Carew Park increased their lead to six points at the top of the Premier Division with a slightly laboured victory over ten-man Aisling Annacotty.
Aisling were in buoyant form this morning, after taking a point away from Estadio Pearse in midweek. Today’s hosts, who played the opening 15 minutes of that 1-1 draw against Janesboro with only ten men, looked very fired up for this from the off; a far cry from some of the complacent performances we often see from mid-table sides at this stage of the season.
Carew, who welcomed back midfielders Tommy Culhane and Ross McCarthy into the starting lineup, enjoyed little time on the ball in the face of intense pressing from a young Annacotty side. Conor Burke and Paddy Fitzgerald took it in turns to press Carew’s ball playing defender Mark Slattery, while Brian Butler stood out among the three Aisling central midfielders, who competed ably against Carew’s four.
There was precious little between the two sides in the opening half hour, with the only chances resulting from poor defending at set-pieces from the hosts. Tommy Culhane rattled the back stanchion of Sean Fitzpatrick’s goal early on, after a Richie Mullins free-kick had found its way to the back post.
It was the conditions that eventually caught Aisling out, when a wind-assisted Jamie Stewart kick-out was collected by Jonathan Grant in behind the Aisling defence. Centre back Rassoul Khadim Bamba came across to cover, leaving Mark McGrath free to connect with Grant’s perfectly weighted square pass. McGrath is now level with former Annacotty hitman Keith Mawdsley on 13 goals.
McGrath spurned a great chance to make it 14 five minutes later, heading over at the back post from a Ross McCarthy free kick; Aisling’s marking failing them again at set-pieces.
Although the adoption of the 4-3-1-2 has seen Carew become even more miserly at the back – this was their eighth clean sheet in the last ten league games – the reluctance to allow their full backs to advance has rendered their attacking threat too narrow and predictable at the other end at times.
It was notable here then, that Jon Somers and Gary Griffin seemed to be given more licence to get forward. Griffin’s contribution to the game was particularly vital, making a crucial block tackle to prevent Jamie Shinners from pulling the trigger at the end of the first half and heading in Carew’s second goal in the third minute of the second half. Griffin’s goal resulted from a Ross McCarthy corner, that was flicked on at the near post for the unmarked full back to finish.
Unfortunately for Aisling, that Griffin challenge forced Shinners off with a painful looking leg injury, prompting a reshuffle to a 4-4-1-1 shape. Aisling lost another man after ten minutes of the second half, when Bamba picked up his second yellow card for a deliberate handball.
The centre back’s first yellow was earned for reacting angrily to a robust Culhane touchline challenge after the ball had gone out of play. Culhane was also cautioned for that challenge, as was Mike Fitzgerald for an earlier incident of a similar nature; credit to referee Ryan McCann, who did well to defuse a game that had the potential to boil over at times. The Aisling manager, Ray McMahon, was also dismissed from the complex for persistent haranguing of McCann, with the Carew management also strongly urged to get a handle on the behaviour of some present on their sideline.
Shortly before the red card, McGrath missed another chance to put Mawdsley behind him in the scorers’ chart, when he found himself through off a Griffin long ball but blazed wide. That was the last clear-cut chance in a game that died after Bamba’s dismissal.
It is arguable that Aisling were actually the stronger side in this period however, as Carew’s players seemed to absorb the misplaced nervous energy from the sideline. The full backs were being encouraged to stay at home again, while Aisling were throwing caution to the wind in moving to what looked like a 4-2-1-2 formation for the game’s closing stages.
The typically resolute Carew backline never looked in any real danger, mind you. Niall Hanley did manage to connect with a Fitzgerald corner to direct a strong header toward Jamie Stewart’s goal late on, only to see it rebound off the back of the in-form Jason Lipper’s head.
Carew now lead second placed Regional United by six points, but Pike and Janesboro continue to lurk in their rear-view mirror with four games in hand apiece. Meanwhile, Aisling stay eighth on 20 points, with only two league games remaining. Although Moyross, Mungret and Summerville all have at least two games in hand on the Annacotty side, one would have to assume that McMahon and co. have done enough to ensure safety this season.
McGrath 30′, Griffin 48′
Man of the Match