United entertained Grove United in this NAFL Division 1B league match and yes if you had to have a second look at the score line, yes United did win and convincingly at that.
United have not had the best of seasons so far following the loss of a number of senior players who have chosen to play elsewhere however the club still retain a cadre of players who along with a strong group of young players have been working very hard to reverse the clubs fortunes. While Rome wasn’t built in a day manager Alan Davis and his assistant Paul Allison will have seen very positive signs from this performance.
Right from the start United were on the attack with a strong wind in their backs and on 15 minutes David Kelly waltzed through the visitors defence to slot the ball past the advancing keeper. On twenty minutes, team captain Gavin Crawford pounced on a loose ball to drive the ball into the Grove net from twenty-five yards.
Grove, despite going behind proved to be a constant threat and the United defence of Paul Dickson, Alan Patterson, Scott Brashaw and Jack Davis had to be on their toes while keeper John McMenamin blocked a number of shots to keep the visitors out. Ian McMullan and Ross Murray were proving to be a real handful for the Grove defence while the midfield of Stuart McMullan, David Kelly, Gavin Crawford and Gregg Allison worked tirelessly.
In the second half United faced an onslaught from Grove United however the defence held resolute with United having a number of forays forward and these proved to be productive when Ian McMullan scored a third on the hour mark after Stuart McMullan’s shot had come back off the crossbar. This took the pressure off somewhat however the visitors continued to cause problems particularly in midfield. The introduction of substitutes Ben Wilson, Alex Burtney and John Hill gave United extra energy to exploit defensive spaces that were created as Grove pressed for a goal. United’s fourth came when Alex Burtney found space on the left side of the penalty area and while his initial shot was saved he passed the ball across the six-yard area for Gregg Allison to side foot home.
There was a universal sigh of relief and justified excitement amongst players, management, committee and supporters alike when the final whistle was sounded. While there are many hurdles to be overcome throughout the season, this performance, if it can be repeated on a more consistent basis gives more than a glimmer of hope.
Last Saturday was the traditional cup final celebrations at the Millbridge which started at 2.00pm with a match featuring two teams made up of over and under 30’s which provided great entertainment and lots of fun as well as seven goals.
Despite going a few goals down the under 30’s stormed back to win 4-3. Each player taking part made a contribution to support David Griffiths who sustained a broken leg earlier in the season playing for the 2nds and a presentation was made to David prior to the player’s awards event.
Following the game everybody moved to the clubhouse were they enjoyed a buffet meal followed by the annual end of season prize giving. Club Chairman Gilbert Cromie in his opening remarks thanked all those who had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organise and finance the club or maintain its Millbridge facilities. He highlighted the stewardship of Treasurer Gareth Bingham and the diligence of groundsman Jimmy Brown who although present is currently recovering from a knee operation. He thanked the many club sponsors for their continued support and the supporters who turned up in their numbers throughout the season which was very much appreciated.
Referring to the first team’s relegation disappointing as it was he thanked former manager Keith Hamilton for his unstinting efforts and expressed the club’s gratitude to Scott Brashaw and Ross Hayes for stepping in to take in the role until the end of the season.
One shining light in the season was the introduction of an almost entirely youth based second team managed by Alan Davis and Paul Allison which had received considerable plaudits from within the Newcastle league and from which a number of players had joined the first team squad acquitting themselves very well.
In closing the Chairman refereed to the appointment of Alan Davis and Paul Allison as first team managers with Gareth Bingham and Davy Teggarty taking over the seconds. He assured them that the club committee would give them 100% support and he asked the players and supporters to do the same as we all try to take the club forward.
The awards which were presented by the first and second team managers were as follows:
Players Player of the Year: Gavin Crawford.
Managers Player of the Year: Jack Davis.
Leading Scorer: Gavin Crawford.
Players Player of the Year: Ross Murray.
Managers Player of the Year: Alex Burtney.
Leading Scorer: Ross Murray.
Young Player of the Year: Jack Davis.
Overall Leading Club Scorer: Ross Murray.
Bells Bridge, Dromara was the setting for the first ever derby match between Ballynahinch rivals Olympic and United. It was somewhat ironic that the setting for the game was Bells Bridge which was once United’s home ground in their early days.
A decent crowd turned up for the game however if they were looking for any fireworks at this Halloween period they would have been sadly mistaken because in general terms both teams were more focussed on playing football.
Olympic as the home side made much of the early running and but for the intervention of Stuart McMullan heading off the goal line from an early attack they could have been ahead.
