Ballynahinch Olympic did really not warm up until the second half against Saintfield United in this round one Steel & Sons encounter but did enough to ensure a solid victory.
For a team that is bottom of Division 1C in the NAFL, Saintfield United proved they are made of better stuff by holding Premier league joint leaders Ballynahinch Olympic down to only a two goal lead in the first half, but succumbed to a final 0-3 defeat.
Despite the three goal scoreline, Saintfield put up a good fight against a superior force. Ballynahinch Olympic were ultimately more controlled in their build-ups and spearheading attacks as the game progressed, which in its later stages became slightly patchy and at times edgy with one awkward conflageration in the final minute.
The game started with Olympic as expected making an initial attack on the homeside and were switching the ball from side to side well opening up the United defence.
United came out too looking to score and the match was ceratinly an up and down affair with both teams attacking. United’s midfielder Craig Bowman made an excellent lob over Olympic keeper Ryan Walsh and was just inches over the post.
In one attacking spell Saintfield had three efforts at the Olympic goal but lacked that killer touch. But gradually Olympic started feeding balls to Bowman parked in the United box.
United had one excellent chance and failed to capitalise as James Sofley broke down the left and crossed to the Olympic goal but there were shouts of offside and it may have been enough to slow his waiting team-mates in connecting with the ball which proves ‘always play to the whistle’ as an opportunity to score was missed.
United were proving a real test for Ballynahinch Olympic and they ploughed on and Bowman made a solid cross but there was no-one there to knock it into the Olympic goal.
On 16 minutes, Olympic’s forward Nathan Jones volleyed and it took a reflex save by United keeper David Harper to block the ball off the goal line with his right foot.
But Olympic were building up their attacks and Jones took a free inside the half way line and the ball went to Chris Macnamara who turned and struck the ball well just missing the wrong side of the left hand post. Then a minute later the combination of Jones and Macnamara paid off when the later nodded the ball into the United net at close quarters in the 29th minute.
United replied quickly and a solo effort by Adam Sofley after two blasts at the Olympic goal almost succeeded were it not for the on-form goalkeeping of Ryan Walsh.
But Olympic were not to be undone and Nathan Jones having a great game found the space in a solo attack and saw his lob over the United keeper pay dividends putting his side two goals to the better.
The game continued at a fast and relentless pace and there was another moment of drama when Olympic defender Paul Dickson made a deep pass to forward Aaron Maclean who went just wide of the post with his volley.
In the last minute of the first period, James Sofley did his best to contain the ball in the Olympic half removing the danger of a goal before the whistle.
When the match resumed, there was again early pressure from Olympic but this was quickly followed by an attack by the homeside and defender Oliver Duff sent his shot just over the bar.
Olympic seemed more focussed after their half-time dressing room pep talk and managed to shake off the frustration of not enjoying a bigger score line in the first half. United were proving to be a bigger challenge that expected.
The game went into a short spell when United were constantly pressing for another goal and back-footed Olympic, but Olympic were dangerous on the break and eventually bolted up to the United goal area and winger Lee Ward just missed the United goal with a glancing header from a free kick.
Then in a another United attack, Aaron Maclean sent a scorcher whizzing past the top bar showing they were still in the game and that the match could be turned round with a goal. Another freekick by Ryan Sofley was just wide keeping the pressure on Olympic who were looking for their third goal to kill off United.
The game was becoming tense and Jones made a great solo run taking on two defenders but his shot was blocked by keeper David Harper.
The Olympic combination up front of Macnamara and Jones seemed to be working well. On one occasion, Jones who did not get the rub of the green took a free kick and the ball caught a defender and come off the post. Then United had a similar chance when Andrew Clarke sent his free kick on target only to be thwarted by a deflection off a defender and then a reflex save from Olympic keeper Walsh.
United missed one opportunity when the ball was crossed into a packed United goal area and Adam Childs found it at his feet close to the goal line but before he could flinch a muscle the United defenders were snapping at the ball with an opportunity missed.
Then the game went beyond retrieval as in the 80th minute Olympic’s Dalton Tate played the ball to Jones who sidestepped a defender and hammered the ball unequivocably into the left hand side of the United net.
The game then became a to-and-fro affair as both teams attacked with gusto. But a row marked the end of the game in what was a mainly physical but fair contest. Olympic were ultimately more constructive in attacking with strong build ups often at pace and were deserving winners but the scoreline does not reflect the balance of play and the valiant effort made by the United team to stem the Olympic tide.
Saintfield United: David Harper, Nick Ross, Oliver Duff, David Morrow (c), Peter Strain, Craig Bowman, James Milligan, Adam Sofley, James Sofley, Ryan Sofley, Andrew Clarke, Ciaran Taylor. Subs – Adam Childs, Mark Murray.
Ballynahinch Olympic: Ryan Walsh, Dalton Tate, Ryan Noade, Paul Dickson, James Noade, Chris McNamara, Nathan Jones, James Macnamara, Aaron Maclean, Stephen Magoran, Lee Ward. Subs: Simon Marmion, Jack Patterson, Liam Sloane.