If ever the importance of being good at set pieces was required, a long look at this match would have settled that argument easily, as all four goals of this first round match of the U16 Shield came from them.
Town started the match well and settled quickly into their passing and possession game. This led to several promising attacks down both flanks and for the opening ten minutes Town had their opponents on the ropes. All that was lacking was that little bit of composure in the final third to create the killer chance. Town were pressing high and having lots of success winning the ball high up the pitch but were caught when a long clearance sailed over the defenders to give the Ballyclare forward an opportunity to run in on goal. Morgan Smyth, who has settled well since his arrival from Portadown, covered well and blocked the attack at the expense of a corner.
Maybe it was the high octane start to the game but the resulting corner saw all the defenders challenge for an aerial ball that meant they all missed it and the forward at the back post couldn’t believe his luck and duly opened the scoring with a simple header. Town never let the slip up affect them and continued with their all out attack, indeed but for a brilliant save Simon Wilson’s shot from 35 yards would have sewn up goal off the season. After that McGuckin created a wonderful opportunity for Gary Judt but he saw his shot blocked and seconds later McGuckin only just failed to find Jamie McNeill free at the back post.
After another attack down the left Ryan Blacoe forced a corner and Alex Woods headed inches over at the near post and Town then forced another corner minutes before half time. Jamie McNeill swung a dangerous ball into the box which was half cleared by a Ballyclare defender but as the ball dropped at the edge of the box Smyth showed that his talent at the top end of the pitch was equal to the other end when he coolly lobbed the ball over the crowd in the six yard box and into the net to draw the scores level.
Half time 1 v 1
Town knew the next goal would be important and really began to turn the screw, wave after wave of attacks were putting the Ballyclare defence under extreme pressure and with ten minutes gone in the second half Town forced another corner and this time Blacoe’s corner found an unmarked Daniel Johansen at the back post and his header was like a bullet into the top corner and at least this week it was in the right net!
Going in front allowed Town to play with a freedom that was a joy to watch with one occasion all eleven players touching the ball in a twenty plus passing movement that only just failed to release Jack Hogg to score. However Hogg didn’t have to wait long when a Blacoe free kick deep into the box was found by the head of the prolific striker and he made no mistake in scoring Town’s third of the day.
Arai Da Silva and Joshua McClune were then introduced and both made a positive impact and after they had both earlier combined Da Silva squared the ball across goal and somehow Woods missed with the goal gaping in front of him. Matthew Cupples, who had an excellent game at right back in his first start of the season, then became provider for Woods again but the diminutive midfielder wasn’t able to match his scoring feat from last week. The match then finished much as it had started with Town dominating possession and creating great chances.
Full Time 3 v 1
Town: Hancock, Cupples, Blacoe (c), Smyth, Johansen, Wilson, Judt, Woods, McGuckin, Hogg, McNeill. Subs: McClune, Da Silva