THE Mid Ulster girls faced a season defining fixture on Tuesday night when they entertained Cliftonville Ladies in the first leg of a Relegation / Promotion playoff for the Davisons Frudles NIWFA league.
Having narrowly missed out on the championship title to YMCA, Cliftonville boasted a physically strong side with a number of highly talented individuals. Mid Ulster knew that they would have a battle on their hands to maintain their Premier League status.
Mid Ulster made a great start to the game and were on the attack from the kick off. Good pressure from the home side was to pay dividends when Lisa Richardsons cross in from the left was well finished by Stacey Lee giving the girls an early lead.
This served to shake up the Cliftonville attack and they responded immediately with a shot just over. Another Cliftonville attack followed and this time Marissa Callaghan placed a great shot into the top corner bringing parity to the scoreline.
It was end to end stuff and from the kick off Mid Ulster went on the offensive winning a corner on the right. The ball broke to Stacey Lee and she made no mistake to double her tally and put Mid Ulster back into the lead. Once again Cliftonville reacted almost immediately and with Mid Ulster playing into the sun Cliftonvilles Martine Power used her experience to unleash a great strike from just inside the Mid Ulster half which sailed over everyones head into the goal. With fifteen minutes gone and the game at 2-2 many of the spectators thought that the pace would drop but not a chance. More Mid Ulster pressure followed and Simone Magill was next on the scoresheet with some great individual skill and a finish to match making the score now 3-2.
Once again Cliftonville tried to react immediately and only a smart save from Jacqueline Burns in the Mid Ulster goal prevented a further change to the scoreline. Cliftonville were still posing a threat on the break and Claire Brown had to have her timing to perfection with a last ditch tackle on a great through ball. More pressure from Cliftonville saw good defensive work from Claire Brown and Colleen McCullough who played a super cross field pass to release Simone Magill.
Once again Simone showed great skill to beat her player and strike a great finish to give Mid Ulster the two goal cushion they deserved. Soon after the half time whistle blew with the home team holding a 4-2 advantage.
Mid Ulster started the second half as they had ended the first and with practically the first attack of the game they extended their lead yet again. A driving run from Lisa Richardson fed Stacey Lee who played the ball on to Simone Magill who turned magnificently and fired the ball home to claim her hat trick.
Cliftonville had not gone out of the game and a couple of good challenges from Claire Rooney and Mykylea Stewart were needed to thwart the Cliftonville attack.
Mykylea Stewart was having a great battle with her opposite number and gaining the upper hand on most occasions so much so that she resorted to fouling her.
Just as the spectators thought the match had entered a bit of a lull there was a wild tackle on Adele Gillespie and Cliftonville found themselves reduced to 10 when the player vented her frustration with a kick.
With the extra player now Mid Ulster were able to pile more pressure on the visitors and Ruth Brown was making great inroads on the right wing. One such move on seventy minutes saw a ball into Stacey Lee who again fed Simone Magill who made no mistake with the finish and grabbed her fourth of the night, to leave it 6-2.
On eighty minutes the lead was extended again this time Lisa Richardson executing a nice left footed finish.
In fairness to Cliftonville they never gave up and indeed as the game entered the final minutes they forced a corner and had a number of long range shots. Another corner for Mid Ulster saw Claire Brown rise the highest to head home and make it 8-2 to Mid Ulster.
With the light fading fast Mid Ulster still knew where the goals where and moments later Simone Magills weighted pass found Stacey Lee who under pressure stroked the ball home to complete her hat trick. The crowd were calling out for 10 but time was to run out and Cliftonville were probably happy to hear the final whistle.
Final score Mid Ulster 9 Cliftonville 2
Team: J Burns, C Brown, C Rooney, C McCullagh, M Stewart, L Richardson, B Jordan, A Gillespie, R Brown, S Lee, S Magill
Subs not used : J Overend, E McFarland, C Barnes, D Bettany, H Turkington.
The second leg of the relegation play off for the NIWFA Premiership was played at Hanwood on Friday night. The game didn’t quite live up to the fireworks of the first leg. A tight fought encounter on an even tighter pitch was only brightened up when Adele Gillespie struck a well rehearsed free kick to give the Mid Ulster girls the lead. Cliftonville replied not unlike the first match with a well struck shot from outside the area from Marissa Callaghan. Final score on the night 1-1 Mid Ulster stay up with a 10 - 3 victory overall.
With the hard work of staying up done and dusted the girls and supporters can now look forward to a league cup final outing against Glentoran Belfast Utd on Monday 26 September at Solitude.
Congratulations to Jacqueline Burns and Simone Magill who have been selected for N.Ireland Under 17s and 19 respectively to travel to Belgium and Portugal for International friendly matches at the end of August.