A late penalty-kick was cruelly denied to ten-man Aisling Annacotty, ensuring that Pike Rovers restored their one-point lead at the top of the LDL Premier Division.
With Patryk Staniszewski unavailable and Brian Butler’s talents required in midfield, Aisling Annacotty’s new-look back-four struggled to find its footing. At least one of two Colin Daly through-balls should have been converted by Cian Collins in the opening ten minutes.
Collins’ failure to snaffle either opportunity owed much to the decisive goalkeeping of Stephen Walsh, and the former Janesboro stopper’s reflexes were required again on the half-hour mark to deny a powerful strike from the underlapping Eddie O’Donovan.
O’Donovan and right-back Clive Healy were regularly free when Pike held possession thanks to Mike McCarthy’s brave restoration of a midfield diamond, but the dual presence of Foley and strike partner Keith Mawdsley on the centre-backs’ shoulders rendered the Hoops understandably unwilling to commit both at the same time.
Having somehow survived a harrowing opening third, the hosts then enjoyed a strong fifteen minutes to conclude the first-half on a relative high. Pike had to rely on a wonderful last man tackle from O’Donovan to deny Mawdsley, after Manjor intercepted an errant pass in midfield and threaded his side’s top scorer through.
Aisling’s other big chance in that period stemmed from the head of Damien Collins, whose near-post flick-on from Barry Hooton’s long-throw was frustratingly met by absolutely no-one at the back post.
Failure to translate either opening into a shot on target underlined Aisling’s consistent failure to test Pike’s stand-in goalkeeper David McNamara. An early second-half effort from the weaker left-foot of Foley, that McNamara spilled and was allowed to comfortably retrieve, emphasised the opportunity that McCarthy’s side were wasting.
Predictably, Pike eventually recovered their momentum, and they dramatically struck the woodwork twice in sixty seconds as the hour-mark approached. First, Walsh undermined a formidable performance by losing track of a Collins cross that struck the bar, but redeemed himself by reacting quickly to deflect Steven McGann’s headed rebound wide.
Having earlier spurned a free-header from a Paddy O’Malley delivery, Healy must have been bemused to see Jack Cleary clear his effort off the line from the resultant corner-kick. O’Malley then struck the woodwork with an eye-catching half-volley from distance, only seconds later.
Aisling were living a charmed life, but their luck turned dramatically upon Gustavo Santos’ injury-enforced departure.
Stephen Goggin, who has already served a two-match suspension this season for a red card against Geraldines, replaced Santos and quickly got his marching orders for an off-the-ball elbow on Daly in the area. Collins calmly slotted away the resultant penalty-kick, to Walsh’s right.
Despite trailing to opponents that can afford to spring the likes of McGann and John Connery from the bench, the events of the game’s last fifteen minutes rendered a numerically disadvantaged Aisling desperately unlucky not to get a result.
Collins continued to wobble the Pike defence at the near-post, and when he again flicked on a Hooton throw in the 79th minute, Cleary should have nodded the ball anywhere but into the grateful hands of McNamara.
Collins and substitute David Njuki were ordered to the front-line to join Mawdsley for the game’s concluding minutes, and it was the centre-back who was central to the hosts’ big injury-time penalty claim.
Understandably anxious about yet another Hooton hurl, Wayne Colbert appeared to apply enough pressure on the upper back of Collins to down the towering defender at the near post. Perplexingly, referee Brian Higgins was unmoved, and his final whistle quickly followed to restore a relieved Pike contingent to the top of the LDL Premier Division.
Collins (pen) 62′
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