met with a crisp low volley by Frank Wallace. Town could and should have doubled their advantage shortly afterwards. Raymond Carroll’s slip left Adam Breen with a run at goal but he was denied by William McFrederick with the first of a string of superb saves on the night.
Lisbellaw’s Davy Little then proved the bigger of the two Littles as he nicked a Gary Lynch centre off the head of former Fermanagh star and, current Town star, Mark Little. Lisbellaw did threaten sporadically with the pace and trickery of the bun haired Ryan O’Keefe asking questions. One such occasion resulted in an uncharacteristic booking for the normally unflappable Malcolm Crawford. However, it was generally an untroubled Town back four that was marshalled by Gary Beckett in an unfamiliar “Claude Makelele” role.
Approximately half an hour gone when Pat Cadden submitted the first of two entries for “Save of the Season” (or, indeed, any season). A towering Carroll header appeared destined for the bottom corner. Town’s “No. 13” displayed uncanny reflexes and agility to parry it to safety. Wallace was wide with a Keith Houchen like falling header following another Lynch cross before the half’s final opportunity fell to Davy Little. A trademark free kick evaded everyone including the back post and bounced to safety as Town reached the interval one to the good.
An air of optimism pervaded the half time analysis with the general feeling being that if Town got another it would end the contest. A sentiment that was seemingly shared by the Town management duo of Rory Judge and Emmet Carty as they reverted Beckett to a more familiar centre forward role on the resumption.
The opening exchanges were uninspired to say the least. Indeed, sixty minutes gone and young Faolan Carty decided that he had seen enough. A warm bottle and a bedtime story obviously a much better option than watching twenty-two grown men run after a bag of wind. Roll on the clock and there were loud penalty appeals as O’Keefe tumbled in the box. Referee, Dessie Kerr, booked him for diving, for his troubles.
Increasingly alarmed by the low corner count, the Lisbellaw management team introduced yer wee boy Stokes to play the “Rory Delap” role. And it was from one such long throw that they fashioned an equaliser after sixty-eight minutes. His long throw was flicked on by Carroll for Stuart Cochrane to head past Cadden. Alan Veitch thought that his header had made it two. Indeed, so did pretty much everybody else as both sets of players and referee headed for the centre circle. Thankfully the linesman on the far side had his flag up for offside.
The Candystripes were once again wheeling away in delight as another Carroll bullet header whizzed for the net. A back pedalling Cadden was at full stretch to somehow divert the danger as the game’s intensity levels went from pedestrian to pulsating in the space of a few short minutes.
The aerial assault continued unabated in a concerted effort to expose a small Town rearguard. Town responded in isolated raids on the counter attack. Beckett judged an immaculately flighted Little pass to perfection. Nobody judged Beckett’s low centre. Paul McGrath passed up a glorious opportunity when heading straight at Cadden. Beckett should have settled it with about five minutes of ‘normal’ left but Town were again foiled by the long legs of the ‘Law as McFrederick came to the rescue.
It was effectively his final contribution as the portly veteran was withdrawn in favour of the previously repressed ( ‘repress’ – (verb) To hold back or prevent by an act of volition) Ciaran Brough as extra-time commenced. An inspired substitution, Brough’s youthful energy, pace and all round irrepressibility (‘irrepressibility’ – (noun) irrepressible liveliness and good spirit) went a long way to helping Town turn the screw. Town had the only decent chance in the opening ten minutes. Wallace was put through but denied by McFrederick in typical fashion.
103 minutes of an absorbing contest and Ryan Hanna succeeded where Breen, Beckett, Wallace and probably a few others that I can’t remember failed, as he latched on to Breen’s keyhole pass and held his nerve to lift the coolest of finishes over the seemingly infallible McFrederick. With time more or less up, Town were gifted a gilt edged opportunity to wrap matters up. Breen was through one on one with the keeper and Brough in acres of space to his left. Seemingly caught in two minds he showed enough hesitancy for McFrederick to read his intended pass and leave Town’s schoolboy stars looking looking like Laurel and Hardy.
And what another fine mess it so very nearly was. McFrederick’s long punt was carelessly dealt with by Paddy “Cup a Soup” Beresford (that’s Cup a Soup not Cub a Soup)as his wayward clearance conceded a corner with the clock running two minutes over. Everyone piled forward and yes, you’ve guessed it, it was goalkeeper McFrederick who got his head on the end of a Davy Little delivery for the most dramatic of finishes and a penalty shoot-out.
Cadden netted and Carroll replied before Conor Watson saw his kick expertly turned round the post by McFrederick. Alan Veitch scored, Wallace scored and Pat saved from the wee boy Stokes (surely he would have been better throwing it?) to restore parity. Stevie Chambers, yer man Thompson who used to play with Ballinamallard, Breen and McFrederick all notched to make it sudden death. Mark Little was as cool as you like and Pat Cadden once again guessed correctly to deny Owen Mooney, send Town through to a fourth consecutive meeting with Mark Conway and leave all at Lisbellaw United F.C. staring at yet another semi-final defeat. At least you won’t be on stewarding duties this year.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
The Town: P Cadden, C Watson, G Lynch, S Chambers, M Crawford, M Little, R Hanna, G Beckett, J Hoy, A Breen, F Wallace.
Subs – M McAuley for Hoy (65), P Beresford for Lynch (78), C Brough for Beckett (91).
Referee: Dessie Kerr – Enraged the Lisbellaw bench on several occasions but in so far as I can be neutral, I thought he had a decent enough game.
Attendance: Slightly below average.
Top Townie: Pat Cadden – Kicked like Ronan O’Gara, was uncharacteristically shaky on crosses but ultimately did it when it mattered. Cadden’s performance was eerily reminiscent of an old ex-girlfriend of Supercan’s – She wasn’t a great cook but she always showed up at tea-time!
Comedy Moment: Johny Hoy’s unfortunate 63rd minute “showboat.” Let’s just say that it capsized in spectacular fashion!
“So You Did Son Moment”: William McFrederick – Following in the footsteps of Big Stuartie Moore and Alan “Murdock” Murray, McFrederick becomes only the third overseas recipient of this prestigious accolade in forty-two (two reports remain unpublished) presentations. His last gasp equaliser capped as good an individual performance as you will see all season. Not quite Jimmy Glass but certainly didn’t deserve to be on the losing side either. Sport can be cruel.
Words from a Song: Everybody Wants To Rule The World. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST86JM1RPl0
Manager Watch: Must surely be delighted at the resilience shown by his side in the face of a sustained second-half onslaught and the nerve displayed to come back and win, on penalties, a game that Town had all but conspired to throw away in the most heartbreaking fashion. We are now all where we want to be on the 8th May. Let’s hope it’s our night…