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(FM'09) A Trip Down 'The Bann', The Return To Ulster - A Chance To Rewrite History, Part V


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Monday 1st December 2014
On Tuesday 8th July 2008, I was appointed the new Manager of Northern Irish minnow club, Lurgan Celtic. The task was to change the landscape of football in Ulster. Now, six and a half years later, that minnow club sits top of the Premier Division by four points heading into December, in the process of being taken over by a successful businessman who wants to make the club professional and build them a new stadium. That club is worth five times what it was when I took over, and they could be playing European Football by next summer. I can't take all the credit, but, I'm entitled to a share of it at least.

Now, only a few weeks short of four years since I left Knockramer Park, I am back in Northern Ireland, with a new job. A new task. To change that landscape of football in the country back. While clubs such as Lurgan Celtic, Glebe Rangers and Newry City have enhanced their reputation and fortunes, other teams have had to make way. Some of those other teams are the 'old guard' of football in Ulster. They were caught out in the changing times, and have been elbowed aside, somewhat ungraciously, to make room.

One of those clubs sit on the banks of the River Bann that runs up to the nations Northern Coast between Castlerock and Portstewart. That club is Coleraine, the once Northern Irish Premier Division Champions, five time Northern Irish Cup Winners, and three time Northern Irish League Cup Winners. This grand old club is 87 years old, and has struggled to keep up with the changing landscape of football in Ulster, sitting right now in mid table in the second tier, the First Division.

It was a peculiar time to sack Stephen McConnell. The 37 year old, previously Manager at Larne and Bangor, had only been in charge at The Coleraine Showgrounds for a little over six months. He replaced Neil McLean, who had been in caretaker charge of around three months after Michael Lamont had been sacked, but McLean couldn't keep Coleraine in the Premier Division. And McConnell didn't have a great start, with The Bannsiders winning their opener, but then failing to win any of their next eight. Form has improved significantly over the last month or two though, as they are unbeaten in their last eight in all competitions, though they have been knocked out of the Northern Irish League Cup. There has been progress in the Intermediate League Cup though, a victory over Oxford United Stars almost ten days ago now proved to McConnell's last game in charge. Ultimately, Chairman of the club, Hugh Wade, wanted to make a change before Cliftonville and Donegal Celtic wrapped up the top two places early. In all honesty, it might be too late, as Cliftonville are seventeen points in front of us, winning all bar one of their eleven matches. Donegal Celtic are nine points ahead of us in the Playoff spot, which may also be a tough ask, but we have almost three weeks before our next match.

McConnell was sacked at a lunchtime press conference, and within hours they were in touch, and granted permission to speak to me by Maidstone United. By tea time, I was on a flight to Belfast, met at the airport, and driven to the ground that they were hoping I'd soon be calling home. But they would have to improve their opening offer, which would have seen me drop £100 a week. After earning less than £11,000 a year on average over the course of my career, I wasn't prepared to take that kind of a drop, and asked them to have another look at their figures. The Board met up again, and made a counter offer, that was also met with a request to move a little further. As midnight approached, they came up with an offer that was agreeable. It's a two and a half year deal, at a wage of £220 per week. The Transfer Budget is minimal, less than £1,000, but the Wage Budget is better, £2,900 per week to spend and almost half of that still available too. The deal was signed in the early hours of this morning.

I have jumped right out of the financial fire with Maidstone United, that FA Cup run put us back in the black. But finances are not healthy at all here in Coleraine. With the cost of firing a Manager, and hiring a new one factored in, my new employers are currently £183,000 in debt. That explains why there is no Transfer Budget then.

-------------
Neil Hoskins.
37 years old. Welsh. Uncapped.
Reputation :- National. Contract :- Full Time, 2.5 years, £220 per week.
Previous Experience :- Sunday League Footballer.

Managerial Statistics.
Club/Player Loyalty :-
6. Domestic Players Bias :- 19. Financial Control :- 8.
Hands On Approach :- 6. Squad Discipline :- 16. Tactical Consistency :- 17.

Season Expectations :-
Win Promotion to the Premier Division (Not Being Judged On This Objective Right Now).
Transfer Budget :- £789. Wage Budget :- £2,860 per week. Currently Spending :- £1,500 per week.
-------------

Coleraine FC.
Founded :- 1927. Nickname :- The Bannsiders. Status :- Semi-Professional. Reputation :- National. Value :- £325,000.
Chairman Status :- Love the club. Finances :- Okay (-£183,021).
Club Colours :- Home - Blue and White Stripes. Away - Yellow, with Blue Trim.
Club Legends :- Pat McAllister, Paul Gaston, Marty Quinn. Club Icons :- None. Favoured Personnel :- Kyle McVey.
Fierce Rivals :- Ballymena United, Limavady United. Other Rivals :- Institute, Coleraine Crusaders.
Honours :-  *Northern Ireland Premier Division Winners - 1974. 
                     *Northern Ireland First Division Winners - 1996,2012.
                     *Northern Ireland Cup Winners - 1965,1972,1975,1977,2003
                     *Northern Ireland League Cup Winners - 1954,1969,1988
                     *Northern Ireland Intermediate Cup Winners - 2013

Last Season :- 12th (bottom) of Northern Irish Premier Division.

Coleraine Showgrounds, Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Capacity :- 6,500 (1,000 seats). Condition :- Average. Surface :- Grass. Surface Condition :- Very Good.
Adequate Corporate Facilities, Fairly Basic Training Facilities, Basic Youth Facilities and Youth Academy.
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2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table, Up To & Including Monday 1st December 2014

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Cliftonville      |       | 11    | 10    | 0     | 1     | 21    | 3     | +18   | 30    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 11    | 7     | 1     | 3     | 13    | 8     | +5    | 22    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Dundela           |       | 11    | 5     | 3     | 3     | 15    | 11    | +4    | 18    |
| 4th   |       | Carrick           |       | 11    | 5     | 2     | 4     | 16    | 11    | +5    | 17    |
| 5th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 11    | 5     | 1     | 5     | 15    | 13    | +2    | 16    |
| 6th   |       | Ards              |       | 11    | 4     | 4     | 3     | 16    | 15    | +1    | 16    |
| 7th   |       | P.S.N.I.          |       | 11    | 3     | 6     | 2     | 9     | 9     | 0     | 15    |
| 8th   |       | Banbridge         |       | 11    | 4     | 2     | 5     | 8     | 13    | -5    | 14    |
| 9th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 11    | 3     | 4     | 4     | 9     | 16    | -7    | 13    |
| 10th  |       | Limavady Utd      |       | 11    | 3     | 3     | 5     | 9     | 11    | -2    | 12    |
| 11th  |       | Armagh            |       | 11    | 3     | 3     | 5     | 13    | 17    | -4    | 12    |
| 12th  |       | Queens University |       | 11    | 3     | 2     | 6     | 14    | 17    | -3    | 11    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 13th  |       | Tobermore Utd     |       | 11    | 3     | 2     | 6     | 11    | 15    | -4    | 11    |
| 14th  |       | Dergview          |       | 11    | 1     | 3     | 7     | 6     | 16    | -10   | 6     |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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2014/15 Coleraine FC Pen Pictures

Goalkeepers :-

Gerard Doherty (GK). 33 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Derry, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 13st 9lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £325 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 16/7/2012 from AFC Wimbledon (Free Transfer).

This Season :- League Matches - 11. Goals Conceded - 16. Clean Sheets - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 322. Goals Conceded - 185. Clean Sheets - 43.

Darren Keegan (GK). 18 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 13st 12lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £6,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2011 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 0. Goals Conceded - 0. Clean Sheets - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 6. Goals Conceded - 5. Clean Sheets - 2.
------------------------

Defenders :-

James Hancox (D L). 24 years old. English.
Born :- Wednesfield, England. 5'10. 12st 8lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £75 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2014 from Coagh United (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 8. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 110. Goals - 4. Assists - 5.

Robert Donaghy (D C). 19 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'11. 13st 0lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2010 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 8. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.

Glen Rogers (D C). 18 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'10. 11st 13lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2011 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 24. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.

Aaron Smyth (D R, WB R). 27 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Unknown. 5'9. 11st 11lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year 6 months, £190 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 7/8/2014 from Lincoln City (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 2. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 167. Goals - 5. Assists - 13.
------------------------

Midfielders/Wingers :-

Keith Steenson (D C, DM, M C). 19 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 6'0. 12st 6lbs. Right Footed.

Contract :- 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2011 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 9. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 29. Goals - 1. Assists - 0.

Michael Downey (DM, M C). 18 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'7. 10st 12lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2011 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 6. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 27. Goals - 0. Assists - 4.

Keith Steele (M RC). 18 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'9. 11st 11lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2012 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 8. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 25. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.

Chris Jones (AM R). 19 years old. English.
Born :- Crosby, England. 5'8. 11st 2lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year 6 months, £180 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 8/7/2014 from Liverpool (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 1. Assists - 1.
Career :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 1. Assists - 1.

Gavin Whelan (AM RC). 31 years old. Irish.
Born :- Dublin, Republic of Ireland. 5'10. 11st 9lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £120 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2014 from Glebe Rangers (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 10. Goals - 1. Assists - 3.
Career :- League Matches - 344. Goals - 34. Assists - 41.

Sean Armstrong (AM LC). 19 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'8. 11st 4lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £10 per week. Value :- £8,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2010 from Youth Intake.
This Season :- League Matches - 3. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 19. Goals - 0. Assists - 1.

Matty Robson (AM L). 29 years old. English.
Born :- Durham, England. 5'9. 11st 0lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £275 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 7/8/2013 from Shrewsbury Town (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 11. Goals - 2. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 277. Goals - 24. Assists - 15.
------------------------

Strikers :-

Stuart Shaw (ST). 22 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Longside, Scotland. 5'10. 11st 2lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £90 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2013 from Caersws (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 8. Goals - 2. Assists - 2.
Career :- League Matches - 49. Goals - 11. Assists - 2.

Sam Winnall (ST). 23 years old. English.
Born :- Wolverhampton, England. 5'9. 11st 11lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 6 months, £140 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/14 from Glebe Rangers (Free Transfer).
This Season :- League Matches - 11. Goals - 2. Assists - 0.
Career :- League Matches - 89. Goals - 15. Assists - 4.
------------------------

Notable Reserve/Youth Players :-

Trevor Smyth (GK) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 6'2
Shane McAree (GK) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'11
Tony Brown (GK) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'11
Justin Stewart (D C, DM, M C) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Gary Donnelly (D C) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 6'3
Robbie Walsh (D RC, DM, M RC) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'8
Paul McMaster (D C) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Paul Clarke (D R, WB R) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 6'0
Mark Hammond (D R, WB R) 19 years old - Northern Irish - 5'10
Roy Logan (D R, WB R) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Nigel Buchanan (DM, M C) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 5'11
Matt Young (DM, M C) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'11
Gary Campbell (M C) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Thomas Curran (M C) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 6'0
Chris Trainor (M C) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Greg White (M C) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 5'10
Ashley McDonnell (M C) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Colin Canning (AM R) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 6'0
James Nicholl (AM L) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Matthew Dornan (AM LC, ST) 20 years old - Northern Irish - 6'4 - currently on loan at Portstewart
Stuart Wilson (AM L) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 5'10
Graeme McAdam (AM C, ST) 19 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Ciaran Owens (AM C, ST) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 6'1
Robbie Allen (ST) 19 years old - Northern Irish - 6'3
Danny Esler (ST) 18 years old - Northern Irish - 5'10
Andy McMillan (ST) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 6'3
Paul Walsh (ST) 17 years old - Northern Irish - 5'9
Joseph Nixon (AM C, ST) 16 years old - Northern Irish - 6'1
------------------------

Staff :-

Chairman - Hugh Wade - Northern Irish
Manager - Neil Hoskins - 37 years old - Welsh
Assistant Manager - Geoff Ferris - 51 years old - Northern Irish
First Team Coach - Aaron Forgrave - 53 years old - Northern Irish
Youth Coach - Neil McLean - 37 years old - Northern Irish
Physiotherapist - Alan Millar - 31 years old - Northern Irish
Scout - John Weir - 44 years old - Northern Irish

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Tuesday 2nd December 2014
The squad I have inherited at the Coleraine Showgrounds is described as loyal, but it is certainly a young squad, with the current Club Captain being just 19 years of age. Keith Steenson is a popular and decent player, and will continue in the role, with fellow midfielder, and only outfield player over the age of 30, Gavin Whelan appointed as his new deputy. One thing that is very clear from the pen pictures above, is that a large part of this clubs squad has grown up together. Almost half of the Senior Squad, without factoring in Reserve or Youth players, were born in this town, and came through the clubs Youth System. If you look at the list of players currently outside the First Team squad, only half a dozen of them were born outside the town. However, there is a question mark over how many of them should be playing First Team football right now. Maybe the clubs finances have forced them into this situation? The age and lack of maturity and experience in the squad also translates in the disciplinary stakes, this team has no less than four red cards in only eleven League games.

