Lurgan Town hosted the Maiden City based National League team Oxford United Stars on Saturday and with one of their best performances of the season to date booked their place in the last 16 with a magnificent 4-1 victory.
Right from the start Town pressed the visitors and it was causing them problems all over. The movement from the front three of Ryan McGuckin, Jamie McNeill and Niall McBride, called up from the Mid-Ulster squad saw the Stars defence struggle to deal with them.
After a couple of close offside calls went against Town a great through ball from McBride found Jamie McNeill all alone at the edge of the box but the forward’s effort was well saved. A few minutes later it was McBride’s turn to have a good chance and again the goalkeeper won the duel to effort out. Next was McGuckin’s chance and his goal bound effort was blocked with some last ditch defending.
Then came a two minute spell when it nearly felt that Town just weren’t destined to score. Firstly McBride beat two players at the edge of the box and unleashed a great shot, however the keeper proved impassable once again as he pushed the shot over the bar. From the resulting corner Simon Wilson saw his header blocked on the line before the defender scrambled the ball wide again for another corner. This one found McBride free but his headed effort went just wide.
Fate then intervened for Town when their keeper with a rare touch of the ball split his boots and in the break the coaching staff had a chance to give the forward’s a bit of advice and within minutes it had paid off. McGuckin and Woods combined well on the left before feeding Gary Judt who found McBride and this time the forward faked a shot before rounding the keeper and stroking the ball home for the opening goal.
It is said you are at your most vulnerable right after you score and this was the case for Town. With their first real attack of the game the National League side fed the ball through to their centre forward who struck a wicked shot into the top corner and the quality of the strike was only matched by Hancock’s save. However from the corner a few deflections eventually saw the ball fall to Star’s skipper and he couldn’t miss from a few yards out.
Half Time 1 v 1
The message from the management at the break was for the lads not to panic and keep playing as they were. And the lads stayed on track and were rewarded for their efforts shortly after the break with some great chances for the newly introduced Arai Da Silva and McNeill. Adam Leathem had replaced Matthew Cupples at right back and the defender had began to stretch the Star team along with the skipper Ryan Blacoe on the other flank and this was letting the front three find themselves in lots of space. A great ball from Morgan Smyth pierced through Stars and Niall McBride found himself running in on goal again. this time the striker took his shot early and smashed the ball into the bottom corner.
This killed the visitors and the resorted to playing very direct were the centre back partnership of Daniel Johansen and Smyth were just mopping everything up easily. With twenty minutes to go a Blacoe corner was headed down by Wilson and Da Silva’s shot smashed off the inside of the post and Woods on the rebound thought his effort was over the line when scooped out acrobatically by Stars keeper.
Town kept pressing and before long the introduction of Joshua Pugh and Joshua McClune gave Town the energy to keep going. Another attack down the right by Leathem found McBride in space and the forward showed great vision by squaring the ball across goal to find Pugh with the freedom of the penalty area and he doubled Town’s lead with a simple tap in.
With five minutes to go the visiting keeper made his first mistake of the day by picking up a back pass and from the free kick the ball was touched to Alex Woods and the midfielders driven shot took a slight deflection but it was enough to wrong foot the keeper and put the game out of sight.
In the dying moments of the game Stars offered the only other real attack in the game and were unlucky to see a great header come back off the post. Town had the last say in the game when sub Leo Egge-Cousins was unlucky not to get on the end of a Pugh cross with seconds remaining and the goal gaping.
Town are now going into their winter break which will give the lads injured a chance to return and let those who have been playing to recharge their batteries for the second half of the season. The biggest point for the lads is that if they keep playing like that then it will be a great second half to the season.
Full Time 4 v 1
Town: Hancock, Cupples, Blacoe (c), Smyth, Johansen, Wilson, Judt, Woods, McNeill, McBride, McGuckin
Subs: Leathem, McClune, Da Silva, Pugh, Egge-Cousins