NORTHEND United Manager Glenn Speirs was again lost for words as he saw his entertaining team let another two points slip in the dying minutes of their National League fixture.
This time the visitors to Northend’s Showgrounds base were League challengers and Irish League Youth side, Ballymena United, who got out of jail when they equalised the score with almost the last kick of this highly competitive festive ‘derby’ match.
Manager Speirs commented after the match: “The Northend boys are really beginning to settle into life in the National League, playing some great pass and move football. The hard work in training is beginning to pay off.
“Today’s performance shows what a good team we have become with the boys dominating play for large periods of this match but unfortunately not getting their true reward.”
Elsewhere in the National League, the U14s match at Smithfield against Airtricity League Academy side, Derry City Colts, fell victim to the inclement weather.
There was a repeat performance in the Belfast and East Antrim League with the U12s match at the Valley pitches against Ballyclare Comrades also falling victim to the inclement weather.
Northend 1, Ballymena United 1: The Blues started the match strongly with James Cameron, Niall Swann and Jamie Speirs quickly grabbing control of the vital midfield area.
It was the Northend Blues who looked the more composed side on the 3G surface, playing the better pass and move football against their near neighbours.
Adam McLaverty went close with an early shot that saw the Ballymena keeper make a good save. Northend should have taken the lead on ten minutes when a Stephen Hare free kick was headed inches past the Ballymena upright by the influential Niall Swann.
In a blistering open spell, Northend again went close with another Hare free kick which Connell Lemon just failed to connect with and ended up going narrowly wide of the upright.
However Ballymena began to claw their way back into the game and began to play the long ball their left winger. On two occasions he got a cross into the Northend box and on both occasions the Ballymena striker rattled the Northend crossbar after Ryan Gault had made two good saves.
Indeed Gault, who was making his debut in the Northend nets, went on to have an excellent match with some very assured handling throughout the match.
A tactical switch saw Anthony McAvoy move to right back and cut out any further threat from the Ballymena winger.
Northend weathered this Ballymena pressure and with Bryan Etherson and Michael Laverty in excellent form in the middle of their defence, began to come more into the game.
Again the Northend midfield of Cameron, Swann and Speirs were involved in some excellent passing play from which Ballymena concede d a number of free kicks. Bryan Etherson nearly made them pay with two excellently delivered free-kicks to the back post however big Swanny wasn’t able to get his head to the ball and saw the free kicks sail narrowly wide of the upright. However with nobody unable to break the deadlock the half time score remained 0-0
The Blues again started the second half strongly with Niall Swann, Stephen Hare and Connell Lemon in the thick of the action. Hare and Lemon were stretching the Ballymena defence with their wing play but it was that man Jamie Speirs, returning to the team after a long absence due to injury, who went on to pull all the strings in the second half for the Northend Blues.
With Jamie Speirs in full flow it didn’t take Northend long to open the scoring. A high ball into the Ballymena box was only partially cleared and when the ball broke to Adam McLaverty, he back heeled the ball into the path of Connell Lemon, who smashed the ball past the helpless Ballymena keeper to give the Northend Blues a 1-0 advantage.
Back Ballymena came at Northend but Laverty, McKitterick, Etherson and McAvoy held firm. Northend should have doubled their lead on twenty minutes when a through ball left Adam McLaverty being pursued by the Ballymena centre-back but as the keeper advanced his attempted clearance rebounded off McLaverty and was heading for goal only for the centre-back get back just in the nick of time to clear off the goal line.
With legs becoming tired Northend introduced Jack Nixon and Lee Scroggie for Speirs and Laverty to give them more bite in midfield and both players went on to give a good account of themselves in the second half, where the play began to get bogged down in midfield.
With time running out, Ryan Gault dealt comfortably with whatever long distance balls Ballymena could throw at him.
Just as it was looking like the Northend Blues would take all the points, they conceded a corner in almost the final minute of the game. A near post ball wasn’t picked up by the Northend defenders and the Ballymena striker scored to level the score, much to the relief of the big Ballymena contingent.
With barely time left to take the resultant centre the Northend boys were dealt another harsh lesson in how to defend a lead in a match which ended up 1-1 but could have been so much different.
The Blues now have a well earned Christmas break and return to action on 12th January with another home match against Glendowan in the Elite National League.
It was great to see Thomas Brady in attendance with the Northend team today for the match against Ballymena, giving the team a big lift for this important match. It’s only been 12 weeks from Thomas broke both bones in his right leg in the last Derby match against Ballymena United. His injury is healing well and Thomas hopes to be back in training come February and is already pencilling in a return to action in March.
Northend: R Gault, J McKitterick, M Laverty, B Etherson, A McAvoy, J Cameron, J Speirs, N Swann (c), C Lemon, S Hare, A McLaverty, J Nixon, L Scroggie, R Sloan
Training has now concluded for a well earned Christmas break and will start again at the usual locations and times as follows:-
- Wednesday 2nd January – U13s and U14s training recommences at Clough MUGA
- Monday 7th January – U9s, U10s U12s and U16s at Showgrounds Pitch 3
- Monday 7th January – U11s, U13s and U14s at Eaton Park
Johnny Sayers, Northend United Youth Chairman has issued the following festive statement: “The Northend Executive Committee would like to take this opportunity to wish all our sponsors, coaches, boys and their parents a Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year.
“This current year has been a big year for our Club, both on and off the pitch, with the club going from strength to strength.”
With the transfer window rapidly approaching again during the month of January, Northend are on the lookout for more players to add to their teams, giving boys the opportunity to develop their skills against some of the top Irish League Academy sides in the country.
If you were born between 1997 and 2004 and are interested in playing competitive football in either the Elite National League, the Belfast and East Antrim Youth League or the North West and Coleraine and District Youth League, why not come along to our training sessions on a Monday night at the Showgrounds or get in contact with John Devlin on 0791 905 683 or Glenn Speirs on 0779 989 5213.