We badly need a new right back, our best player is probably Aaron Smyth, but the 27 year old is out for another few more months at least with a broken leg. We can't buy anyone from another club until the New Year, but we can bring in Free Agents in the meantime, and this is a path we will have to look at to strengthen the squad as soon as possible.

But the first player I try to bring in is a Maidstone United player. Malcolm Carr has been demoted to the Reserves by their new Manager, a Moroccan 46 year old named Karim Bencherifa, who has previously managed in India amongst other nations. I make an offer to take him on a Free Transfer, which is quickly accepted by my previous employers. Whether Carr will be keen, well, that might be another matter, but he has been offered a pay rise to move across the Irish Sea.

Three other players who are all Free Agents also receive contract offers today. Among our targets are a right back and a right winger, and a striker, who was a target when I was at Maidstone, and would, I believe, absolutely tear this League apart.

Wednesday 3rd December
Our hopes of bringing in that striker are whipped away from us today, with the news that 20 year old former Derby County striker Mark Whitby has decided to retire with only our offer on the table. It's a huge blow just a few days into the job. I was sure Whitby would've been a marquee signing for the club. He isn't the only one either, a goalkeeper and a midfielder we were interested in have also ended their careers today.

Thursday 4th December
Malcolm Carr has rejected the chance to leave Maidstone United, and move across the Irish Sea to play for us at Coleraine. So I go right back to them, this time making an offer for another of their defensive midfielders, Mark Gordon, the 20 year old Scotsman.

Friday 5th December
And we are off and running, with the first two recruits signing their contracts to join Coleraine today. First in through the door is 20 year old English right back, Ray Doran. The Keynsham born defender spent three seasons learning his trade with Bristol City, before moving across the water to sign for Premier Division side Crusaders eighteen months ago. He played eighteen times for them last season, the first Senior games of his career, but they released him at the end of the campaign. Today, we have snapped him up on a Free Transfer. He joins immediately.

Also signing for us today is utility player, Andy Dickinson. The 19 year old left footer, who was previously a youngster with Sheffield Wednesday, joined Welsh side Penrhiwceiber Rangers last year, making his first ever Senior appearance at the start of this season, and has to date played 14 times in the League, returning four goals and four assists. He can play in the centre or on the right side of the defence or midfield, and is also able to play in the defensive midfield role. He will join us on New Year's Day, when the Winter Transfer Window opens, with a Free Transfer agreed.

Before the day is out, two more Free Agents agree to join us. The first is 20 year old Scotsman and midfielder, John Robertson. Also capable of playing in the holding defensive midfield role, Ayr born Robertson excels in the physical aspects of the game, a ball winning midfielder who is an absolute team player. It's not an uncommon name, but if it sounds familiar from this save, he was a promising youngster when I was in charge at Somerset Park, but never played for the First Team, though he has played almost 30 Senior League games from a loan spell with Queen's Park.

The final one in today is another 20 year Scot, the Crossgates born front man, Gerry Nixon. After earning a scholarship to play football in the United States, the 6'2 and nearly 15 stone striker ended up playing for Bakersfield in California, before returning to the UK to play for Gainsborough Trinity in the Blue Square North. He was pretty successful with them too, scoring 14 times in 31 matches, before cuts at the club meant his contract was cancelled three months ago. Nixon has been searching for a club ever since, and I was surprised we didn't get more competition for his signature. The fans are happy with that one.

Saturday 6th December
The Club Captain is out of the treatment room after a month of being on the sidelines with a thigh injury, and now 19 year old Keith Steenson can show us what he is capable of. Capable of playing at centre back, defensive midfield or in the middle of the park.

Sunday 7th December
Mark Gordon has become the second Maidstone United player to reject the chance to join me in Northern Ireland. I suspect that it may become a regular occurrence, but I'm sure some of the players at my old club would do a superb job in this League, so it's highly likely I'll persevere.

Monday 8th December
I was a bit gutted that we missed out on Mark Whitby, but today we have another striker in through the door. He could be the 'little' to Gerry Nixon's 'large', as Welsh 18 year old Richard Salisbury signs on the dotted line. At 5'9 tall, he could be the perfect foil for the big guy, and he has something in common with him too, after also starting his career in America. The Maesteg born current Wales Under-19 International played only two Senior games for Hampton Roads Piranhas, but scored two goals, and is relishing a chance to return to the UK and develop his game further.

Tuesday 9th December
Today we have confirmed the signing of one of my top targets, 19 year old Scottish right back Tony Jones. The Sauchie born defender rejected a move to Waterford United to join us, and is now hoping to make his Senior Debut after three years developing, but not playing in the First Team with Scottish Premier League club, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Without a club since the end of last season, he will have some fitness to catch up with, but he likely makes the immediate jump into the category of best players at the club.

Thursday 11th December
18 year old Glen Rogers has played sixteen times in all competitions for Coleraine this season, and now he has returned to training following a shin injury. If I'm being brutally honest, and a bit blunt, it is fairly clear to see why the club have been struggling if Rogers is the kind of player getting regular First Team action. I wouldn't expect to see him near that level again for a while unless we are short on numbers.

Sunday 14th December
Just under a week remains until the first match in charge of Coleraine now, and the first phase of squad improvement is over, and I'm moving on to trying to improve the areas that we already have covered, but could do with a bit more quality. Quite a few of the players that I'm targeting here have played for me before.

Tuesday 16th December
It's a slow start to this stage, with most of the players we're now looking at requiring a transfer fee to prise them away from their current clubs. With no transfer funds available right now, this phase is unlikely to be particularly successful. Two offers have been accepted, but now we have to convince the players that their footballing future lies with us.

But there is a victory today, as we secure the signing of promising teenage Irish left winger, Scott Francis. Despite being only 16, he played seven times for Galway United in the Irish Premier Division during the 2014 season that has just finished. It was a bit of a surprise when they cut him loose, and the queue was lengthy to get his signature, with clubs from all corners of the UK interested. We got the jump on them all though, and now we need to get him signed up to a Senior deal when he hits his 17th birthday in February. The fans are delighted we have secured a prospect such as him, and it's noted that we may already be taking tentative steps towards improvement.

Edited by neilhoskins77
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29 minutes ago, \'Appy \'Ammer said:

Good Luck with Coleraine. Good summary of a long save. 👍

Thanks very much for the kind words. I hope you continue to enjoy the save. Cheers

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Thursday 18th December
Young Scott Francis didn't need much thinking time over our offer to sign a Senior deal from mid-February. It was put on the table yesterday, four and a half years at £75 per week, with some top up money for First Team appearances and goals. He is absolutely delighted, and signs within 24 hours.

Friday 19th December
It's the eve of my debut game as the new Coleraine manager, and the pressure is heaped on by the bookies of all people, as they make us 1/6 favourites for tomorrow's home match with Banbridge Town at the Coleraine Showgrounds. It'd be great to start with a win, and it would move us at least one spot up the Division, as our guests come into the game sat in 8th, one place and one point ahead of us. The previews remind us that we were being billed as promotion contenders in pre-season, while Banbridge are doing better than expected, after being pegged as relegation fodder this season, after only just staying up last season.

Saturday 20th December
Our Under-18's kick off the weekend, travelling to Dundonald to face Glentoran's Youth side at the Billy Neill Complex. A goal five minutes after the restart from Stuart Loughlins gave Glentoran the win, though they had to defend doggedly in the last half hour when Ken Winnington was red carded. This was the opening match in the second half of the campaign, and our Youth side sit bottom but one in Group 1.

Northern Irish First Division
Coleraine Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Banbridge Town
Attendance :-
234. Weather :- Showers, 13c

Not exactly a packed Coleraine Showgrounds for my first game in charge of the club, with something a little under 5% of the capacity being taken up. It will take a huge turn around to change that, and this is only the first step. Three of my new arrivals start the match, Tony Jones at right back, John Robertson in midfield, and Gerry Nixon up front. Club Captain and jack of all trades Keith Steenson is moved from his regular midfield role, and back into the middle of the back four, where we lack both numbers and quality right now. Three more new arrivals are amongst the five substitutes, as we utilise the 4-2-2-2 wide that was familiar last time I managed a game in this country four years ago.

My attempts to get the team playing a neat passing game didn't get off to a great start, James Hancox pass from left back into midfield for John Robertson was well off the mark, and Alan Hill took control, but missed the target with a hasty shot from range. Slowly however, we started to assert some control over the game, with Gerry Nixon in particular proving a handful for the Town defence, dropping deep and moving into the channels, and proving difficult to mark. He knocked the ball down Gavin Whelan in the 15th minute, and his through ball found Matty Robson in acres of room, but he was offside. Nixon was involved again moments later, holding up the ball and playing in Stuart Shaw, but he drove his shot across the face of goal and wide. Nixon held the ball up on the edge of the box shortly before the break, before playing in Shaw again, who this time did hit the target, but his driven shot was right at keeper Chris Oldfield, who easily dealt with it. Still goalless at the break here.

In all honesty, it felt like a matter of time before we created a good chance, though the second half started as the first half had, with a Town effort missing the mark, Eamon McCarthy kept to shooting from range, which he did, his effort wide of goal. And moments later, our big chance came. A free kick was awarded near the right corner of the box, and Robson whipped it into the middle, picking out centre back Robert Donaghy, who's header found a way through the forest of players and into the net via the inside of the near post. That was a huge relief, and less than ten minutes later, we won another free kick in an almost identical position, Robson providing the delivery again, and Tony Jones met this one with a glanced header at the near post, this one slightly too high though. From another free kick in a more central position, Robson went for goal, his curling effort just fading away and wide as it neared the goal frame. With around a quarter of an hour to go, I made my first changes, Robertson and Shaw coming off, with Michael Downey coming into the midfield and striker Richard Salisbury making his debut for the club. Moments later, Banbridge came up with a way to deal with Nixon, as Conor Willis hacked down the striker, and received the first booking of the game for his trouble. The big striker almost punished them himself, Robson picking him out with the free kick as he peeled away from his marker, but he couldn't keep his header down. Then a superb and flowing display of passing and moving cut us through the visitors defence, and Whelan burst into the box, losing his composure with the shot though, sending his effort high and wide of the target. Late on, Robson passed up a chance to shoot, before taking a knock and being replaced by another debutant, a great reception for 16 year old left winger Scott Francis. We were not quite done creating chances, Tony Jones breaking past a tackle and into the box, picking out Nixon who spun away from his marker and shot on the turn, Oldfield keeping out the player who arguably deserved a goal more than most. But it wouldn't matter today.

