A first-half John Tierney double inspired Janesboro to a hard-fought comeback victory over Aisling Annacotty.
With victory required to keep Aisling’s flagging title aspirations alive, manager Mike McCarthy boldly kept faith with his preferred 4-3-1-2 formation, and served a further statement of attacking intent by handing winger Gavin Dillon his first LDL Premier Division start at left-back.
Ronald Ntumba, formerly of Shamrock Rovers under-19s, also made his bow at the tip of the Aisling diamond, in the absence of Brian Donovan.
In the wake of Arron Nunan’s defection to Crossagalla, and in the midst of an injury crisis exacerbated by the late loss of Shane Clarke, Janesboro managers Shane O’Hanlon and Aidan Ryan cobbled together an unfamiliar eleven that featured defender Donie Curtin in midfield and maiden Premier Division starts for both David Donnan and the newly-signed Richie Mullins.
Shorn of his usual strike partner, Kevin Barry dovetailed brilliantly with number ten John Tierney in the first-half. The two took turns to play provider in the games’s opening fifteen minutes, but neither could convert the gilt-edged chance that their partner fashioned for them.
First, with the game only three minutes old, Aled Harkin took advantage of the freedom afforded to him by Aisling’s narrow shape to thread an inch-perfect pass down the inside-left channel for Barry to run onto.
Centre-back Damien Collins allowed the powerful striker to reach the byline and pull-back to Tierney, who forced a stunning diving save from former Janesboro goalkeeper Stephen Walsh.
Later, Barry was again first to a deft Tierney back-header over the Aisling defence, but the much-traveled marksman’s resultant volley flew mere inches wide.
Within an instant of that spurned chance, the hosts took the lead. McCarthy’s tactic of targeting the Janesboro defence’s longstanding weakness to balls over the top had almost paid dividends minutes earlier, when Keith Mawdsley beat Mullins to Gustavo Santos’ lofted through ball and lobbed wide.
Mawdsley did not need a third chance, profiting from Aidan Hurley’s ill-judged header to smash in the opener.
The tantalising prospect of moving level on points with Pike Rovers at the summit was in reach, but Aisling blew it in a three-minute period just before the half-hour mark.
First, Walsh flapped at a right-wing cross, allowing Tierney to collect at the back post and plant an elegant lob into the far corner. Then, Barry profited from a failed clearance to again feed Tierney, who bagged his 5th league goal of the season from just inside the Aisling area.
Although shellshocked by their reversal in fortunes, Aisling should have been awarded a penalty late in the first-half, when Steven Bradley attempted to illegally arrest a blistering counter-attacking run from Ntumba.
Referee Ryan McCann made amends for that early in the second-half however, when Alan Connors’ tackle from behind on a quickly-tiring Barry, just inside the Aisling area, was not penalised.
Aisling’s search for a second-half equaliser was rendered fruitless both by Mawdsley’s injury-enforced departure and Janesboro’s rapidly retreating defensive line. With the ball over the top no longer a viable option, a plan B was not evident, and McCarthy’s reliance on his top scorer – who has notched half of Aisling’s 12 goals to date – was underlined.
The hosts’ best chance stemmed from poor Janesboro penalty-box defending in the game’s final minutes, when Hurley stepped up with a vital last-ditch block to deny Jason Lipper.
And McCarthy’s side had their goose well and truly cooked in the 89th minute, when standout Regions Cup international Danny O’Neill capped a wonderful week by delivering a missile from range that flew through Walsh’s hands.
Aisling fall to seventh as a result of this defeat, and look unlikely now to trouble the table’s upper reaches. Janesboro, meanwhile, advance to third, level on points with second-placed Fairview Rangers, and one behind leaders Pike Rovers. It’s getting tight up there.
K. Mawdsley 16′; Tierney 28′, 30′, O’Neill 89′
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