By Robin Mitchell
North Down made the long trip to Raphoe on Saturday in arduous weather conditions but arrived to find the pitch in fine order and overhead conditions reasonable.
Lying second in the table, North Down were Raphoe’s nearest rivals and knew a win was a must if they were to push for league honours. Travelling without the injured Paul Adgey and goal scoring machine Simon Watt North Down knew they would have a fight on their hands.
Raphoe bullied North Down for most of the game and with the help of some dubious umpiring decisions had a comfortable 5-2 victory which leaves North Down now to push for the runner up spot and hope to secure a Premiership place through the play offs.
North Down opened the stronger and their quick passing game was causing all sorts of problems for the home side. They won a series of corners but the keeper cleared his lines. After 15 minutes and against the run of play Raphoe scored. The left winger found space and his initial shot was saved but the right winger met the rebound at the far post and scored. Peter McKibbin was then very harshly penalised for a foul on the 25. The resulting free found the centre forward and his shot was saved but looped over Gareth McBride’s head only for the winger to meet at the far post and dispatch into the net. These two quick goals really unsettled North Down and the defence went through a bad spell giving the ball away too easily. Raphoe scored the killer goal just before halftime from a well executed short corner which gave McBride no chance.
North Down started the second half in determined mood and good play from Tom Donnan gave Philip Wilson the chance to squeeze the ball in at the near post. Andrew McKibbin was yellow carded for a foul tackle but at the other end two Raphoe defenders were lucky to escape similar punishment for equally deliberate fouls. During this spell Raphoe scored from a corner after the initial shot had been blocked to make it a comfortable 4-1. North Down brought on an extra forward in an effort to reduce the arrears and from a corner Willis hammered a rebound home to make the score 4-2.
Any hopes of a North Down revival were dispelled when Raphoe were awarded a penalty for the ball allegedly hitting Andrew McKibbin’s feet. Despite North Down’s protests the umpire adhered to his decision and Raphoe confirmed their superiority on the day with a fine stroke.
It was the manner of the defeat rather than the scoreline that disappointed and North Down must up their game in the next few weeks if they are to secure the runner up spot. To make matters worse, after the game Steven McGimpsey received a red card for words spoken to the umpire. Not the end to the day that North Down were looking for.