The orange strip of Zambians Lusaka certainly brightened up the dreary skies over Rugby Avenue but it was County Down who took the spoils in this entertaining encounter.
It was Down who had started the best with some good early pressure, with a number of strong tackles flying in from both sides. However, Lusaka grew into the game and had arguably the best early chance as Lawrence Miranzi flashed a header wide, when he probably had time to bring the ball down on his chest. This was closely followed by an opening for Timothy Chisha but he blazed his shot high and wide.
Chisha was in the thick of the action again as he produced a wonderful save from Down keeper Matthew Davidson, after some excellent wing play by Norris Angel Mwamba. Mwamba was a real threat every time he got the ball, the men in orange went on to regret not giving him more of the ball.
The momentum started to swing back Down’s way as they heaped pressure on Lusaka’s back line, through a series of well taken set pieces as well as Josh Kelly’s long throws, which were causing huge panic in the Lusaka defence. The best chance for Down, during this spell, had fallen to Niall Cassidy but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
As the game reached the half hour mark, it all turned a little scrappy, with both teams struggling to keep possession. It looked like the game would reach half time scoreless and there seemed to be no danger as Down got a free kick 40 yards from goal. Aaron Devlin launched the ball towards the goal, Lusaka keeper Mweene came to collect but misjudged and the ball flew into the net to give Down a fortunate 1-0 lead at the break.
As the second half started, it didn’t get much better for the unfortunate Mweene. Another long throw from Kelly was flicked on from Cassidy, it managed to find it’s way through a bunch of players before hitting the post. However, having dived in an attempt to keep Cassidy’s flick out, Mweene could do nothing as the ball ricocheted off the post, hit him on the back and squeezed over the line to double Down’s lead.
Lusaka managed to cut into this lead almost instantly as Miranzi converted from the penalty spot. Down defender Kyle Calderwood had made what looked like a solid, but fair, tackle to win the ball in the box. However, the referee must have felt it was too strong as he pointed to the spot, much to the disbelief of the Down no.5, who was booked for his troubles.
However, this setback did not deter Down as they soon restored their 2 goal advantage. Their set piece delivery had been immense all game and another beautiful corner was met by a towering header from Chris Murray to make it 3-1.
Lusaka had a couple of half chances thereafter, Mirenzi and Mwamba both looking threatening once again. However, Murray sealed the points as he curled the ball into the top corner from the left wing to make it 4-1. It may have been meant as a cross, but I will give the benefit of the doubt.
Down saw the game out comfortably after this as Lusaka seemed to tire as the match closed out. All in all, a very impressive performance from Co. Down who go on to Coleraine Showgrounds tomorrow night to play Co. Armagh, in what could be a cracker.
by Ray Baxter