Thistle hold league leaders
Lurgan Thistle travelled to league champions elect Donaghmore looking to make amends for a poor showing last time the two teams met. The pitch was very heavy with large puddles of water in places, but the referee deemed it playable. Thistle were dealt an early blow as Chris Halfpenny suffered a recurrence of his knee injury in the warm up and left the Jags with just two subs.
Thistle were quickest out of the blocks and for the first fifteen minutes had the lion’s share of possession. Donaghmore struggled to cope with the direct running of Mark Ferris on the right wing and McLaverty and McGeown had the measure of the midfield battle. Stephen Smith at right back pulled off some outstanding tackles and blocks as he threw his body on the line. Smith almost forced the ball in at the back post from an Agnew free kick, but Donaghmore though took the lead on twenty minutes as their striker scored a header from a glaringly obvious offside position. It was a bitter blow and Donaghmore took full advantage as they added a second on the half hour as their striker controlled the ball fully with his hand before scoring. The Jags felt a deep sense of injustice, especially as dangerous tackles were flying in and going unpunished. Mickey Mulholland deservedly got a yellow card for retaliation as the Donaghmore player left the boot in after a poor challenge. Captain Darren Mallon followed in the book seconds later for asking the referee why the original tackle went unpunished.
The game got scrappy and several Thistle players were on the end of some very rough challenges, most of which were not even blew up as fouls by the referee. Centre half Michael Millar got kicked in the head twice by the number 9, opening a gash above his eye before the referee finally booked the number 9 as it was his ‘fourth warning’. Darren Mallon, Stevie Smith, Jack Patterson, Ritchie McLaverty, Mickey Mulholland and Michael Millar all required treatment for some very poor and late tackles. The Jags got a deserved equaliser before half time though as Mark Ferris headed a corner out to Patterson who swung in a spectacular overhead kick.
Jonny Haughian came on for Mallon at half time and thankfully the second half was more about football matters. Patterson worked the channels hard and James Agnew was heavily involved as most of the play seemed to go down the left wing. Junior Crawford made a fine stop with his feet, and the Thistle backline were holding firm. Michael McDaid came on to the right wing as Patterson was replaced with the final in mind. Ferris pushed up front alongside Davy Steele. Agnew and Mulholland switched places in an effort to shore up the defence as Mick Millar was struggling with a thigh injury and there were no subs left. The Jags had Donaghmore on the back foot as they pushed for an equaliser and it came two minutes from time as a Ferris corner was cleared to Agnew at the edge of the box and he lashed it home through the crowd of players. There were jubilant scenes, but Patterson and O’Neill calmed things down and the Jags saw out the remainder of the game.
The result is a testament to the never say die attitude that was evident all over the park. There was real guts and determination from the walking wounded of the Thistle and the scenes at the end captured the camaraderie within the squad. Unfortunately Halfpenny’s season may be over, but he was first to congratulate the boys at the end of the game. The rest of the injuries will be assessed this week and with almost two weeks to the cup final, the hope is that none are too serious. Man of the Match for the second time in three weeks was Ritchie McLaverty in the centre of the park. Stephen Smith had a phenomenal first half and the team as a whole is starting to click just in time for the cup final on 23rd March.