TWO successive wins have lifted Ballyclare Comrades in to joint pole position in the IFA Championship 2 table.
Having seen off Wakehurst at Dixon Park in midweek, Gordon Chambers’ lads picked up three more points in Portstewart last Saturday in a 2-1 scoreline.
Midfielder Andy Simms continues to be on fire and by extending his goal-a-game sequence he took his tally to an impressive six, well ahead of the chasing pack that includes last season’s top marksman, Mark McClelland.
When recent recruit from Chimney Corner, Jonny McClurg, doubled the lead a comprehensive win seemed assured until the home side set up a tense finish by reducing the deficit three minutes from time.
After missing the Wakehurst win, Anthony Hill resumed at left back, but limped out again before half-time to be replaced by Phil Logue. With stand-in skipper Scott Irvine side-lined for several weeks, young Chris Boy got his first senior start in midfield, while Keith Armstrong made his first appearance of the season and was given an attacking role alongside McClelland and Gary Brown.
Both teams found it difficult to come to terms with the uneven surface, so flowing movements were few and far between, but nevertheless there was action at both ends. McClelland tested Madison with a fine shot on the turn in the early stages, while later the keeper was glad to see a Brown chip float wide of the far post, and then he made a smart save from the same player.
At the opposite end, Comrades successfully defended a series of corners, while a Todd effort cleared Ross Glendinning’s bar, before Comrades opened the scoring five minutes before the break. Armstrong and McClelland took play in to the box, where Simms drilled the ball in to the bottom corner of the net.
Seconds before the break, Portstewart almost grabbed an equaliser when White beat the offside trap to advance on Glendinning, who averted the danger with a fine diving save.
There was another scare for the Reds’ defence in the 50th minute, when only a last-ditch tackle by Craig Reid prevented Todd from levelling the scores, but play switched immediately to the opposite end, where McClurg hit the post from close range.
Chambers was forced to make a second substitution when William Wharry departed injured, to be replaced by Stuart McCullough at the heart of the defence after having missed most of last season with a recurring ankle problem.
In the 71st minute, Comrades seemed to have the points wrapped up when McClurg scored his first goal for his new club with a low drive from the edge of the box, but Ports had the final say when Parsons ended Glendinning’s hopes of registering his first clean sheet of the season, with a header from within the six yards area.
In injury time, Brown came within inches of getting his name on the scorecard when his curling effort beat Madison but rebounded off the bar.
Ballyclare Comrades sponsored by Solicitors Reid Black & Co: Glendinning; Reid, Wharry (McCullough 58’), Rushe, Hill (Logue 38’); Boy, (Ibinson 85’), Simms, McClurg; Armstrong, McClelland, Brown. Subs not used: Higgins, McGrath.
Tomorrow (Saturday) Comrades will be off to Suffolk Road in west Belfast to take on Donegal Celtic Reserves in the second round of the Steel & Sons Cup (KO 3pm).