Coleraine (0) 1 - Robert Donaghy (51)
Banbridge Town (0) 0
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Keith Steenson ©, James Hancox; John Robertson (Michael Downey 74), Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones, Matty Robson (inj - Scott Francis 84); Stuart Shaw (Richard Salisbury 74), Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- Ray Doran, Glen Rogers.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 57% - 43%. Man of the Match :- Robert Donaghy (Coleraine).

And we are off and running! The main complaint was that we could have scored more, but we are not going to worry about that today. The win was the be all, and end all, and the three points are on the board, and we nudge up into 8th place, also gaining two points on Donegal Celtic, who are held to a draw, while Cliftonville win again, extending their lead at the top out to ten points.

That was my first game in charge, but it was the last League game of the year for us too. Quietly, Christmas has crept up on us, and our only remaining game of the year is an Intermediate League Cup match next weekend. We don't play in the League again until the 6th January, when we will visit fourth placed Dundela, who are three points ahead of us. In fact, our next five matches are all away from home, three in the League, and two in different Cups. We'll go into that run of games now sitting on a three game winning run in the League.

Sunday 21st December
We continue our recruitment drive today, with two main areas of focus. One is at centre back, where we already have one player coming in when the Winter Transfer Window opens, and now we are after another, recommended by our Scout, and playing for a team we have an affiliation with, which I'm hoping may make the process smoother. Our offer for them is accepted right away.

Likely much more difficult to get done will be the closing of a deal for a winger that we're very interested in. He's a young player, but is widely regarded as one of the best outside the Premier Division right now. His club are likely going to be fighting with us to move closer to the top two, and he is one of their best players. He can also play as a striker, and in seventeen matches in all competitions this season, he has thirteen goals and eight assists, a superb return. He is also a current Northern Ireland Under-19 International. If we can get an offer accepted, I'm optimistic we can convince him to move, even if he isn't initially keen. Why? He is massively underpaid, currently earning just £20 per week, and out of contract this coming summer. They want £2,500. We don't have any spending money, though I could shift some of the wage budget over, however, I'd still need to get their asking price down.

Monday 22nd December
Three of our players from Saturday afternoon's win have been selected in the First Division Team of the Week. Those selected are keeper Gerard Doherty, goalscorer and centre back Robert Donaghy, and perhaps more surprisingly, right winger Chris Jones.

Tuesday 23rd December
The negotiations are continuing to try and get a deal done for their right winger. That talks continue is a good sign, and we have made some forward progress, forcing the price down a little, but not quite enough where we can make an agreement with the club, and then try and do the same with the player.

Wednesday 24th December
Christmas Eve, and the deal with Portstewart is done. 20 year old 6'2 centre back Robbie Fisk will sign for us on a Free Transfer on New Years Day. A former Arsenal Youth player, the Londoner moved across to Northern Ireland in the summer, and has played a dozen games in all competitions, his first experience of Senior football. He has found the net three times, and will be an important weapon for us from the set piece situations that all my sides thrive upon. He is also very quick as a bonus.

Thursday 25th December
It might be Christmas Day, but work is continuing to try and get deals done, and today we have reached an agreement with the club of the right winger we are chasing, who have accepted a £1,000 bid from us. As predicted, he wasn't initially too keen, but I think we might have got his interest with a package that involves his wages increasing to around ten times it's current level. Now we have to wait on his decision.

Friday 26th December
No Boxing Day football for the First Team, as we are in action tomorrow. That match is away to the second string side of Premier Division outfit Newry City in the Third Round of the Northern Irish Intermediate Cup, a tournament that our club won in the 2012/13 season. City are involved in a relegation fight in the top tier right now, and as such, they are unlikely to risk moving any players down into the Reserve side, with the First Team facing Lisburn Distillery today in the Premier Division. Even though we are away from home, we are 1/3 favourites to win and move into the Fourth Round.

Our Under-18's were in action today though, holding Portadown to a 1-1 draw at the Coleraine Showgrounds to move up one place to 14th in the Group 1 table. They went behind after just five minutes, but left winger Stuart Wilson fired home a 72nd minute equaliser, before suffering a dead leg and going off in the final ten minutes.

Saturday 27th December

Northern Irish Intermediate Cup, Third Round
Newry Showgrounds, Newry
Newry City Reserves v Coleraine
Attendance :-
94. Weather :- Breezy, Wet, 4c.

Our final game of 2014, and there are no changes made to the starting lineup or substitutes from the win last weekend. And what a start we got off to in front of the sparse crowd. Right from kick off, Tony Jones sent the ball down the line for Chris Jones, and the winger crossed to his colleague on the other side of the park. Matty Robson didn't have the angle to shoot, so he sent it back across goal, where Gerry Nixon got between and above two defenders, and found the net with a downward header to put us in front with only 21 seconds on the clock, and before our opponents had even touched the ball. We could have had a quick second too, Gavin Whelan winning the ball in midfield, and he sent Stuart Shaw into space, who in turn played it to Nixon. The striker had Chris Jones completely unmarked on his right, but went for goal himself, and missed the target. Nixon continued to be the focal point of all that was going on, knocking the ball down for Chris Jones, and he picked out Robson, the wingers shot was low, and right at keeper Geoff Taylor. But we were over running City's second string, and from a corner by Chris Jones moments later, the ball was only partially cleared to Robson at the edge of the box, and he struck a swerving left footed shot that hit the roof of the net and gave us a two goal advantage with only a quarter of an hour played. Home right back Dave Buchanan picked up a booking, but City tried to mount a fight back, Davy Leacock beating both John Robertson and James Hancox, but his cross wasn't of great quality. Andrew Campbell retrieved the ball, and found Declan Millar unmarked right in front of goal, but Gerard Doherty was off his line quickly and blocked his shot. Shaun Jeffers had a chance from a less desirable position before the break, but again Doherty was equal to it. But instead, at the other end, Chris Jones sent over a 43rd minute corner, and Bruce Cowan's attempt to block off Nixon failed, and he got in front of keeper Taylor, heading home for the second time this afternoon, and sending us into the break with a three goal advantage.

This game was pretty much done, but that didn't stop the players looking for another goal right from the restart, Robertson playing in Whelan, and he lifted a shot over the advancing Taylor, getting a little too much on it though, and it landed on the roof of the net. We had a bit of a lucky escape just before the hour, Keith Steenson was left one on one and in a foot race against a much quicker Andy Curran, but Steenson had a head start, and Curran was impatient, shoving our skipper over when he had him on the ropes. Robertson was replaced, Michael Downey coming on in his place, but I held off making more quick changes when Jeffers passed the ball low to Curran near the penalty spot, and he easily rounded Robert Donaghy and fired his shot past Doherty to reduce the arrears to 3-1 with twenty five minutes to play. I gave it a good five minutes or so before making my next move, letting the game settle back down, before bringing on Ray Doran at right back for his debut in place of Tony Jones. With ten minutes to play, sub Simon Goodall curled a free kick over our cross bar, and I was confident enough that there was no way back for City, bringing off Nixon, and replacing him with Richard Salisbury. Both sides created late chances, Curran again for City, his effort aimed at the top corner was just wide of the near post, while Shaw's latest try for us was spectacular, but off target also. It had been a fairly comfortable passage into the Fourth Round.

Newry City Reserves (0) 1 - Andy Curran (65)
Coleraine (3) 3 - Gerry Nixon (1,44), Matty Robson (15)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (Ray Doran 71), Robert Donaghy, Keith Steenson ©, James Hancox; John Robertson (Michael Downey 59), Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon (Richard Salisbury 79).

Unused Substitutes :- Glen Rogers, Scott Francis.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Gerry Nixon (Coleraine).

That was, for the most part, every bit as comfortable as the bookies predicted it would be. Gerry Nixon was absolutely superb, moving defenders around all afternoon, and causing huge problems for the City second string lads. Two goals as well, his first for the club, and a well deserved man of the match award.

And it appears he will have a new team mate within a matter of days, as the right winger we have been chasing for almost a week has now agreed to make the move on New Years Day, subject to us having enough money remaining in the Wage Budget to offset a Transfer Fee of £1,000 to complete the deal.

There is no hanging around till early next week for the Fourth Round draw in the Northern Irish Intermediate Cup. It takes place little more than an hour and a half after the ties are played. That draw pitts us against the winners of the one tie not yet played. Cliftonville host Dungannon Reserves in a midweek match early in the New Year, and we will travel to face the winners in the next round.

Tuesday 30th December
Six months today will see the end of contracts for players with only half a season left to run on their current deals. Two games isn't really enough time for me to make any major decisions, with ten of the First Team squad due for renewal. Three of them did get immediate offers though, Gavin Whelan, Matty Robson and skipper Keith Steenson.

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Thursday 1st January 2015
New Years Day, and the Transfer Window is flung open. Three new signings have arrived at the club, including Andy Dickinson and Robbie Fisk. The other I'm pleased to say, is the right winger, as we did have enough wiggle room in the budget to complete the deal for Wakehurst's 19 year old forward, Chris Johnston. He has scored 26 times in 48 League games for them over three and a half seasons. If he can replicate that kind of form, or anywhere near close at the Coleraine Showgrounds, it'll be the best £1,000 a club has spent in a very long time. We are more likely to utilise him on the wing than up front right now due to his pace I suspect.

Gavin Whelan has rejected our initial contract extension offer. Currently on £120 per week, he asked for £150 for a one year extension, but I only offered him the same terms as his current deal for our initial offer. He said no, and has now received an improved offer.

Three more players who are currently playing their football elsewhere have seen their clubs receive offers to take them in this Transfer Window to us on Free Transfers. Meanwhile, two of our current players have been told they don't have a future with the club, and that we will be making efforts to move them on in the coming days.

Friday 2nd January
Stafford Rangers, promotion contenders in the Blue Square North this season, and currently sat in second place, have offered a contract to our left back James Hancox, hoping he will move there at the end of this season. This is his first season with Coleraine, but his sixth in Northern Ireland, after being released by West Bromwich Albion. Right now, I don't intend offering him a deal. I'm pretty sure we can get a better left back into the club, if not now, but in the summer.

I do have to up my offer to Gavin Whelan though, and more than I planned. That's because Wakehurst have offered him a deal to move them this summer. Clearly, they are bitter about us taking their top scorer from them, very petty, wouldn't you agree? Anyway, I don't have any desire to lose Whelan from our squad, and offer him a deal with a 50% pay rise, up to £180 per week for a one year extension.

It looks like left winger Sean Armstrong is going to be leaving the club soon. We have almost thirty offers to take him on a Free Transfer now, with another half a dozen offers to take him when his contract expires in the summer. Also set to leave is centre back Glen Rogers, who had almost fifty offers, including some from poor misguided Premier Division teams. They are welcome to him.

Keith Steenson won't be going anywhere, as the Club Captain signs his contract extension, one extra year, with his salary doubled to £20 per week.

Sunday 4th January
Matty Robson is the next to agree to extend his stay at the Coleraine Showgrounds, as the left winger signs a one year extension to his £275 per week deal, putting to bed rumours that he may be tempted by a move south of the border to Irish First Division side, Bray Wanderers.