Apart from this United’s experienced defensive line-up of Boal, Hayes, Brashaw and Herron with Dickson providing a shield gave United’s goalkeeper Brian McMullan solid protection and kept Olympics’ prolific scorer Niall Murray at bay.
United took the lead five minutes from half time when they forced a corner which was taken by Stuart McMullan. Paul Dickson rose above everyone else to head home past Olympic keeper Ryan Walsh.
In the second half both sides had an equal share of possession without really creating any serious goal scoring opportunities. For United Dalton Tate was very effective in central midfield along with Gavin Crawford while in attack Ian McMullan and Aaron McCaffrey chased everything.
United doubled their lead on 65 minutes when Gavin Crawford, who has been scoring regularly in his second season with the club, hit a screamer of a shot from around 20 yards which beat Walsh to nestle in the net.
United were playing with confidence and didn’t have to force the issue however in the closing quarter Olympic made a few changes and it paid dividends when they scored with a deflected header to leave a grandstand finish.
United introduced stalwart Johnny Stevenson to the action for his first outing of the season along with teenager Greg Allison and their fresh legs provided a threat to an Olympic team who were chasing the equaliser. Stevenson was unlucky not to score when he crashed a shot of the Olympic crossbar however the visitors were able to hold out to secure a vital three points and end a two game losing sequence when they have perhaps been a shade unlucky with the run of the ball.
This week United host Rathfern Rangers in a league game at the Millbridge.
United entertained East Belfast team Bloomfield at the Millbridge last Saturday in a league fixture hoping to build on the previous week’s excellent victory over Downshire YM. The visitors have had some good results of recent and were expected to provide stiff opposition and so it turned out to be. Despite having a good share of the play United were unable to convert the chances they created and midway through the first half they went 1 down and despite a spirited response they could not get level.
The half time team talk certainly had a very positive effect because United came out all guns a blazing and were level very quickly with a goal from Paul Dickson who was making his first appearance in the team for a month following suspension and holidays. Dickson converted after excellent work by Dalton Tate. Not long after their equaliser United went 2 – 1 ahead when Ian McMullan converted following some tenacious work from Tate.
The visitors pressed hard to get level but they found Brian McMullan and his defensive colleagues in a very determined mood. All over the pitch the players put in an outstanding shift and as Bloomfield risked more and more players forward they left themselves vulnerable and so it turned out to be when Gavin Crawford scored to put the game out of reach.
Manager Keith Hamilton will be very pleased with this result and the recent good run of results which his hard working team have achieved.
United went into this match on the back of a series of cup defeats and were anxious to get back on the winning trail in this league encounter. Whilst a number of the more experienced players were back in action the team was missing Paul Dickson and Craig Bowman through suspension, JJ Carlisle now off to University, Scott Brashaw and Gareth Bingham both unavailable whilst Gregg Allison is injured. The visitors who were quite a youthful team got off to a great start when they went ahead after one minute when a long cross from the right wing was headed into the net via the post. Things got worst inside ten minutes when a clearance broke kindly for their centre forward and he smashed the ball past Brian McMullan who had no chance of saving it.
The home team were shelled shocked and they really never got going and could on several occasions have fallen further behind had it not been for timely interventions from the defensive line up of Ross Hayes, David Boal, Ethan Majury and Craig McMullan and a number of fine saves from goalkeeper Brian McMullan.
The second half started poorly with United taking some time to get into the game until a positional changes were effected with Stuart McMullan moving to the left side of midfield and Herron to left back, The impact was almost immediate as United increasingly got on the attack however the visitors held resolute frustrating them until late in the game.
McMullan and Herron were proving a handful on the left side and it was they who created the opening that led to United’s first goal and for which Grove paid a heavy penalty. In the 80th minute Aaron McCaffrey was put through by McMullan and he was pulled back by the Grove number 5 and as it was his second booking he was red carded. From the resulting free kick on the edge of the penalty Dalton Tate shot home through a space in the defensive wall.
Buoyed on United pressed forward with midfielders David Kelly, Gavin Crawford and Dalton Tate seeing a lot of the ball and finding more openings and from a corner the ball broke free for McMullan to stroke the ball into the net from close to the penalty spot. The game was now into injury time but as there was a fair bit of additional time due to time wasting United pressed forward. In the 92nd minute McMullan eased the ball away from the Grove goalkeeper on the left hand side of the penalty area and he swivelled close to the bye line close to the six yard box to find Gavin Crawford running in and crashing the ball into the net.
In the closing minutes Grove pressed to get an equaliser but United held the ball from them to secure a vital three points.
This week United travel to East Belfast for a league game.
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