Roses, chocolates, a trip to Stangmore Park. Three things that are synonymous with Valentine’s Day. Plenty of couples pencilled in a date night to Dungannon where they saw Larne grind out a 2-0 victory to cement their top 6 position.
The contest was cagey at the outset with Dungannon arguably starting strongest. Conor Mitchell replaced his namesake Conor Devlin in the Larne goal and he was called into action early on. Caolan McAleer’s whipped free kick from a tight angle was swerving in but Mitchell tipped it round for a corner. Love was in the air as Larne’s defence gift wrapped chances for Dungannon early on. Harry Flowers (no cheap Valentine’s puns) misplaced a pass straight into the path of the oncoming Daniel Hughes who got a shot away, but it was cleared by Albert Watson.
It was a story of missed chances for Hughes in the first half who made good openings but couldn’t trouble Mitchell. A curling effort was wide of the cross bar with two other attempts trickling out of play. Despite these missed chances, Dungannon looked more likely to open the scoring. It seemed like an upset might be on and Larne’s winning streak could come to an end.
However, missed chances count for nothing and Larne broke the deadlock against the run of play. Tomas Cosgrove, Larne’s marauding right back, fizzed in a low cross which was parried by 16 year old Dungannon keeper Conor Byrne. The ball fell to Lee Lynch whose shot was saved by Byrne but he was powerless to stop Marty Donnelly, who rolled the ball into the empty net. It may be a cliche, but scoring just before half time really was perfect for Larne. It gave them a much needed confidence boost and it began to tell in their play. Lee Lynch was bamboozling defenders with his quick feet and sharp turns, Jeff Hughes was composed in midfield and Fuad Sule expertly maintained possession.
As the half time whistle blew, my mind switched to what keeps every Irish Premiership fan going week after week. The half time chip. This was my first visit to Stangmore Park and I was intrigued to see if they could match the world class fare I received at Institute. It was a typical curry chip you might receive from the Chinese, nothing special but it’s something to warm you up. A solid 6/10.
As the second half kicked off, Larne were more assured in their passing and began bossing the game. It seemed like Larne just had extra time on the ball, not rushing their play and steadily creating chances. Jeff Hughes was every inch a captain as he delicately controlled high balls coming down and played his side out of danger regularly. John Herron, recently signed from Glentoran, was also impressive in midfield. Unfortunately for Herron, he picked up an injury after a coming together with Dungannon’s Kris Lowe. The Scotsman received a yellow card and was replaced by another recent arrival, Amdrew Mitchell who is back from a bug.
Mitchell’s impact was instant as he fired a shot from 25 yards which stung the palms of Conor Byrne. Whilst Byrne made that save, a long range effort would be his undoing later. Fuad Sule, who epitomised Larne’s determination on the night, received the ball on the half way line. He evaded a challenge and then tripped as the ball went into the air. As the ball came down, he stayed on his feet and amazingly retained possession. Sule is not a man known for his goal scoring exploits but he tried his luck from distance. He’s struck better balls in his time but that didn’t matter, as the ball slipped through Byrne’s fingers for 2-0.
Dungannon continued to press and began to threaten as the match approached it’s climax. Caolan Coyle burst forward from right back and delivered a tantalising cross along the goal line. Kris Lowe was in the box to meet it but the Larne defence stopped him getting a shot away. That summed up Dungannon’s night. Getting close but just not close enough, creating half chances rather than clear goal scoring opportunities.
The final whistle blew and a collective sigh of relief emitted from the travelling Larne fans. It wasn’t the prettiest performance but it showed they are a side who can persevere and get results without being at their best. Manager Tiernan Lynch speaks a lot about how they need to trust their processes and stay focused on the game at hand. This approach is certainly paying dividends as this win secured their place in the top half when the season splits. After two victories on the road, Larne return to Inver Park next week where they will be expecting 3 points against a struggling Warrenpoint Town.
As for Dungannon, their main aim is to stave off relegation which I expect them to pull off. Kris Lindsay should not be totally discouraged by what he say. This was by no means a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre as his side created multiple chances and could have easily led at half time. When the league splits, they will not be playing sides of Larne’s quality every week. Dungannon travel to Carrick next week, if they fail to win there, they could easily get embroiled in a relegation dog fight.