Unfortunately, there was bad news for one of our new signings, as right back Ray Doran twisted a knee in training today, ruling him out for around four to five weeks, less than a week after making his debut from the bench in the midweek win over Newry City Reserves.

Monday 5th January
We are in talks with two more players, which means a total of five we are now trying to bring in, two defenders, two midfielders and a striker. The latest two are an English defensive midfielder currently playing in Wales, who is playing hardball with us a little on his deal. The other is the striker, an Irishman already playing in Northern Ireland, and doing quite nicely. He's kind of a hybrid of our current options, bringing Nixon's size, though not his strength, but Shaw and Salisbury's pace.

Tomorrow we return to League action, and our first match of 2015. We are away to Dundela, a team who are very much over achieving so far this season, with a squad threadbare in both numbers and quality. The goals have been spread through their side, and no player has an average in the 7's. They have lost three of their last six League games, though two of those were against the top two of Cliftonville and Donegal Celtic. They go into the game in fourth place, and are four places and three points ahead of us. But the bookies have us as heavy favourites to win on the road, which is unlikely to be as straightforward as that.

Tuesday 6th January
It's game day, but it's busy at The Showgrounds before that. A 22 year old Scottish midfielder that we're chasing who has recently been released by his club in Ireland, has rejected our offer. A second, and improved offer is made right away. But we have more success with the left back, who has signed today. 

Stewart Devine is a 30 year old Scottish left back, who can also play in centre midfield too. He would appear to be exactly what we are looking for, very sound defensively, while also having the pace, passing and crossing ability to be effective going forward as well. Edinburgh born, and a Hibernian fan, he began his career with Stirling Albion, spending nine years with them, and making almost 200 League appearances, before a season with Oxford United in the Blue Square Premier. He then made the move across to Ireland, and four seasons with Finn Harps, before heading north, and a season and a half with Drumahoe based Premier Division side, Institute. We have signed him from them on a Free Transfer deal, paying him £60 per week on an eighteen month contract. He is available to make his debut tonight in Belfast. It's another signing that pleases the fans.

Northern Irish First Division
Wilgar Park, Belfast
Dundela v Coleraine
Attendance :-
309. Weather :- Strong Wind, Downpour, 1c.

A few changes have been made for this League match, with some of our new signings going right into the side. On the day he signs, Stewart Devine is straight into the side at left back, with James Hancox dropping down to the substitutes bench. Robbie Fisk is also included, taking a spot at centre back, with Keith Steenson moving back into the midfield, and John Robertson moving to the bench. There is also a change on the right wing, Chris Jones left out of the matchday squad, and Chris Johnston will make his debut on the right flank. The injured Ray Doran and out of favour Glen Rogers are not involved today.

It was not a good start for us. Keith Steenson did the hard job, winning the ball on the halfway line from Anthony O'Shea. But he then gave it straight back to the home side, his pass only finding Mike Wilkins, and Craig Lloyd squared it for Ben Manning, who lashed his 3rd minute shot into the roof of the net. It could have got a lot worse in double quick time, Wilkins cross on the run from the left wing to the far post was only inches too far in front of O'Shea as he arrived on the slide, and Darrel Davis' swerving shot from distance only just missed the target. There were only five minutes remaining in the first half by the time we managed to put any pressure on Dundela, and that didn't trouble them too much, Gavin Whelan finding Stuart Shaw on the edge of the box, the striker tried to slide a pass out to Chris Johnston on the wing instead of shooting, and the ball was cleared to safety. Deep into first half injury time, brought about by an injury to Whelan, there was another try from Davis, which wasn't as close as his first effort.

A goal down at the break, and we would also be without Whelan for the second half, as he wasn't able to continue, John Robertson coming on in his place. Debutant full back Stewart Devine took charge of a free kick just outside the box before the hour, his blasted effort sent right into the defensive wall. But that brought about a spell where we saw the lot more of the ball in attacking positions, with Johnston in particular getting the chance to send in a few crosses, all of them cleared from danger unfortunately. At the other end, Davis escaped the attention of our defence to try another effort from twenty yards out, this one just across the face of goal and wide. I made a change in that back four, as one debutant replaced another, Andy Dickinson replacing Robbie Fisk. And moments later, we were level. Lloyd's attempted pass back into his own half and towards his back four was a poor one, and Gerry Nixon pounced on the ball and played in Shaw. The striker blasted in his shot, Declan Brown making a good save, but unable to hold on to the ball, Nixon sweeping it home from ten yards out, and we were all square with twenty minutes remaining. Unfortunately, the parity lasted no more than five minutes, Chris McLoughlin's inswinging corner towards the far post was aimed at Wilkins, but the ball ricocheted off Steenson, and into the path of O'Shea, who blasted it home from inside the six yard box to put the hosts back in front. As the final ten minutes approached, sub Darren Monaghan led our defence on a merry dance down our right, as he twisted and turned past defenders into our box, then cutting it back to Davis on the edge of the box, the closest in he had got, and chanced his arm again, this time his shot was too high. There was little to lose now, and Steenson came off, teenage Scott Francis came on, asked to operate on the right wing instead of the usual left, while Johnston moved into the middle to join Shaw and Nixon up front, as we went looking for a late equaliser. Instead, we got caught too far up the park, and Monaghan picked out O'Shea, who netted his second, rounding Robert Donaghy and slotting his shot past Gerard Doherty to put the seal on a win for the hosts.

Dundela (1) 3 - Ben Manning (3), Anthony O'Shea (75,86)
Coleraine (0) 1 - Gerry Nixon (70)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Robbie Fisk (Andy Dickinson 68), Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson © (Scott Francis 79), Gavin Whelan (inj - John Robertson 45); Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- James Hancox, Richard Salisbury.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Anthony O'Shea (Dundela).

Not many saw that result coming, but Dundela are not fourth for nothing, and in fact they are closing in on the top two now, assisted by Carrick Rangers moving into second with a home win over Donegal Celtic, who are now only a point in front of fourth placed Dundela. Clearly, a big opportunity to make a stride back towards the chasing pack had been missed by ourselves, our first League defeat in seven matches had arrived in untimely fashion. We have dropped down to 9th place now.

While that was going on, several other matters were also being dealt with. Three of our players have just sorted out their future. Two of them will see that away from Coleraine Showgrounds, with 19 year old left winger Sean Armstrong rejecting moves to Scotland and Wales, and signing a deal to remain in Ulster and move to non-League side Crewe United on the 1st July. Moving right away is 18 year old centre back Glen Rogers, who has signed a deal to move to mid table Second Division club Oxford United Stars with immediate effect. He has signed a deal for £5 a week to take him through to the end of next season. Their fans are delighted to get his signature.

Gavin Whelan is going nowhere, as with rumours circulating of multiple clubs from south of the border chasing his signature, he has signed a one year extension of his contract with us, accepting a 50% increase in his salary to take him up to £180 per week. The midfielder has played nineteen times in all competitions for us this season. Still not decided is the future of 24 year old left back James Hancox, who has just lost his First Team spot to new arrival Stewart Devine, but has rejected a summer move home across the Irish Sea to Stafford Rangers.

Wednesday 7th January
A much quieter day at the club today, with the only news of note being Cliftonville's 3-0 win over Dungannon Reserves at Solitude this evening in the Northern Irish Intermediate Cup Third Round. That means that they will now host us at that same venue in the Fourth Round, with that clash scheduled for Saturday 31st January.

Thursday 8th January
Our efforts to improve our options in the back four took a hit today, with the news that 25 year old former Sheffield United youngster Matthew Lowton has rejected our contract offer and will remain in Ireland, instead signing for Finn Harps for the rest of 2015. It's not the first time I've failed to get Lowton to sign for me at one of my clubs.

Our attempts to sign a Welsh based player who can play in a variety of positions continues, though he has rejected our latest contract offer, with the sticking point being his desire to claim a sizeable appearance fee bonus, and our desire to keep that figure as low as possible.

Friday 9th January
It's a return to Cup action tomorrow, and a chance to progress into the last sixteen of the Northern Irish Cup, as we will be heavy favourites for our trip to face non-League side Brantwood in Round Five. We are 1/4 favourites, despite being away from home, and it will also give me a chance to catch up with a player who featured heavily in the first part of this story, as their squad includes former Lurgan Celtic striker, Raymond Fitzpatrick. He is now 31 years old, and playing outside the Northern Irish League for the first time in his career, after leaving Celtic for Limavady United in the summer of 2011. He spent three seasons with them, playing at our current level, and scoring 24 times in 58 League matches. In fact, he is only one League goal away from fifty in his career now, and finding the net regularly for his current team. He isn't their dangerman though, that tag goes to 25 year old midfielder Michael McCartney, who is an excellent looking player, and one I'm asking my Scout to keep an eye on. His contract expires in the summer, but they are paying him a huge £450 per week!

The day finishes with another new arrival, as we complete a deal to sign 21 year old striker, Paul Roberts from Second Division promotion hopefuls, Annagh United. The Drogheda born 6'1 front man signs a two and a half year deal for £100 a week, rejecting a new contract offer from his current club, where he has scored twenty four League goals in just two and a half seasons since arriving from Cliftonville on a Free Transfer, where he had arrived after three years with his hometown club in the South. Good in the air and on the deck, brave and determined, and bringing a high level of pace to our front line as well. It's a bit of a wild card as he moves up a level, but it could be a good bit of business for us.

Saturday 10th January
Our Under-18's earn a great win this morning at the Coleraine Showgrounds, with a 2-0 win over none other than Lurgan Celtic. Both goals came late on, firstly from right winger Colin Canning with quarter of an hour to play, and then Gary Campbell with ten minutes remaining, the midfielder putting the seal on a win that moves our Youth side above their opponents, and up into 11th place in Group 1.

Northern Irish Cup, Fifth Round
Brantwood v Coleraine
Skegoniel Avenue, Belfast
Attendance :-
334. Weather :- Wet, 4c.

The majority of our new signings are Cup Tied for this one, and unavailable to play. Robbie Fisk, Chris Johnston and Paul Roberts are all ruled out, meaning two changes from our starting lineup that were beaten here in Belfast in midweek by Dundela in a League match. Andy Dickinson starts at centre back, with Michael Downey taking his spot on the bench, while Chris Jones returns to the squad to start on the right wing.

We started assertively, as we attempted to push Brantwood right back and cause them problems from the get go. Matty Robson swung in a fourth minute corner that found Robert Donaghy, his powerful header was just wide of the intended target of the top corner. Ten minutes later at the other end, Michael McCartney shot from range when he had plenty of options to pass, his shot was high and wide of the target by quite some way. But moments later Tony Jones strode forward for us from right back, and he found Gerry Nixon on the edge of the box, the striker holding off two defenders before slipping a beautiful pass into the box for Stuart Shaw, and he drew keeper Dan Thomas off his line, and then slotted it between him and the near post to open the scoring. Centre backs Colin Fleming and Pat Milligan learned their lesson at least, as ten minutes later Chris Jones made a great run down the right and picked out Nixon near the penalty spot, the defenders closing him down quickly and clearing the ball from him. But our non-League hosts were barely treading water, and shortly after the half hour mark, Gavin Whelan dropped the ball over the head of Brantwood left back Aaron Moore, giving him no chance when Chris Jones sped past him and on to the byline, before clipping a cross into the middle, Shaw and keeper Thomas both went for it, the keeper just getting there first, but only batting the ball against Milligan, and it dropped to Nixon, who slotted it into the unguarded net from close range to double our lead. All our hosts could muster by response was a free kick from range by Kevin McNicholl that didn't threaten the target, and soon we were back down the other end, Gerard Doherty's long clearance was inadvertently flicked on towards his own goal by Milligan as he jumped with Nixon, and Shaw got goal side of Moore, sliding his shot under the advancing Thomas, but this time it came back off the upright. But number three wasn't far away, and in the 39th minute Matty Robson sent over a free kick from the right, and as Nixon prepared to catch it on the volley, Shaw stole in unmarked, and planted a firm downward header inside the near post and into the bottom corner, his second of the afternoon. We almost had a fourth before the break too, Tony Jones and Whelan combining to get the ball forward, and Chris Jones laid it off to Keith Steenson on the edge of the box, the skippers shot didn't quite dip enough though.

