SCORE twice in the first half, batten down the hatches in the second - that was Ballyclare Comrades’ winning formula in Saturday’s 2-0 victory against Newington Youth Club.
Strikes by Ricky Higgins and Kyle Agnew in the opening 10 minutes of the Steel and Sons Cup clash at Dixon Park proved to be decisive, when the home defence held out to record a clean sheet.
Manager Eddie Hill made a couple of changes with central defender Evan Forsythe left on the bench as a precautionary measure, while Johnny McClurg returned to the attack at the expense of young David Higgins.
After only five minutes Comrades were one up when midfielder Simon McGowan made ground down the right flank and crossed in to the box, where Higgins expertly controlled the ball before blasting it in to the net.
Six minutes later the home fans were cheering again following an incisive run by Adam Gray down the left side after dispossessing an opponent. He slipped the ball inside for Kyle Agnew to double the lead with his first goal of the season since returning from Nortel.
Comrades generally were dictating the terms of play, and except for a McDonnell long range drive that cannoned off the bar, Paddy Flood in the home goal was having an easy time.
The response was a flowing move involving right-back Glenn Pierce and Agnew that created space for McGowan, who saw his effort cleared off the line by a defender.
Seconds before the break Comrades missed a fine opportunity to add a third goal. Left-back Chris Monteith carried the ball forward before transferring to Agnew, who shot straight at keeper Smyth when a better option would have been to pass to unmarked Higgins.
Roles were reversed in the second session when the north Belfast lads came out determined to make a match of it.
They had the majority of possession but found it impossible to break down the home back four - Pierce, Monteith, Aaron Montgomery and the impressive Andrew Doyle.
In particular Doyle stood out at the heart of the defence, where in addition to turning in a personal outstanding display, he marshalled those around him effectively.
On the hour O’Connor should have done better when he fired wide, and four minutes later Quinn was denied twice - first by McGowan and then by Flood.
In the 76th minute Flood had to be at his best to tip over a Brannigan effort, while in a storming finish McElevey’s drive shaved the bar.
In injury time a goalmouth scuffle resulted in home defender Montgomery and visiting striker Smith being sent off.
So Comrades dubbed the pre-match favourites, held out for the win against one of the top Amateur League teams, and are now in to the last sixteen of this coveted trophy.
The prospect of a Christmas morning outing to Seaview is still on the cards but Ballyclare will have to overcome Dromara Village away on October 13 to keep the dream alive.
Ballyclare Comrades: Flood, Pierce, Montgomery, Doyle, Monteith; Agnew, McGowan, McAlea, Gray; Higgins (c), McClurg.
Read Comrades’ boss Eddie Hill’s post-match reaction to the victory over Newington YC in this week’s Newtownabbey Times