After a particularly inept display the previous week away to Down seconds, the youthful North Down sixth eleven entertained a strong Portadown fourths team at Nendrum College last Saturday. The Portadown squad are one of the front runners in Junior League Six as the Co. Armagh club continues to emerge as a force in Ulster hockey after a long spell in the doldrums.
The visitors settled well in testing conditions and went ahead after only 4 minutes as stand-in keeper Roger Graham was given no chance with a drive from Jason Wright at the edge of the circle. With Chris Drysdale and Neil Dickson notable in defence and midfield respectively the sixths finally got into their stride but went further behind to a fluke goal on 15 minutes. A long through ball evaded everyone and was harmlessly entering the net when Ryan McKee trying to keep it in play deflected it in as an own goal. No consolation that this experimental and unloved rule will go at the end of this season. Three minutes later and Portadown went further ahead, again through Wright, and it looked as though they would take total control of the game. McKee though was keen to make up for his earlier misdemeanour and steadied a shaky defence in which Graham in goals looked impressive. North Down had a number of chances to get onto the scoresheet but it wasn’t until two minutes from half time that they made the breakthrough when Mark Vincent picked up a rebound from a penalty corner to give Crowe in goals no chance.
Adam Wilson came on for Stevie Johnston at the start of the second half. His forward runs helped put pressure on the visitors and for long spells in the second half there was a good open game of hockey as both teams tested each other. One particular phase of play from North Down saw the ball worked out of defence by Neil Dickson who was involved in a series of one two passes right to the heart of the Portadown defence only to see the final shot go narrowly wide. Just when it looked as if the scorers wouldn’t be troubled again, Portadown won a penalty corner right on the final whistle and McKimm’s strike from the edge of the circle was decisive.
This was a much improved performance from the sixth eleven. The scoreline flattered Portadown somewhat but a pattern is developing that this young team is slow out of the blocks and plays their best hockey in the second half of games. Greater team discipline is required from pre-game warm-up onwards.