It would take a momentous effort from the Brantwood players to get their side back into this game, Milligan showing he was up for the fight, though a little too keenly maybe, as he earned a booking for a challenge soon after the restart. He didn't learn from that though, as less than ten minutes later we cleared a corner, and as Chris Jones reached the ball first, he knocked it past Milligan who took him out, and earned a second yellow, and received his marching orders with more than half hour left to play. With the game pretty much dead, and our opponents down to ten, it was pretty clear that the foot had come off the gas somewhat, though in the 65th minute, Whelan picked out a superb pass to Nixon, who rolled his marker and shot from 20 yards, getting underneath it and sending it well over the cross bar. There was no reason not to make changes, and with twenty minutes remaining, I made all three of mine, Stewart Devine, Whelan and Robson coming off, Jame Hancox, John Robertson and Scott Francis taking their places. We hadn't quite given up on ticking the scoreboard up a little higher, Steenson and Francis switching passes, and the former found Nixon unmarked in the box, but he didn't connect as he would have liked, his shot billowing wide. A Chris Jones corner then hit the near post on it's way across, almost finding itself directly into the net. As the party pieces started to come out, so did the indignation of the Brantwood players, Stuart Nelson showing his displeasure with Chris Jones' nifty bit of footwork to slalom between a pair of players, a late and strong challenge earning him a booking, and he was quickly joined by McCartney. It wouldn't bother us though, as we cruised into the last sixteen.

Brantwood (0) 0
Coleraine (3) 3
-
Stuart Shaw (15,39), Gerry Nixon (32)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine (James Hancox 70); Keith Steenson ©, Gavin Whelan (John Robertson 70); Chris Jones, Matty Robson (Scott Francis 70); Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Michael Downey, Richard Salisbury.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Stuart Shaw (Coleraine).

That was pretty routine, especially in the first half, and then the sending off after the restart of young centre back Pat Milligan meant the chances of Brantwood making a comeback were virtually zero. So the job was done with the efficiency expected of a club like ours, and I doubt anyone will be impressed with what we have done today.

Once more, the draw is done speedily, and it's not a terrible draw for us. We will travel once more, this time to face Bangor, the current leaders of the Second Division. They will provide a stern test for us, and we will face them at Clandeboye Park on Saturday 7th February, as we aim for a place in the Quarter-Finals. We have been regular sparring partners with them over the years, with ten clashes since the save began, and only one defeat, though it has been two years since our last meeting. It means our home First Division match with Queens University Belfast has been pushed back a week and a half, with both clubs still in the Cup.

While the Cup action was going on, Dundela played in the First Division, beating Armagh City 3-2 at home and moving up into second place, above Carrick Rangers and Donegal Celtic. We are back in League action in midweek, our last match before a ten day break. Our opponents this time will be Tobermore United, who are currently in the relegation zone with twelve points from thirteen matches. We are only four points in front of them, and a win is needed to push away from the dotted line and back up towards the top half. There is just one meeting between the clubs, and that came on the first day of this season, as we beat them 2-1 at The Showgrounds.

Talks are still in continuing with the Scottish midfielder who is a Free Agent after being released by his Irish club. I think this will probably be the last offer we can make him, and included a very significant signing on fee, which I'm only doing as I'm so convinced that he would be a top end addition to our squad.

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15 hours ago, \'Appy \'Ammer said:

I wonder does your club captain realise that Matty Robson is on almost 14 times as much as him? 😲

You bring up an interesting point. Obviously, I can't ask Keith Steenson, you can have my two pence worth of an opinion.

Matty Robson is a 30 year old left winger from Durham. He's a Sunderland fan (which shouldn't be held against him, but at some point I'm sure I absolutely will). As recently as two years ago, he was playing regularly in Coca-Cola League One for Shrewsbury Town, where I would imagine his wages were probably a lot more than we are paying him. If I were to offer him a new contract with a pay cut, lets say for arguments sake down to £200 per week, Robson would likely disappear back across the Irish Sea, probably to a Blue Square League side, and earn the same money or more, much closer to home. He is a footballing journeyman, who plays for money. Does he care if Coleraine get promoted? Of course, because it increases his reputation, sees him play in front of bigger crowds at bigger stadium, and he will get a 25% pay rise. I'm not suggesting that is a problem, it's part of parcel of football. These players come and go,

Keith Steenson is the polar opposite. He was born in this town, comes from a family that support this club (along with a Liverpool or Manchester United etc as well of course), and come along and watch matches at The Showgrounds. He has just turned 19, and despite being eleven years younger than Robson, he is living his footballing dream, as the Captain of his hometown club. He'd play for Coleraine for free I'm sure, this town, this club, they are his life, and this is all he's ever wanted. Does he care if Coleraine get promoted? You bet he does, but not for an extra fiver a week! This club, his club, are supposed to be one of the biggest in the land, and it hurts him to see them midway down the table in the second tier, when he believes with every part of his being that they should be battling the big clubs for Titles and Cups. All he wants is to go around to his Mothers for Sunday lunch, and see a photo of himself, holding aloft the Premier Division Trophy or Northern Irish Cup hung proudly on the wall, and the medal that comes with it hanging right beside it. He is the guy that the fans come along to cheer on, he is one of them. In 30 years time, when we are all long moved on from the club, he is the one the fans will remember fondly and talk about, maybe buy a drink for when they see him in the pub. 

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18 hours ago, \'Appy \'Ammer said:

Good reasoning but Steenson needs an agent!! 🙂

I'll let you do it mate. I'm not bothering for 15% of his contract ha

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Sunday 11th January 2015
James Hancox has realised the writing is on the wall for his First Team opportunities at The Showgrounds, and the 24 year old English left back will leave the club in the summer. His next destination is an interesting one too, as after rejecting a move back across the Irish Sea with Stafford Rangers, he has now signed to join current Premier Division leaders, and my former employee's, Lurgan Celtic, effective this summer.

Tuesday 13th January
It's back into League action tomorrow evening, as we travel 25 miles south to the village of Tobermore, as we face the relegation threatened team who are in the process of being taken over. There is almost half a season left to settle whether the new owners are going to be owning a second, or third tier club. We are 1/3 favourites to beat them at their Fortwilliam Park home, the first time in the history of the save that we have visited this ground. Their main threat is likely to be veteran English forward Chris Senior, the 33 year old is playing his first season in Northern Ireland, and is United's top scorer so far with four goals. They have taken to playing him on the right wing in recent weeks though.

Wednesday 14th January
I have given up on trying to strike a deal with Ammanford's 21 year old English player, Craig Parkes. The Truro born former Brighton & Hove Albion youngster, who can play in the back four, a holding role, or centre midfield, is just asking for too much money at this point. He is out of contract in the summer though, so we may come back for him at a later point.

Northern Irish First Division
Fortwilliam Park, Tobermore
Tobermore United v Coleraine
Attendance :-
194. Weather :- Breezy, Downpour, 1c

There are only three changes made from the weekend Cup win against Brantwood in Belfast, and those changes are made amongst the substitutes, with our Cup-tied players being brought back into the matchday squad. James Hancox, Michael Downey and Richard Salisbury are all dropped from the squad, with Robbie Fisk, Chris Johnston, and potential debutant Paul Roberts all called up in their place after the trio were unavailable on the weekend. Gerard Doherty plays the 325th League game of his career tonight, and his 75th for Coleraine, while left back Stewart Devine plays in his 300th career League match.

It took us only two minutes to pin United back into their own third of the park, and show them our attacking intent. Matty Robson's throw in found Stuart Shaw, and he gave it right back to the winger, who's cross found Gerry Nixon unmarked eight yards out, but Chris Palmer tipped his header over superbly. That was only the start though, Stewart Devine hoisted the ball down the left wing, Shaw collected it and made his way towards the box, trying to catch Palmer out with a shot when everyone expected a cross, but that one floated across the face of goal. Ten minutes later, Gerard Doherty used the same channel, with Nixon heading the ball down for Robson, who left his marker for dead. He gave it back to Nixon, who sliced United open with a through ball to Gavin Whelan, and he drove his shot under the dive of Palmer, and opened the scoring. The scorer tried again shortly after, a free kick that he got past the wall, but it curled away past the near post. When we won another free kick ten minutes before the break, Devine touched it square for Chris Jones, the winger trying a dipping shot that just cleared the top corner. That proved to be the last goalscoring chance of the first half, though United centre back Andy O'Boyle did pick up a booking.

A goal up at the break, though it really should have been more than that, as we had created enough chances to be a few goals in front. United fired a warning shot early in the second half though, Jason Ferry firing in a free kick that curled just wide of the mark. That gave the hosts a bit of bravery, and it wasn't a bad thing for us, as they went forward and we stole the ball to counter attack, Robson finding Shaw on the left, and he moved across the park and played in Chris Jones, the wingers low curling shot beat Palmer, but was the wrong side of the post and into the side netting. Ferry and Whelan traded free kick attempts, both just off target, before Kevin Colhoun became the second United player to get booked. Just after the hour mark, veteran striker Chris Senior, now in his natural position after starting on the left wing, connected with a low Dean Thurgood cross, but he sliced his shot wide of the far post. We started to reassert our dominance, a Chris Jones corner sent out towards the edge of the box instead of the six yard box as normal, Robson in on the plan peeling away from his marker, bringing the ball down and striking a shot that crashed down off the underside of the cross bar. We tried again from the other side, Robson with the delivery, sub Ricky McMahon heading the ball clear, Robert Donaghy believing he was fouled by him, his appeal turned down. From another corner, Nixon brought the ball down, and tried to spin and shoot, his effort blocked. With fifteen minutes to go, I made my three changes at once, Keith Steenson, Chris Jones and Shaw all coming off, John Robertson, Chris Johnston and debutant Paul Roberts all coming on. Right away Robertson played the ball through to Nixon, who shot first time, and that one also came back off the bar. Our failure to put this match out of United's reach was becoming frustrating, even more so when Tony Jones sent over a cross from the right and picked out Nixon, this time the striker glanced a header goalwards, hitting the bar for the second time in three minutes. I couldn't quite believe that we still only had a single goal, and with around five minutes remaining we would pay for our wastefulness. Palmer launched the ball down the park, sub Mark Herron flicked it on, and Colhoun took it down and let fly, his shot taking a deflection off the unfortunate Andy Dickinson, totally wrong footing Doherty, and finding the bottom corner. I couldn't quite believe what I was watching. The game moved into the final minute, and we won a corner. Whelan repeated the trick of sending it closer to the penalty spot than the six yard box, and Chris Johnston dropped into the space, beating Senior in the air, and his header floated between Palmer and a defender who got in each others way, and over the line after hitting the underside of the bar! I celebrated like we had just won a Cup on the touchline, more out of relief than anything else, it would've been hard to explain if we hadn't won this match!

