THE MONS PREVAIL DESPITE GILLESPIE'S MAGIC MOMENT

15 April 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Monaghan United 1
Longford Town 0
A third goal in two games by hitman Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien saw Monaghan United maintain their momentum in the Airtiricity League First Division at Gortakeegan Friday night – but it was the thickness of the goal frame that ultimately guaranteed them the three points against a decent Longford Town side inspired by the second half introduction of their much heralded new signing Keith Gillespie, writes Peter Hughes.
In the last of five fraught minutes of added time, the former Manchester United winger rolled back the years with a scintillating free-kick that thumped off the goalpost with Mons keeper Gabriel Sava diving despairingly in the shot’s direction.
Fairy tale turned to frustration for Longford as referee Rob Daly’s whistle sounded seconds later – a counterpoint to the relief written large on the faces of the Monaghan United supporters who had seen their side ship heavy pressure in the last quarter.
Gillespie’s influence on the game had been distinct but oblique. He barely touched the ball in open play, but his very presence drifting phantom-like around the midfield seemed to preoccupy the Mons – and the rest of the Longford offensive line reaped accentuating threat from the greater space they enjoyed.
United manager Roddy Collins gave his pack another shuffle for the game, but it was a light one, affording a debut to striker Michael Isichei, who proved a hard-working foil for O’Brien and the free-flowing Sean Brennan. The defensive line of Paul Whelan, Dave Rodgers, Aidan Collins and Shane Grimes projected a settled solidity and, the few Gillespie-induced scares aside, dealt comfortably with what Longford threw at them.
Following an impeccably observed minute’s silence to mark the passing of Breffni Kilmurray, father of Monaghan United’s programme editor Ronan Kilmurray, and Jimmy Cousins, father of Longford Town manager Tony Cousins, an entertaining first half unfolded.
A first-minute foul on O’Brien gave Sean Brennan the opportunity to curl a free-kick around the Longford wall but the effort lacked the power to discomfort goalkeeper Paul Hunt. Brennan then sent a piledriver over the crossbar after Town’s Chris Deans had baulked the run of Isichei onto Ryan Brennan’s swift through pass.
In more early Mons pressure, Hunt took off an excellent save when Paul Whelan ran onto a short Ryan Brennan corner to thunder in a shot. Isichei headed over from close range from the resultant corner. Sean Brennan and Isichei again also had driven efforts off-target.
The openness of the game assured Longford their share of chances, and they almost went ahead in the 22nd minute. After Whelan had turned Thomas Hyland’s cross behind, Jacques Morley’s corner was met powerfully by Des Hope and only a faint deflection off a United defender kept the header from finding the net.
Sava had to punch a wickedly dipping Hyland cross out from under his crossbar in the 31st minute, and three minutes later, after Don Cowan was upended by Rodgers, Morley hit a splendid curling free-kick that just escaped the target.
A superb pass out of defence by Dave Rodgers liberated O’Brien in the 37th minute, and the United striker from an acute angle made Hunt in the Town goal work hard. An Eric Foley shot was deflected to safety before a deft Sean Brennan knock-down set up O’Brien for a shot that flashed just wide.
United maximised their late-half momentum in its final minute, O’Brien cleverly eluding the close attentions of Chris Dean to meet Ryan Brennan’s cross with a shot on the turn that flashed into the corner of the net.
The Mons promised to build on the lead after the resumption, a period of heavy pressure resulting in Paul Whelan striking the crossbar with a cross-cum-shot. Whelan discharged his defensive duties admirably soon after to baulk the run of Jacques Morley, whose increasing influence on the game evidenced a strong Town revival that took on renewed momentum when Gillespie replaced Cathal Brady on the hour mark.

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