AGAINST all the odds Ardstraw have topped their group to secure a home semi-final place in this season’s Northern Ireland Intermediate League Cup competition.
On Saturday Gary Simpson’s men defeated neighbours Strabane Athletic 3-2 in their final qualifying game thanks to late goals by Sammy McKelvey and Stephen Campbell.
That notable victory followed hot on the heels of a 3-1 win against Trojans in their own backyard and a narrow opening day defeat to Dungiven, who have alos qualified for the knockout stages.
Simpson said no-one could have predicted the final placings in the group with Strabane and Trojans both missing out.
“Who would have thought we would have finished top after losing our opening game to Dungiven?” he said.
“The way things are going it looks as if we’ll have a home semi against either Oxford United Stars or Ballymoney.
“Possibly we had a wee bit of luck on Saturday that we have been missing on recent times. We were 2-1 down and we knew we had to go for it, a draw was no good to us. We equalised with a penalty and Stevie Campbell’s winner was a deflected shot. But we were pushing hard.
“All in all I’m delighted with our start to the season. There is a buzz in the changing room and hopefully we have set the tone. It’s the first time in the three years that I have been managing that I can genuinely say that we don’t fear anyone in this league.”
Gary King’s 25-yard thunderbolt gave Ardstraw a 17th minute lead but goals by Conor Carlin and Sean Ferry had the visitors in the driving seat until the home side struck their late double.
FULL REPORT IN TOMORROW’S STRABANE CHRONICLE