Tobermore United (0) 1 - Kevin Colhoun (86)
Coleraine (1) 2 - Gavin Whelan (17), Chris Johnston (89)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson © (John Robertson 75), Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones (Chris Johnston 75), Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw (Paul Roberts 75), Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Scott Francis.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 32% - 68%. Man of the Match :- Gavin Whelan (Coleraine).

That should not have even been close, two thirds of the ball possession, thirteen corners, nineteen chances, six shots on target, and another three that hit the cross bar. We have to be more prolific in front of goal if we are to salvage anything from this season, as if we had dropped two points today at Tobermore, we wouldn't have been able to offer any excuses or reasons.

As it is, we push ourselves up into seventh place, and into the top half of the First Division, climbing above Armagh City who didn't play, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who lost at home to Cliftonville. There was also a win for Donegal Celtic, who move back into second place in the table. We are next in action a week on Saturday, away to Ards, who sit in sixth, a point in front of us with a game in hand. In fact, with Wakehurst also in our sights, a win next time out could see us climb as high as fifth.

Thursday 15th January
After giving up on Parkes, I have also now given up on chasing the Scottish midfielder too. Talks with 22 year old Glasgow born five times capped Under-21 International player Connor Cassidy had been going on for quite some time, but we just couldn't reach a deal with the former Aberdeen and Bohemians Dublin player.

After last nights game, on the trip home, I spoke to Gavin Whelan, and asked him to start training with a focus on drilling his free kicks low and hard at the target when there was a chance to shoot. He took the night to think about it, but he has responded today in the negative, stating that at this stage of his footballing career, he isn't too interested in learning new things, and would rather concentrate on things that he is already good at. This will result in the vice skipper being taken off free kicks, and I will now need to find a player who can start trying to hit the target with these set piece opportunities that we are, basically, wasting. I had identified a 17 year old at a Second Division club who had a very good base as a set piece taker, and we were interested in bringing in. But his club want £25,000 to sign him, so that's a no go for us.

Saturday 17th January
There is no First Team match today, but the Under-18's do play, and they win again to push themselves up to 10th place in Group 1. The latest win was away to Dungannon, who went a man down when Neil Carson was shown a straight red card in the 16th minute. But the ten men went a goal up three minutes later through Joe Keenan. We equalised before the break through Jospeh Nixon, and then found a winner midway through the second half, scored by Andy McMillan.

Sunday 18th January
I'm prevented from increasing my First Team squad numbers by the Board today. A deal had been agreed to bring in Kris Groves, a once capped Antigua & Barbuda International midfielder who us currently a Free Agent. A two and a half year deal for £100 per week was agreed with the player, but the Board have veto'ed the deal, stating that it would break the Wage Budget, which they won't allow with the clubs current financial predicament in mind.

Monday 19th January
Three players are included in the First Division Team of the Week once again. Our goalkeeper, Gerard Doherty, is once more included, joined this time by Gavin Whelan and left winger Matty Robson.

With Gavin Whelan now taken off free kick duty, I have asked two different right footed players to start practicing the skill of rifling free kicks low and hard at goal, with Tony Jones and John Robertson the players asked. Hopefully I'll get a better response from two younger and newer players to the club.

Tuesday 20th January
Apparently, being a younger player, and newer to the club and keen to impress the manager, isn't a thing anymore, as both Tony Jones and John Robertson give the same response as Whelan to my request to drive free kicks at goal. Back to the drawing board there then.

Wednesday 21st January
Our Under-18 side travelled to Dundonald again this afternoon, this time to face Glentoran Youth in the Northern Irish Under-18's Cup Semi-Final match. Two goals in the ten minute spell before half time had Glentoran in control, and while our youngsters were much better in the second half, they didn't find the net until four minutes from time through Gary Donnelly, and there wasn't enough time for an equaliser.

Aaron Smyth has started light training following his broken leg. It's likely to be another month before he can participate in full training sessions, but he is one of the better players at the club, and having him available will be a bonus. He might also solve our free kick issues as well, as the 27 year old is one of our better set piece players.

There are three First Division games played this evening, and Cliftonville continue their march towards an almost certain return to the Premier Division with a win over Carrick Rangers away from home. Ards, our weekend opponents, move into fifth after drawing their game in hand away to Queens University Belfast, while we are pushed down to 8th place after Police Service of Northern Ireland move above us with their 2-1 win at bottom of the table Dergview.

Thursday 22nd January
Smyth is the latest to refuse to try and rifle in his free kicks on the training ground, and the best set piece takers from the Reserve and Youth teams have also replied that they see no benefit in doing this either. I thought I was the Manager around here. Clearly, a set piece expert is going to need to be a priority in the summer recruitment drive.

Friday 23rd January
We travel South East tomorrow, out towards the eastern coast, and almost the outskirts of Belfast, as we head almost an hour down the road to Ballyclare for our League match with Ards, who are now 5th in the Division, while we are sat in 8th place. Their main man this season has been 26 year old forward Brendan Lowe, in his second spell at Dixon Park after two seasons with Lurgan Celtic in between. In all competitions so far this season, he has eight goals from twenty two games. But the bookies are still backing us, making us the 1/2 favourites for a win tomorrow afternoon, despite Ards having lost only once in their last nine matches. The clubs drew 1-1 at The Showgrounds back in October, and in three historical matches between the sides, there has also been a win apiece.

Saturday 24th January
There is just one more week remaining in the Winter Transfer Window, as we now start hitting the loan markets in an effort to add some more quality and depth to our squad for the rest of the season. I'm not hugely optimistic, mostly because I will only be targeting players who can improve us significantly. There is no point bringing in anyone who can't contribute right away.

Before our match, we hear that two of the three offers we sent out have been accepted by the clubs, while another has been rejected. We now wait, more in hope than expectation, to see if either of the two players are interested in a three month spell to try and help us climb the First Division table.

Northern Irish First Division
Dixon Park, Ballyclare
Ards v Coleraine
Attendance :-
295. Weather :- Wet, 5c.

Does it ever stop raining in Northern Ireland? There are no changes to the starting lineup or matchday squad from the win ten days ago against Tobermore United. Here, Robert Donaghy picked up a very early picking for a rather industrial tackle, and Peter Holmes stood over the free kick, hitting a curling shot from thirty yards out, beating the wall and Gerard Doherty, but thundering back off the underside of the cross bar near the top right corner he was aiming at. But there was even more precision just ten minutes later, a corner was sent towards the edge of the box for John Rankine, and while Gerry Nixon got in front of him and prevented him controlling the ball, it fell for Ashley Upton, who sent a rising thirty yard drive right into the top corner, Doherty didn't even see that one. But we are a fairly resilient bunch, and we quickly got ourselves level, Tony Jones' throw in finding it's way infield for Keith Steenson, who looked set to shoot from range himself, but instead sent the ball into the box and to the feet of Stuart Shaw, who spun away from his marker and sent his shot from ten yards out high into the net to knot the game back up quickly. Perhaps a little surprisingly, it was ourselves who were now pushing on and trying to gain the upper hand, Andy Dickinson dropping a fabulous pass from centre back into the right wing, Chris Jones running onto it and sending a low cross skidding across to the far post, where only a poor first touch from Matty Robson allowed Steve Sinton a chance to get off his line and smother the ball at his feet. At the other end, John Kirk stepped infield from his wing, and sent in a curling shot that was only just over the bar, before Holmes stood over another free kick opportunity, scooping this one well over the bar from just outside the box, he didn't have enough room to get that one up over the wall and back down. Moments later, Holmes was involved at the other end, one of two players along with Jackie McKillop who couldn't prevent Nixon getting past them after they allowed a Robson throw in to bounce into the box, and Nixon slammed a shot inside the near post from a tight angle and put us in front with his 5th of the season. Perhaps slightly surprisingly, we were ahead going into half time.

The tone of the half time talk was the importance of remaining on point with individual and team tasks, and not allowing Ards to create clear cut chances. That nearly went out of the window within thirty seconds of the restart, Shaw losing the ball in the centre circle from the kick off, and it was played down the right wing and allowed Holmes to burst into the box and shoot across goal, but his shot was just wide of the far post. In a game that was starting to flow back and forth up and down the park, Upson gave the ball away to Nixon with a loose pass on halfway, and the ball was passed around slickly before Chris Jones picked out Nixon on the edge of the box, but he dragged his first time shot wide of goal. Twenty minutes into the second half, Sinton sent the ball long into the left channel, where Kirk found Tony Jones too advanced, which gave him some space to run into. Credit to our full back, he got back and made life difficult for the winger, keeping him wide, forcing him to shoot from an angle that wasn't great, Doherty easily pushing that one aside. I made a double substitution in the 71st minute, the booked Donaghy, and the tired legs of Chris Jones replaced by Robbie Fisk and Chris Johnston. But it was Doherty who was called back into action, Brendan Lowe clipping the ball into the path of substitute Stephen Adair, his driven shot pushed away by our keeper, Dickinson and Johnston both on hand to prevent Kirk getting to the loose ball, and he fouled our centre back in frustration. Moments later, a cross into the box picked out Lowe, his first time shot saved by Doherty with his legs, the ball rebounding to Upton, who sent the second shot over the cross bar. With just over five minutes to play, Steenson sent a through pass right between the Ards defence, giving Johnston acres of room on the right wing. He took his time to pick out a target, and put the ball onto Shaw's head just eight yards out, but our striker got neither power or direction on his header, and sent it right into the waiting arms of a relieved Sinton. I made my final change, Robson had emptied the tank on the left, and Scott Francis came on for him. But the teenager hadn't even touched the ball when Rankine found full back Connor Copeland, who powered by Stewart Devine and Steenson, and found Mark Riley, who squared a pass to Adair, and he fired beyond Doherty's reach to equalise with just four minutes to play. It was a hammer blow, and could have got worse when Copeland tried to catch out Doherty with an injury time free kick from out wide, curling the ball in towards the far post, getting just a little too much on it thankfully. The spoils are shared today.

Ards (1) 2 - Ashley Upton (14), Stephen Adair (86)
Coleraine (2) 2 - Stuart Shaw (19), Gerry Nixon (39)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy (Robbie Fisk 71), Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson ©, Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones (Chris Johnston 71), Matty Robson (Scott Francis 85); Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- John Robertson, Paul Roberts.
Bookings :- Robert Donaghy 4
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Ashley Upton (Ards).

I'd have taken a point before the game, no doubt about it. And while I'm still reasonably satisfied with the result, it's frustrating to be just four minutes away from a huge away day win after dragging ourselves back into the position to win the match after going behind. It wasn't to be though, and instead of gaining more ground, we instead slip back into 8th place and the bottom half of the table, with only one match remaining in the League this month. The only sliver lining is that the match, which will be on Tuesday night, is against bottom of the table and well adrift side, Dergview. Surely, we will pick up a win at The Showgrounds in midweek before we return to Cup action?

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Sunday 25th January 2015
By the time the weekend is over, both of the players we were targeting as loan signings, and had seen our offer accepted by their clubs, have rejected the opportunity to move here for three months. So I move on, and four more loan offers are sent out to clubs this evening.

Monday 26th January
Only one of our players is selected for the latest version of the First Division Team of the Week. That player is goalkeeper Gerard Doherty, who made several good saves against Ards on the weekend.

There was no doubt whatsoever that we were going to be made favourites for the final League match of January, as we return home to face bottom the table Dergview at The Showgrounds tomorrow evening. Anything other than a win would be a footballing disaster for us, with our guests firmly rooted at the foot of the First Division, and relegation seeming to be little more than a formality now, given that they are starting to run out of games, are eight points from safety, and have only one League win all season. That came back in early September, but they have accumulated just one point from their last ten matches. That's the reason that we are 1/10 at the bookies.

