Ballyclare Comrades are well ahead of the pack with their first pre-season friendly already completed.
The Ulster University grounds at Jordanstown was the venue on Saturday when the senior and reserve team squads had an outing against Amateur League Division 1B side Rathfern Rangers. They were a late replacement for UUJ who were unable to fulfil the fixture.
David Dorrian’s lads won 2-0, and Stephen Hughes’ reserves drew 1-1 when it was all change after the interval.
The hosts started in top gear, forcing several corners while Sean Ward made a couple of routine saves. But once the Reds settled, play was mainly towards the opposite end.
Anthony Hill and newcomer Sandy McDermott combined effectively down the left flank, while another signing, Curtis Dempster (ex Crusaders), looked sharp up front alongside Randal Reid.
Samuel McIlveen was seldom out of the action in central midfield, and he opened the scoring in the 21st minute, when a free-kick from 25 yards cleared the wall and curled in at the angle of the woodwork.
Two minutes later Jonny McClurg doubled the lead when he had a simple tap-in after McDermott had skinned his marker and squared into the danger area.
The Comrades continued to have the upper hand, with McDermott and McIlveen going close, while Dempster fired just over following a link-up with Reid and McClurg.
Ballyclare resumed for the second half with mainly reserve-team players, and with a stack of substitutions there was little continuity. The impressive Scott Cummings from the Under-19s added a third goal, before Rathfern’s Alan Kerby prevented the whitewash with a header.
A feature of the second session was the midfield battle between Andrew Simpson and Philip Gordon, with the home skipper operating a man-marking mission against Simpson who was pulling the strings impressively for the Reds.