BALLYCLARE Comrades were denied a role in the Seaview festive final when they were beaten on penalties by Glentoran II in the semi-final of the Steel and Sons Cup, but manager Eddie Hill felt there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
“It was as close as the penalty shootout confirmed,” he stated, “and the result could have gone either way. We won in the previous two rounds by coming out tops on penalties, but third time lucky wasn’t to be.
“Gary Brown and Gerard McAlea, who both scored from the spot in the previous rounds, unfortunately blazed their efforts over the bar, when I would have put money on them scoring.
“The Glens keeper didn’t make a save in the shootout, but Paddy Flood kept us in contention by stopping one of theirs, but we are out and that means disappointment for the fans who would have loved to have been going to Seaview on Christmas morning.
“We had selection problems with defenders Chris Monteith, Evan Forsythe and Aaron Montgomery all out, but Glenn Pierce and Darren Doherty came in to fill the full-back positions, and both came through with flying colours.
“We suffered a bad blow when Andrew Doyle was forced to retire after the break. He has been outstanding all season at the heart of the defence, but he received a nasty ankle injury from a heavy tackle, and although we strapped him up during the interval, he limped out almost immediately after the restart.
“We held the balance of play in the first half, but failed to take our chances, and this proved to be our downfall.
“After going behind we made a tactical change by bringing on striker Johnny McClurg in place of midfielder Adam Gray.
“Johnny played in behind Ricky Higgins and the other substitute, Kyle Agnew, and this proved to be a hit, with Johnny scoring twice to take the tie in to extra-time.
“The fans didn’t have much to shout about in the first half, but the teams made up for that after the interval.
“It was a typical Cup tie with thrills at each end, and the result was in doubt right through extra-time. Unfortunately, in Cup ties there has to be a loser and we failed to make it.
“We gave our all, none more so than Brown - he was the subject of some robust tackling, but he has a heart like a lion and kept bouncing back.
“Unfortunately, he is unlikely to recover in time for this weekend’s Irish Cup tie against Portstewart. It would be great to get through this round to give us a chance of meeting some of the Premier League giants in the next round, but my top priority is gaining promotion.
“We have beaten all the main contenders, but have dropped points to some of the lesser sides, so we will have to buckle down and start showing some consistency in the new year.
“Evan Forsythe and Aaron Montgomery might be fit to be considered for the Portstewart game at Dixon Park, but Doyle and Brown are extremely doubtful,” he ended.
Fans should note that the kick-off will be earlier than usual at 1.30 pm with extra-time and penalties if required.