Tuesday 27th January
By this morning, four clubs have accepted our loan offers for their players, and we are now waiting on those players to give us an answer. We have competition for one of them, while the other three all quickly decline our loan offer. In the only other news before the match, right back Ray Doran returns to training today following his knee injury.

Northern Irish First Division
Coleraine Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Dergview
Attendance :-
221. Weather :- Dry, -3c.

For a second match in a row, no changes are made in either the starting lineup or matchday squad, as we look to get back to winning ways on a dry, but freezing cold evening at The Showgrounds. From the off, we were keen to turn the screws on our relegation threatened visitors, Keith Steenson and Matty Robson playing Chris Jones into the box, the winger shooting on the turn, keeper Darren McQuaid pushing that one to safety. Robson would see plenty of the ball in the opening twenty minutes, skinning marker Ryan Lockhart on a couple of occasions to get his cross over, but all too often with no one on the end of them. When he did pick out a team mate, Gerry Nixon's volley was too high to work McQuaid. It wasn't quite all one way traffic, though it wasn't far off. But in the 27th minute, Philip Burns curled a through ball from inside his own half into the run of Paul Corkin, who had got goal side of Andy Dickinson, but he fluffed his lines, sending a shot from a tighter angle than he would have liked over the bar. They tried the same trick moments later, Gerard Doherty reading that one and getting off his line quickly to smother the ball. A frustrating first half so far, and it didn't get any better as we entered the last five minutes of it, Steenson playing Robson into all the space he could wish for, the winger drawing McQuaid off his line, then curling the ball over the keeper and the goal frame. But Robson made amends two minutes before the break, delivering a perfect corner to the far post, almost right under the bar, where Nixon got above Leigh Martin and McQuaid to glance a header home and finally break the deadlock and the visitors stubborn resistance.

I didn't want this to be a repeat of the Tobermore United game recently, where we wasted chance after chance and nearly left points behind. The players emerged for the second half with that message ringing in their ears, and they took notice too. Robson won the ball back deep in the Dergview half, and he got the ball to Nixon on the edge of the box, the striker squaring it for Chris Jones, who evaded a tackle and tucked his shot past McQuaid and high into the net to double our lead and calm our nerves a little. We were playing with a freedom that was lovely to see, and we were creating chances almost at will, a cross field pass picking out Robson on the left, and he got into the box before cutting the ball back into the path of Gavin Whelan, his curled effort was just too high to find the target. We did have to deal with a counter attack effort from time to time, Corkin sending Stephen Murray into the box with a ball down the side of him and beyond Robert Donaghy, but Murray sent his shot over the bar. A third goal would knock the fight out of them, and it came twenty minutes into the second half, Donaghy sending a long ball down the park and over the Dergview defence, Nixon just getting to the ball before a charging out McQuaid, and rounding the keeper before tucking the ball into an unguarded net. The game was now well over as a contest, and with twenty minutes left, I made my changes, Whelan, Chris Jones and Stuart Shaw replaced by John Robertson, Chris Johnston and Paul Roberts. We still created one more great chance, Robson sending a long throw into the box, and Nixon took a shot from an angle that surprised McQuaid, but was over the bar. Robson finished the match hobbling, appearing to do some damage as he landed after jumping for a header late on.

Coleraine (1) 3 - Gerry Nixon (43,65), Chris Jones (49)
Dergview (0) 0
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson ©, Gavin Whelan (John Robertson 70); Chris Jones (Chris Johnston 70), Matty Robson (inj - 88); Stuart Shaw (Paul Roberts 70), Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Scott Francis.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 56% - 44%. Man of the Match :- Gerry Nixon (Coleraine).

That was more like it, a much more clinical display, and we leap back up into the top half of the table and into seventh place as the League prepares to move into February. There are still ten League matches remaining, and we are only four points outside of the Promotion Playoff spot that second place brings. No one is catching Cliftonville, who are eighteen points clear at the top now, and could win the First Division Title as quickly as four games from now. But the race for second, well, that is wide open right now. If we can continue to be this clinical, while keeping the ball out of our own net, we could well be in the mix. Six of our final ten in the League will be at The Showgrounds.

But we don't play again in the League until Valentines Day, as it's the Cup competitions and Internationals that will dominate the next few weeks. But we will be without Matty Robson for those matches, and maybe a League match too. The left winger damaged his heel as he landed after jumping for a header in the 88th minute, and he is going to miss two or three weeks. If this weekend had been a League game, I may have been tempted to give him a pain-killing injection, but not for an Intermediate Cup match.

20 year old Scottish striker Gerry Nixon has now scored seven goals in as many games since arriving at the club, also adding three assists, two man of the match awards and an average rating of nearly 7.50. He has been one of the players who has come in and made a real difference, not just with his goals, but with his hold up play and strength, which has caused opposition defenders some real issues.

Thursday 29th January
We have failed with our loan effort for the last of the group of four we had sent offers to, with Macclesfield Town winning the race to sign Crewe Alexandra's midfielder Rob Wright on a three month deal. With the Winter Transfer Window closing on Saturday night, and us having a match that day, the opportunity to bring anyone in is decreasing by the hour now.

Friday 30th January
No one is expecting much from us tomorrow, as we travel into the capital city of Belfast again, this time to take on Cliftonville in the Fourth Round of the Intermediate Cup. They are eighteen points clear at the top of the table, and have lost only three times all season, once in the League to Donegal Celtic, once in the opening round of the Antrim Cup away to Chimney Corner, which was a big surprise, but was the opening match of their domestic season, and away to Limavady United in the First Leg of their League Cup tie, though they turned that around with a big win at home in the Second Leg. There is the possibility that they may make changes tomorrow, but they are still 4/7 favourites at their 5,000 capacity Solitude home.

Saturday 31st January
The final day of the month, and this Transfer Window is upon us, and it will be a busy day regardless. But not with Transfer business. As before the Under-18's kick off in their late morning game, we get word that six more loan offers we have sent out have all been rejected by the players, after their clubs accepted our approaches. That was our last roll of the dice for this Transfer Window, and we will be going with what we have now.

Meanwhile, the Youth side have really got their tails up at the moment. They win again in Group 1 today, winning 2-1 away to Distillery Youth, a match played at the New Grovesnor Stadium in Lisburn. First half goals from Joseph Nixon and Stuart Wilson had us in front at the break, Pat Whiteside pulling one back a quarter of an hour from time, but the youngsters hold on for another win, now sitting 10th with their third League win in a row.

Northern Irish Intermediate Cup, Fourth Round
Solitude, Belfast
Cliftonville v Coleraine
Attendance :-
182. Weather :- Dry, 1c.

It wasn't so long ago, that a match here between these two clubs would have drawn an attendance well into four figures, and would likely have been one of the biggest matches in the nation on that day. Now we are meeting in a Cup that, to be fair, no one at either club will particularly care about. But they do care about beating each other, and that means that even with less than 200 people in a 5,000 capacity ground, it's still a big match. Our team picks itself almost, with us losing several players for this match as they are Cup-Tied and not eligible to play. Stewart Devine is one of those, meaning a recall to the side for James Hancox, not ideal with him already agreeing a move away from the club. Left wing Matty Robson is out injured, meaning a start for sixteen year old Scott Francis, also not ideal. There are also changes on the bench, with right back Ray Doran, midfielder Michael Downey and striker Richard Salisbury all included, with Chris Johnston and Paul Roberts also unavailable to us today.

Our hosts attacked right from kick off, Harry Pell playing the ball to striker Timmy Adamson, and he held the ball up before playing a diagonal through pass into the path of strike partner Frank Nouble, who rounded Gerard Doherty and slid home the opener with less than thirty seconds on the clock. A far from ideal start, and two minutes later we nearly shipped a second, Cameron Stewart whipping in a cross from the right that Adamson met with a firm header, but he couldn't keep the ball down. We were still were not out of the woods from Cliftonville's early onslaught though, Andy Dickinson treading on the ball and Adamson took it from it and moved into the box, attempting to pick his spot, Doherty managing to stop that one with his legs. In the 10th minute, we gave our hosts a taste of their own medicine, Gavin Whelan smashing the ball up the park from the edge of his own box, Gerry Nixon chasing it down on the right wing, beating a defender to get into the box, and then cutting the ball back towards the penalty spot, Keith Steenson arriving and meeting the ball with a low first time shot that thumped back off the far post. Chris Jones' 13th minute corner was over hit, but Stuart Shaw retrieved the ball, and he found Whelan on the edge of the box, but the midfielders powerful shot was charged down. The ball rebounded right back to him though, and this time he threaded the needle, his shot struck through the crowd, and into the far corner, tieing the match back up at one apiece. That gave Cliftonville food for thought, and they had some more when Tony Jones curled an 18th minute free kick around the wall, but just wide of the post. And we had them on the ropes midway through the half when Doherty's huge clearance downfield was allowed to bounce, and Shaw caught the hosts defence flat footed, springing right through, and dispensing with finesse to blast his shot past Brian O'Donoghue, only to see that one cannon back off the underside of the cross bar, the ball eventually worked back to young Scott Francis, who's curling effort was fielded comfortably by their relieved keeper. Cliftonville looked to respond, Adamson beating three defenders with ease and getting into the penalty box, but his shot was well over the bar. Then as the break approached, Stewart set Nouble into a foot race down the right that he easily won against James Hancox. Our full back got goal side again as Nouble beared down on goal, only to be beaten again, fortunately, the striker buried his shot into the side netting the wrong side of the near post. 1-1 at the break, and anyone's game in the second half.

We moved into the second half, with Nouble still causing us issues, his attempted cross from the left went right back to him, so he went the long way around, moving along the edge of the box and in via the right channel, before sending in a shot aimed at the near top corner, which was too high. Ten minutes later, and Nouble found himself running against Robert Donaghy, with similar levels of success, and even when Hancox arrived to help out, they couldn't get the ball from him, and he sent it inside the near post this time to restore Cliftonville's lead. That goal was his 20th of the season in all competitions. Five minutes after that, Anthony Doherty and skipper Conor Downey worked a short free kick routine that pulled us right out of position, and Adamson was played in, again his shot was too high though. Midway through the half, and Adamson was into the box once more, and he kept his shot low this time, trying to copy Nouble's finish, Doherty not falling for that a second time, and turning his effort around the post. We suffered an injury blow shortly after that, Tony Jones picking up a knock, meaning Ray Doran was summoned from the substitutes bench, with Robbie Fisk replacing an out of sorts Donaghy at the same time, making it a double change for the back four. Cliftonville sensed we were in a bit of bother, and went for the kill, but it didn't pay off. Ray Doran sent the ball down the right wing for Chris Jones, who skipped by a tackle and then lifted a cross in to the middle, over O'Donoghue's head, where Gerry Nixon had escaped the attention of his marker, and finished with a diving header to bring us level once more, this time with only six minutes remaining. It seemed the hosts were far less happy to go into extra time than we were, as they pushed into a very attacking formation, and our defence made the cardinal sin of not picking up Nouble when Mark Haughey shaped to shoot from a free kick, then played the pass instead. Their dangerman was in on goal again, lifting the ball over the advancing Doherty, but this one landed on the roof of the net. Deep into injury time, and moments after we lost Shaw to injury with Richard Salisbury replacing him, Pell had a last crack at avoiding an extra half hour, trying an outrageous effort from almost out on the touchline, the ball going out after hitting the outside of the goal frame, though Doherty seemed to have it well covered.

