Mons must battle Bray for place in Premier Division

5 November 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The first words of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s immortal phrase of commentary from the 1966 World Cup Final – “They think it’s all over…” – flash into the mind when contemplating the extraordinary, and not yet completed, saga of Monaghan United’s 2010 competitive campaign.

Downcast but philosophical fans who trudged from last Saturday’s meeting with Derry City at Gortakeegan, when the Candystripes were crowned as First Division champions, must have thought the last rites had been conducted on their side’s season.

True, events had conspired to give Monaghan another chance at promotion, Waterford United’s comeback win over Shelbourne guaranteeing the Mons a Tuesday night play-off at the RSC despite their defeat to a Mark Farren goal as Derry sealed their championship triumph with a victory.

But the Monaghan United of recent weeks conveyed the impression of artists whose muse had departed them, a string of disappointing results diminishing their prospects of Premier Division football next season towards what seemed like inevitable anti-climax.

Oh, we of little faith!

The Mons conjured an exceptionally resolute and committed performance when they travelled to take on Waterford on their home soil on Tuesday evening, coming always with a fully deserved 3-1 victory that now sets up a two-legged showdown with Bray Wanderers, with the prize of top division status glittering to be grasped.

The first leg takes place tomorrow, Friday night, at Gortakeegan with a 7.45 kick-off.

Those in attendance at the RSC will attest that the Mons have more than earned their reprieve.  They took on a resurgent Waterford side who had recovered from losing 2-4 at Gortakeegan a number of weeks ago to mount a storming finish to the season, but allowed them scant respite to enjoy the benefits of home advantage or the favourites’ tag.

Aidan Lynch, who has been a valuable on-field asset for United defensively in the latter half of the season, popped up in the box to give United the lead close to the half-hour, converting after his initial header had thundered back off the crossbar.

A great Gabriel Sava save from Liam Kearney just before half-time supplied a vital moment of the game, allowing United to preserve their advantage into a second half they embarked upon with steely determination.  A superb Philly Hughes header from Barry Clancy’s cross doubled the United lead but the Mons were subjected to an intensity of Waterford pressure, which yielded the reward of a Kearney goal.

Sava came to United’s rescue again with a vital save to deny Willie John Kearney, and with six minutes left on the clock Hughes supplied the coup de grace with a magnificent free-kick which reduced Kevin Burns in the Waterford goal to the role of bemused spectator.

The quality of Hughes’ two goals, some outstanding contributions from Sava and the overall resoluteness of the performance by a team who had looked to be running on empty in some of their final league games will ratchet up the confidence factor ahead of the Bray Wanderers double-header.

A knowledgeable national newspaper observer of the Irish soccer scene told this writer yesterday that Wanderers are “there for the taking”, but perhaps the greatest enemy which the Mons could permit to infiltrate their preparations for what lies ahead is over-confidence.

Bray certainly tick many of the boxes for sides whose top flight status slips away from them.  They come into these games on the back not just of a disappointing and dispiriting season, but having already missed out on the chance of survival their own Premier Division play-off with Galway United on Tuesday offered them.

They lost that game one-nil, Karl Sheppard’s 16th-minute goal for the Tribesmen proving decisive, and had defender Adam Mitchell sent off late in the game, potentially removing a key player for Friday night’s visit to Gortakeegan should the inevitable suspension be immediately activated.

But it should be remembered that only a few weeks ago Bray put in a magnificent effort against Shamrock Rovers in a too little, too late attempt to extricate themselves from their relegation predicament.  And they have some quality players who boast impressive pedigrees.

Much admired in Irish soccer is the Bray goalkeeper Matt Gregg, who started the campaign on Dundalk’s books before returning for a second spell with Wanderers.  The CV of his early career boasts a sojourn with Crystal Palace.

Monaghan will have to curb the attacking instincts from central midfield of Graham Kelly and Chris Shields, and Gary Shaw on his day is a dangerous striker who can test the mobility of even the most assured of central defences.

Wanderers might be a diminished force at present, but they will be playing for their Premier Division lives over the next two games.  United will have to dig deep and produce a performance on a par with the best of those they have managed this season if they are to realise their promotion dreams.

There is also a big role to play on Friday night for the Monaghan soccer public.  United’s outstanding form for the vast majority of this season produced some memorable games and exciting displays of football at the Gortakeegan venue, and a palpable reignition of interest in the Mons’ fortunes has been evident as a result.

But if there was ever a night when the ‘Your Club Needs You’ dictum held true for senior soccer in Monaghan, then Friday’s it.  Monaghan must take a significant advantage into Monday’s trip to Bray to place their chances of success in the tie on a firm footing – and the influence of the famous Twelfth Man could be vital.

Here’s hoping when we hear the ‘…it is now!’ attached to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s deathless phrase, and the curtain finally comes down on Monaghan United’s unforgettable season, the champagne corks are popping to the refrain of ‘Premier Division, here we come!’

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