Match Report – Co. Antrim 3 v 2 Co. Down

Jul 29, 2014 | Premier Section

Two stunning free kicks decided this Milk Cup tie in County Antrim’s favour on a balmy evening at Ballymena Showgrounds.

Marc Sykes gave County Antrim the lead with an effort from a full 40 yards before Michael Johnston levelled for County Down ten minutes into the second half. Antrim regained the lead eight minutes later courtesy of another stunning free kick, this time from Andrew Monney before substitute Paul Smyth extended their lead further with 64 minutes on the clock. A late header from Callum Byers proved scant consolation for Down who lost out in this entertaining opening day clash.

It was Antrim who threatened first with long range efforts from Andrew Monney and Marc Sykes as Down struggled to get a foothold in the game. The first real chance fell to Antrim’s Gary Donnelly on 14 minutes but the midfielder skewed his effort wide of goal when well placed in the box.

Antrim continued to press and were justly rewarded with a spectacular effort from Marc Sykes. A powerful effort from all of 40 yards beat Down goalkeeper Reece Kane all ends up to give the boys in red the lead. Falling behind appeared to finally spark Down into life, who went close through full back Ryan Neale’s marauding run and shot before Adam McCallum had an effort cleared off the line. A late, off target strike from centre back Jack Smith drew the first half to a close as Antrim just about held on to their slender lead.

The second period began in the same fashion as the first ended, with Down in the ascendancy. On 46 minutes they drew level through Michael Johnston with a sliding chipped effort past the Antrim goalkeeper Jack Ferguson. At this stage the momentum appeared to be with Down but the pendulum soon swung in Antrim’s favour courtesy of a deft 20 yard free kick from Andrew Monney. Monney had threatened moments earlier, forcing an acrobatic full stretch save from Reece Kane in the County Down goal.

Antrim were on the front foot and almost made it three through substitute Paul Smyth, but despite a lightening show of pace, the diminutive forward couldn’t release the ball quickly enough to square the ball across the box, allowing Reece Kane to gather comfortably. This occurrence didn’t appear to have any adverse effect on Smyth as eight minutes later he was sent through on goal again, this time finishing powerfully past Kane amidst wild celebrations from the County Antrim contingent.

Down found a glimmer of home with four minutes remaining as full back Callum Byers headed home from the back post at a corner to ensure a nervy ending for the leaders. Down threw the kitchen sink in a fruitless search for an equaliser during a tense four minute spell of extra time, which saw Antrim captain Paul Smith sent off for a second bookable offence after a wild lunge.

On the balance of play Antrim shaded this contest, deserving the three points and will take on Chertanovo Academy tomorrow in Limavady, whilst Down venture to Rugby Avenue, Coleraine to take on Partick Thistle.

Report by Jordan Miller.

COUNTY ANTRIM: Adam McCracken, Jack Smith, Adam McCallum, Andrew Monney (Cameron Andrews), Marc Sykes, Ross Holden (Owen McKeown), Michael McKenna, Joshua Corry, Gary Donnelly, Ronan Hale (Paul Smyth), Jack Ferguson. Subs not used: Jason Craughwell, Nathan Watters, Jordan Malone, Harry Griffin.

COUNTY DOWN: Callum Byers, Reece Neale, Ryan Noble-Walker, Cameron Stewart, Michael Johnston, Jody McGovern (Jamal Othman Khalid), Lee Newell (Jamal Dupree), Adam Salley, Andrew Drylie, Carl Lennox, Reece Kane. Subs not used: Thomas Morrow, Tiarnan Rushe, Andrew Foster, Matthew Dempster, Nic Turkington.