In-form Aisling Annacotty edged past Ballynanty Rovers to secure their third consecutive victory and consolidate third position in the LDL Premier Division.
Excellent defensive organisation, on display from both sides, produced a first-half high in tactical intrigue but low on chances.
With the right-footed Ryan Earls fielded at left-back, the freedom also afforded to right-back Darragh Hughes by Aisling’s narrow shape looked like Ballynanty’s best chance of penetration.
The visitors probed their hosts’ left-flank constantly, but were regularly foiled by the workrate of Gustavo Santos, who assiduously performed his shuttling responsibilities from the left of Aisling’s midfield diamond.
Left-back Barry Hooton was worried by veteran winger Bobby Ryan on occasion however, and the 37-year-old delivered two dangerous crosses in the opening ten minutes, one of which was headed just over by Kevin Nolan.
At the other end, Tom Daly’s midfield four successfully quieted the talents of Aisling’s number ten Brian Donovan by narrowing up in the defensive phase. One of the rare instances in which Donovan was unaccounted for resulted in a powerful snapshot from the area’s edge that Stephen McNamara acrobatically dived low to palm wide.
Nolan paid the price from the resultant corner, when his face came to the rescue to stop Patrick Staniszewski’s goalbound effort.
With Bobby Ryan unable to continue after an injury sustained during the first-half, midfielder Liam Brock, who hasn’t started since his opening day dismissal against Janesboro, was sprung from the bench at half-time. Brother Robert moved into the number ten role in a 4-4-1-1.
Despite this midfield reinforcement, Ballynanty twice fell victim to simple balls over the top of their defence in the second stanza’s opening quarter-hour. The half was only three minutes old when lively minor striker Adam Foley reached a hopeful ball into the inside-right channel first and smashed his resultant strike off the crossbar from an acute angle.
A similar ball, into the same channel, saw Ballynanty fall behind just before the hour. Jack Cleary’s lofted pass initially looked wasteful, but a misjudged header from the returning Dermot Fitzgerald turned it into an opportunity for the hyper-vigilant Keith Mawdsley.
Helped by McNamara’s decision to leave his line, the former Limerick under-19 striker produced a marvelous finish, hooking the airborne ball into the net from the acutest of angles to secure his 5th goal of the season.
With left-winger Gavin Dillon already prepped to replace Foley and herald a formation shift to 4-1-4-1, this goal couldn’t have arrived at a better time for Aisling manager Mike McCarthy.
Ballynanty responded by first returning to 4-4-2 by swapping Robert Brock for Tony Fahy, and then replacing Dave Ryan with Jamie Daly, whose three-goal haul in Ballynanty’s last two games rendered him unlucky to miss out on a starting berth here.
Daly’s introduction followed hot on the heels of Aisling’s second goal, scored from a third consecutive corner-kick when Santos slammed home a loose ball.
The first of those three corner-kicks was earned by a slaloming infield dribble from Donovan, who beat Earls on the right-touchline and Ronan Ryan in the middle, before losing out to a Fitzgerald slide-tackle on the byline.
With time running out, Fitzgerald was shuffled into a number ten role, as Ballynanty reconfigured into a 3-4-1-2 in an attempt to rescue a result.
Fitzgerald almost immediately forced an excellent save from Stephen Walsh with a long-range rocket, and then curled a delightful 90th-minute free-kick into the top corner from the same right-of-centre position.
Dillon, who looked promising in his short cameo here, should have calmed Aisling’s growing nerves from the kick-off, when he collected fellow substitute Gordon Roe’s cross at the back post, touched the ball past Earls, but shot straight at McNamara from close-range.
Fortunately for the ex-Abbeyfeale man, his high-flying side held out to bag a third consecutive victory. Perennial relegation candidates Aisling, now surely at risk of nosebleed, remain in third position in the LDL Premier Division ahead of two crunch fixtures in three days against the sides above them – Pike Rovers and Fairview Rangers.
Four goals conceded in six games by a side configured in a defensively-oriented 4-3-1-2 evokes obvious echoes of last season’s successful Carew Park side. If Aisling manage to come through their next two assignments unscathed those echoes will only get louder.
K. Mawdsley 59′, Santos 71′; Dermot Fitzgerald 90′
Man of the Match