United opened their Northern Amateur League Division 1B campaign with a win over a youthful Lisburn Rangers side at Milbridge on Saturday.
The Millbridge pitch was in excellent condition and with a lick or two of paint to the club house and dugouts the setting was ideal for the much anticipated first game of the season.
United were in the ascendancy from the start with Stuart McMullan and Craig Bowman surging down the wings prompted by the passes from midfield of the industrious trio of ScottBrashaw, Ian Boal and debutant Gavin Crawford. Things were really looking up for United in the 20th minute when Craig Bowman popped up in the penalty area to take a layoff from another newcomer Simon Jackson to power an unstoppable shot into the net
Lisburn were very tidy at the back and through midfield but they were unable to breakdown the reliable home defence in which Ross Hayes was a colossus alongside the fast improving JJ Carlisle who was as steady as a rock in the sweeper position and the ever reliable Davy Boal.
Jackson who had a solid debut should have scored on the half hour mark when he elected to pass to partner Aaron Cheevers rather than shoot.
In the second half experienced Lisburn Rangers manager Paul Kirk made a few changes and they came more into the game but United’s keeper Bryan McMullan was dealing competently with everything that came his way.
Jackson’s pace which was never fully utilised in the first half became more of a feature of United’s play and he was put through on the left wing several times. On the hour mark Jackson made it 2-0 when he surged into the penalty area and guided a shot into the net giving the Lisburn keeper no chance.
United continued to withstand Lisburn’s promptings however the withdrawal of Ross Hayes and then the unnecessary dismissal of Ian Boal upset the balance of the game. Jay Smyth was introduced into midfield and he worked tirelessly to stem the tide however a goal by Lisburn in the 80th minute created a panic amongst United’s supporters and it took a superb save from Bryan McMullan and clearance by his cousin Stuart in the dying seconds toearn all three points.
A good start to the league campaign for United who were missing several players for a variety of reasons. United’s old failing of not scoring enough goals is something that has been vexing the supporters for some time and in fairness to manager Colin Murray and his assistant Keith Hamilton they have worked hard to secure players with a proven track record in this department and time will tell if they can challenge for honours. This was an encouraging start and a fitting reward to the players who have worked very hard in pre-season.