East End United’s drive to escape from the clutches of a Premier Division relegation battle shows no signs of flagging.
The Bennettsbridge men fought against a tough Newpark, and some tricky weather conditions, but scrapped their way to a share of the spoils on a wet and wild Sunday morning.
The 0-0 scoreline might suggest a non-event in terms of action, but this was a 90-minute tussle which could have gone either way. United had to live on their nerves in the closing stages, but they wouldn’t have been flattered if they’d won it. The same went for Newpark, who showed glimpses of brilliance in spells and had the best chance to sneak a winner.
While they conceded the advantage of a strong wind to East End, it was Newpark who were quickest off the mark. Breaking on the left, skipper John Hayes fed the ball to Henry O’Neill, who picked out Shane O’Neill with a clever pass. O’Neill did well to hold off the last defender and get his shot away, but it flashed wide of the mark.
East End took some time to find their footing - not easy given the sticky conditions - but once they got going they really flexed their muscles. Hugh O’Neill and Brian Lannon tested netminder John Dumecz early on, but it was a scintillating move between James Nolan and Michael O’Neill that really impressed.
Dashing down the right, a neat one-two between Nolan and O’Neill caught Newpark cold. Breaking into the corner, Nolan’s low cross was worked back by O’Neill into the path of the oncoming Wayne Dowling, but he lashed his 23rd minute shot over the bar.
Newpark were woken up by that scare and gave their rivals a little fright within a matter of minutes. After blocking Nicky Cleere’s clearance Henry O’Neill squared the ball to Hayes, who tried to move the ball into a better shooting position but he knocked it too far ahead - a let-off for United, who were badly exposed at that time.
Spurred on by the hard work of Nolan and Kieran Dowling, East End United went back on the attack. They almost found a route to goal when Nolan beat the offside trap and expertly controlled Wayne Dowling’s 29th minute ball over the top, but he dragged his first-time shot across the face of goal and just outside the far left post.
United kept on the front-foot, using the breeze at their backs to peg Newpark deep in their own half. Nolan gave the hosts cause for concern when he found space to whip in a dangerous cross, a delivery which was met sweetly by Brian Lannon, but his diving header glanced wide.
East End were pressing and pressing, but couldn’t find the final step needed to break the deadlock. Michael O’Neill went really close in the 41st minute with a weaving run that took him into the box. Before the striker could shoot he was stopped by a defender - East End appealed for obstruction, but the penalty claims were waved away.
Newpark had weathered the storm for most of the first half, but wasted little time in going on the offensive after the restart. The new half was just 60 seconds old when East End failed to cut out John Hayes’s throw-in. They hesitated when the ball fell to Sean Falsey, who worked his way into the box and chipped the ball over the diving Patrick O’Neill, but United heaved a sigh of relief when Falsey’s shot clipped a post and came back out.
That chance ignited a flame in Newpark. Pushing on they went close again a few minutes later when Henry O’Neill skilfully took down Tommy Comerford’s diagonal cross. He dragged the ball wide of the advancing Patrick O’Neill and looked to slot the ball home, but Eddie Fitzgerald was there to make a timely stop on the line.
East End regained their composure after those let-offs, but as in the first half they couldn’t make their efforts count. As conditions worsened they used the elements to their advantage - Brian Lannon let fly with a long-range strike that skidded off the greasy pitch and bounced out of John Dumecz’s arms, but the netminder recovered to clear the ball before James Nolan could pounce.
As the game wore on it looked like both sides would end up with a point, but neither seemed content to settle for that. Michael O’Neill went close for the visitors when he latched on to Nolan’s pass and went to step inside Ger Wall, but the defender managed to get his foot to the ball to nick it away from danger.
As for Newpark, they threw everything forward in an effort to snatch a late result. Sparked by Dumecz’s long kick-out Henry O’Neill sprang the offside trap and went for a cheeky chip, but his effort just cleared the far corner.
They didn’t let up until the final whistle, but Patrick O’Neill made sure East End wouldn’t go home empty-handed. Twice the netminder came to his side’s rescue in the dying seconds. His first move was to deal with a tricky John Hayes free which bounced in front of him in a packed six-yard box.
The danger was cleared, but not far enough. Henry O’Neill cut in from the next Newpark wave and unleashed a low shot, but again Patrick O’Neill got down to make the save and maintain parity.
East End’s point proved all the more vital after news from the morning’s other Premier Division game filtered in. Fort Rangers remain bottom after they went down 6-0 at home to Thomastown United in Wallslough.
The Blues, who racked up their biggest league win of the season, got off the mark with a Steven Connolly goal after 13 minutes, before two in a minute from Robert and Kelvyn Skehan helped them go in 3-0 up at half-time. Dessie Walsh made it 4-0 on 48 minutes, before a Dean Broaders brace piled more misery on Rangers as United went second behind Freebooters A.
Newpark A: John Dumecz, Tommy Comerford, Ger Wall, Stephen Dawson (Dan Cullahane, 46 mins), Ray Meagher, Sean Falsey (Tony Delaney, 61 mins), Michael Comerford, Tommy Donovan, Henry O’Neill, John Hayes, Shane O’Neill.
East End United A: Patrick O’Neill, James Brennan (Chris Fitzpatrick, 80 mins), Michael Shiels, Nicky Cleere, Eddie Fitzgerald, James Nolan, Wayne Dowling (Ross Dowling, 84 mins), Kieran Dowling, Michael O’Neill, Brian Lannon, Hugh O’Neill (Kevin Brennan, 87 mins).
Referee: Nicky Marnell.