County Antrim vs Higashi Fukuoka – Premier section match report

Jul 29, 2015 | Premier Section

County Antrim secured a place in the Milk Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 win over Higashi Fukuoka at Parker Avenue, Portrush.

It was an intriguing contest between the tall physical county team and the smaller, more technical Japanese side. Antrim didn’t have it all their way in the game, especially in a first half in which they failed to score. They had two chances in quick succession, with number 17 Matthew Shevlin shooting straight at the keeper and, when the ball was played back in, Eamon Fyfe firing over. Higashi then took a shock lead with a goal out of the blue. Yudai Nishiyama hit a rocket of a shot from 25 yards out which swerved in the air and left Jack Ferguson completely stranded.

Antrim responded brilliantly to going behind – they showed great build-up play and created plenty of chances but they just lacked the quality up front to finish off each move. Shevlin rounded the goalkeeper but his path was blocked by a number of Japanese defenders, Thomas Roscoe curled in a free-kick from the right that wasn’t far off target and Ryan Nimick saw his well-hit effort sail over the bar.

The second half started in the same vain as Shevlin hooked wide from a good position and Jack McCourt’s header was easily saved. Higashi should have doubled their advantage but goal scorer Nishiyama couldn’t convert from a free-kick. The Japanese number 7 was certainly their main threat throughout the game, showing some good touches of the ball and starting off rapid counter-attacks. Antrim finally brought themselves level midway through the second half. Shevlin kept the ball in play superbly, drove into the box and was fouled cynically. He picked himself up, dusted himself down and struck the resulting penalty firmly into the bottom left hand corner.

Antrim started to come into the ascendancy, with a large home crowd cheering them on from all four sides. They needed to find a goal from somewhere and it was Shevlin again who took it upon himself to provide it. Two Higashi defenders jumped for the same ball and it dropped nicely for Shevlin outside the box, and he smashed it on the half-volley past Shouhei Ogata, sending the spectators into ecstasy. The last few minutes were notably bereft of opportunities for both sides, with Antrim holding out for their third consecutive win. Higashi did have one final chance but defender Kaito Abe made a wild swipe at the ball and missed it completely, ensuring the Japanese finished on zero points.

Craig Latimer