Features - 01/02/2007
By Peter Thompson
Seaside Town Painted Green as Seconds Continue Demolition Derby
They say there’s something in the sea air on the North Down Riviera- whatever it is, the Green Machine’s second-string was high on it as they endured the blood, sweat and joy of a hard-fought win to continue their unbeaten run in 2007.
An early arrival at the astro-clad wastelands of Ballykilaire granted us plenty of time to focus on the challenge ahead. Some of the troops, on arrival, showed signs of nerves; a prompt and intense game of "Keepy Uppy" in the dressing room put paid to that. And so it was, from there, to the theatre of dreams known as Pitch Two, enduring what hostilities confronted us with valour and fortitude. Leaving behind us the reassuring environs of Paisley Park, we could not help but remind ourselves that the Green Army’s last away win had long been consigned to the history books. If we were to fulfil our ambitions of being a truly immense side, then we would surely have to make our mark on unfamiliar soils.
And so the battle commenced; from the very outset, the experienced Bangor side was having its plans washed away by a sea of Green. East captain Peter Thompson had made a last-minute decision to place four men in midfield, and from the birth of the game it seemed to be a stroke of genius, perplexing the opposition with our intricate positioning and textbook space creation.
Phil Brown, the left-mid maestro, was in all of his one-handed glory as he consistently overturned the ball and fed it to our ravenous forwards. East’s first goal was very much a team effort, however it was Brown that "put the biscuit in the basket", so to speak, with a polished finish that hushed the rowdy Bangor throng.
To their credit, the Seasiders responded well to the Green Machine’s ferocious offensive effort, and a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of our defence furnished the home side with a penalty corner. A callous deflection allowed the ball to breach the goal line and, courtesy of Bangor’s Michael Elbourne, it was back to square one. Phil Brown, determined not to remain in that square for very long, immediately searched for the lead, and in a moment of confusion in the box, Phil’s awesome vision and creativity put us back into the driving seat, and the Bangor goalkeeper could only spectate as he was outsmarted by a stroke of technical genius.
Alas the half-time ceasefire was sounded, and not at moment too soon for either side. Whilst the scoreline gifted us with an important psychological edge, Captain Peter Thompson was quick to accentuate that East was only in the lead by the skin of its teeth. Was our hunger a game-winning one? As the saying goes, "victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat", and Bangor’s previous triumph was, if nothing else, surely a motivation for conquest. The Battle of Bangor, as it forever shall be known, was a mere thirty-five minutes away from declaring a victor.
The war trumpet, also known as Chris Harte’s whistle, signalled the beginning of the second period, and to our concern it was the home team who appeared to have their foot firmly on the gas. Through necessity, East Antrim once again began to pass with elegance, move with grace and attack with vigour. Nothing is more pleasing than seeing one of the club’s "young guns" making an impact, and today it came in the shape of the tireless Johnny Orr. Driving through the Bangor defence like a bull in a China shop, Orr created a stunning opportunity for a goal; the keeper was well positioned and the defence poised for clearance, however the reverse of an East stick ripped through the Bangor resistance and the ball hit the net with ballistic force. 3-1 it was, but time was on Bangor’s side.
A lapse of concentration by the defence led to bad positioning, and a Bangor aggressor was left to sprint into the box. "The Cat" confronted him and made a solid save, however with no defence to pick the ball up, the rebound was a license to kill for Connor Savage, and as the ball hit the back of the East net, so too did the spirit of the home team come alive.
To the utter astonishment of the crowd, and, I must say, one or two East players, Bangor began to show signs of control, and promptly mounted an attack that shell-shocked the squad. Time was quickly running out, and the home side sought to find an equaliser with a demonic attacking effort. With just four minutes to go, Bangor were given a short corner that could have changed the face of the game- this they took well, but it was comfortably saved by Peter Thompson. Vowing to lead by example and desperate to hold on to the win, Thompson was shortly faced with the challenge of another short, which he promptly neutralised.
Though the defence were courageously trying to see out this blitz, yet another- yes, another- penalty corner was awarded to the home side, just one second before the final whistle was blown. Never this season have five East players been under so much pressure, and with nothing to lose, all ten men were brought forward by Bangor to ensure that the game, either way, would culminate in a historic climax. As the crowd held their breaths (indeed, some couldn’t find it in them to watch), Bangor pushed the ball out swiftly, and it found the stick of their star striker. In just a split second, he was into the box and lined up his shot with precision and talent, and before the East defence could reach him, a blazing shot was unleashed. The angle, speed and power were perfect, and Bangor were poised to take the lead. However, either gifted with a stroke of magic or burdened with the necessity to keep his team away from the jaws of a draw, the Seconds’ captain Thompson managed to get to the ball and with it, snatched the point that was rightfully ours from the unyielding grasp of Bangor. On clearance, the final whistle sounded, and so ended one of the most memorable games the second-tier of the Green Machine had ever been a part of.
Inching ever closer to safety from relegation, the 2nd Xi proved that they would not be outdone by anyone in the league, let alone a Bangor side who are promotion contenders. This Friday’s cup match, against the Junior 5 Civil Service side, will give us an opportunity to flex our talent and prepare for a showpiece against league leaders, Banbridge, next week.