Into the extra time phase, and we were keen to try and gain the upper hand, Scott Francis and Steenson combining to find Whelan 25 yards from goal, but his curling effort faded badly away from the target. And then we fell behind for a third time, this one coming from a set piece. Downey curled a free kick over from near the corner flag, Doherty headed it back into the middle, and sub Neil Fotheringham stabbed a shot goalwards, keeper Doherty keeping it out, but Haughey followed up and smashed in the loose ball. Our predicament got even worse in the final minute of the first half of extra time, David McAlinden drifted a cross in from the right touchline, and it cleared our entire defence, before being met at the far post by sub Martin Dodds, who's half volley put us two goals down and pretty much done. We tried to rally, Hancox playing a one-two with Steenson, and then picking out Whelan, his volley was wide though. As we pushed forward, we were leaving big gaps, and Pell sent in a cross that pinged around our box, before Nouble hit a first time shot, Doherty preventing the striker claiming his hatrick. Then with around five minutes to play, McAlinden sent a throw in to Adamson, and from the corner of the box he sent in a cross that was overhit, and flew over Doherty's head, and found the far corner of the net. It was a cruel and final blow.

Cliftonville (1) 5 - Frank Nouble (1,57), Mark Haughey (97), Martin Dodds (105), Timmy Adamson (114)
Coleraine (1) 2 - Gavin Whelan (13), Gerry Nixon (84)
(after extra time - 2-2 after ninety minutes)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (inj - Ray Doran 68), Robert Donaghy (Robbie Fisk 68), Andy Dickinson, James Hancox; Keith Steenson ©, Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones, Scott Francis; Stuart Shaw (inj - Richard Salisbury 90), Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- John Robertson, Michael Downey.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 43% - 57%. Man of the Match :- Frank Nouble (Cliftonville).

Okay. I'll say that scoreline looks a bit worse than it actually was. For almost 100 minutes, we gave Cliftonville a really good game, and caused them almost as many problems as they caused us. But as the game wore on, particularly so in extra time, the quality of their overall squad was too much for us to deal with. It shows that one Transfer Window is nowhere near enough to put us back on an even keel with a club like them at this point. Frank Nouble and Timmy Adamson have 35 goals between them in all competitions so far this season, and we're only just past the halfway point. We didn't score that many goals in the League last season, and we are only just halfway to that total this season. We might not need to get to their level to get out of the First Division, but we will to compete in the Premier Division if we get back there. So there is still plenty of work to do here.

After that defeat, we now have just two competitions left to focus on, the League, and the main Cup, which we return to action in next week. We are likely to be without both Tony Jones and Stuart Shaw for that match. The full back suffered bruised ribs during a collision in the second half, and he is out for up to two weeks. Striker Stuart Shaw has a better chance of being fit for Bangor in the Northern Irish Cup next week, but it's still a long shot, he suffered a stubbed toe right at the end of the ninety minutes.

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Posted (edited)

2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table, Up To & Including Saturday 31st January 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Cliftonville      |       | 16    | 15    | 0     | 1     | 32    | 6     | +26   | 45    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Carrick           |       | 16    | 8     | 3     | 5     | 27    | 20    | +7    | 27    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 16    | 8     | 3     | 5     | 17    | 14    | +3    | 27    |
| 4th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 16    | 8     | 2     | 6     | 23    | 17    | +6    | 26    |
| 5th   |       | Dundela           |       | 16    | 7     | 5     | 4     | 21    | 16    | +5    | 26    |
| 6th   |       | Ards              |       | 16    | 5     | 8     | 3     | 23    | 20    | +3    | 23    |
| 7th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 16    | 6     | 5     | 5     | 18    | 22    | -4    | 23    |
| 8th   |       | P.S.N.I.          |       | 16    | 4     | 9     | 3     | 16    | 16    | 0     | 21    |
| 9th   |       | Queens University |       | 16    | 4     | 5     | 7     | 21    | 23    | -2    | 17    |
| 10th  |       | Armagh            |       | 16    | 4     | 5     | 7     | 20    | 27    | -7    | 17    |
| 11th  |       | Banbridge         |       | 16    | 4     | 5     | 7     | 8     | 15    | -7    | 17    |
| 12th  |       | Tobermore Utd     |       | 16    | 4     | 3     | 9     | 14    | 20    | -6    | 15    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 13th  |       | Limavady Utd      |       | 16    | 3     | 5     | 8     | 17    | 23    | -6    | 14    |
| 14th  |       | Dergview          |       | 16    | 1     | 4     | 11    | 10    | 28    | -18   | 7     |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Sunday 1st February 2015
The Winter Transfer Window is closed, and we were the busiest club in the First Division with five new signings. In fact, that was the most signings of any club in the three Divisions. The biggest buy came from Glentoran, who spent £40,000 on St Mirren's 19 year old Scottish Under-19 International winger, John Smith. That's not something we'll be doing anytime soon, the club are now £202,000 in debt, far and above the issues we were suffering when I was at Maidstone United. The Board are pretty satisfied with things right now though, particularly the signing of Gerry Nixon, which everyone at the club is delighted with. Currently, we have the best home form of any club in the three Divisons in Northern Ireland too.

It's set to be a relatively quiet month at the club, which isn't a bad thing with our small squad. We have a Northern Irish Cup match away to Second Division leaders Bangor to start us off, before an International Window, where I will be in India. We will then follow that up with our return to First Division action, with two home games in a four day spell, hosting first Armagh City, and then Queens University Belfast. If we win in the Cup, we'll then have a ten day break before the Quarter-Final tie. Should we lose to Bangor, that is us done for February.

Our Transfer Window was not exactly a roaring success, and I have asked the Board to try and find us a Parent Club to forge a link with. Ideally, I'd like that to be a club in England or Scotland preferably, I doubt there'd be much benefit in a link with a Premier Division club, given we're hoping to get back there, and that the quality of players they are likely to offer us wouldn't be a huge help.

Monday 2nd February
Three of our players are included in the First Division Team of the Week, with goalkeeper Gerard Doherty almost becoming first choice, as he is selected once again, with winger Chris Jones and striker Gerry Nixon also included. Fair play to Jones, who has really stepped up to the challenge since Chris Johnston was brought into the club, and he certainly isn't willing to give up his place in the side without a fight.

Thursday 5th February
One of our players has been called up for duty during the coming International Window, and that is striker Richard Salisbury. The new signing, who has struggled to have any impact at The Showgrounds since signing for us, has been called up by Wales Under-19's for their Friendly on Monday at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea against Luxembourg.

Friday 6th February
Tomorrow afternoon we will make the 75 minute or so journey down the M2, around the outskirts of Belfast, and on to the nations east coast, and into the seaside town of Bangor for our Northern Irish Cup Sixth Round match. Despite our up and down form, and Bangor being top of the Second Division and defeated just once in their last sixteen matches, we are still touted as heavy favourites. The bookies have us as 2/5 favourites to earn an away win, and take a place in the Quarter-Finals, which are scheduled for the end of the month.

Saturday 7th February
While we prepare for our trip to the coast, our Under-18's continue their excellent recent form with a 2-0 win at The Showgrounds against Institute. The win was all the more impressive considering our youngsters were without two of their better players for this match, more on that in a moment. A goal just before the hour mark by Paul Walsh, and a penalty five minutes into injury time from Paul McMaster, gave our young lads a fourth consecutive League victory, and pushes them into ninth place, just a point away from nudging into the top half of the Group 1 table.

Northern Irish Cup, Sixth Round
Clandeboye Park, Bangor
Bangor v Coleraine
Attendance :-
318. Weather :- Wet, 2c.

If Bangor are looking for reasons to be hopeful before this one, our small squad and lack of options may just provide a glimmer. With Tony Jones out, and Aaron Smyth still not ready to play, Ray Doran comes in at right back. With Matty Robson not making this game either, sixteen year old Scott Francis continues on the left wing, while up front Stuart Shaw fails to make it back from injury in time to play, so Richard Salisbury starts. With Robbie Fisk, Chris Johnston and Paul Roberts all cup tied, I'm left with only three fit Senior players for the bench, James Hancox, John Robertson and Michael Downey. So, on the eve of the match, sixteen year old utility player Robbie Walsh and eighteen year old striker Andy McMillan are both withdrawn from the Under-18's squad for their match today, and instead will be among the substitutes here.. Both have played for the First Team before. The home side were expected to lineup in a standard 4-4-2, but they have sprung a surprise, instead fielding a 4-1DM-4-1 formation, clearly looking to draw us onto them and spring counter attacks.

It was a very quiet start to the match, with nothing by way of attacking football until the 11th minute, where Ray Doran tried to do too much on halfway, and lost the ball to Stephen Brown. He pinged a pass into the path of Steve Vaughan's run, and he skipped by Andy Dickinson's challenge, but Doran got back to block the cross. They tried their luck down the other wing on the quarter of an hour mark, Sean Daley stepping in off his flank, and picking out Stephen Patterson, but his shot from distance swung well wide of the target. It took us almost half an hour to make our way into the Bangor box, and then Chris Jones had two crossing chances in as many minutes. His first was low and picked out Gerry Nixon at the near post, but Bangor were wise to the strikers finishing skills and a pair of defenders quickly closed down his space. The second cross was well overhit and went all the way out for a throw in. Jones would have a further chance to cross before the break, created by his growing partnership with Doran, but Mark Treanor had tracked back and headed this one clear. But a pair of injuries before the break would mean we would need a change around at the break.

Doran was one of those who wouldn't be able to continue, the other looked the more serious though, and it was skipper Ketih Steenson who also needed to be replaced. We would now have a pair of sixteen year old's on the park, with Robbie Walsh coming off the bench to play right back, while John Robertson was also summoned to replace the Captain. But despite the forced changes, we emerged for the second half on the front foot, Stewart Devine had acres of space on the left, and he picked a pass for Gavin Whelan to walk onto, the midfielder letting go a screamer of a shot that was just too high and wide for the top corner. It was almost a mess for young Robbie Walsh shortly after when Ryan Brown's long clearance up the park was headed on by Vaughan against Robert Donaghy, but Walsh couldn't decide whether to bring it down, or send it pack to Gerard Doherty. He did neither, and Vaughan took it right off him and got into the box, but Dickinson and Donaghy forced him wide enough to make his shot from a tight angle, and Doherty easily dealt with it. Midway through the half, and Sean Daley sent in a beautiful cross that Stephen Brown got his head too, and the ball looked set to find it's way inside the far post, but it lacked power, which allowed Doherty to just get across and get hands on it to keep the ball out. We poured right forward to counter attack, Whelan sending the ball down the right, where Nixon was beaten to it by Marty Walsh, who made an awful decision to keep the ball in play, and tried to find Seamus Kee in his own box. He failed, Richard Salisbury hit a first time shot that Ryan Brown saved with his legs, but the ball went right back to our Welsh striker, who with his back to goal, tricked the two defenders by turning and shooting with his weaker left foot, the ball finding a path through the Bangor rearguard and into the back of the net, his first goal for the club, and we have a lead with a quarter of the match to play. Now the onus was on Bangor to find a way through, Vaughan dropping deep to receive the ball from a throw in on the left, and he slung a cross in that found Daley all alone and in plenty of space. But by the time he brought it down, Robertson had made up a huge amount of ground to get in front of him and block his shot. It was all hands to the pump now, Nixon clearing the corner powerfully at the near post, but it came right back, sub Paul Cassidy twisting by Donaghy for space and finding Vaughan unmarked in the box, his low shot bringing out a superb reflex save from Doherty. Bangor were pouring forward now, and Whelan went down easily on the edge of his own box under a challenge from Kee, as much to buy some time and a chance to take a breath as anything. Stephen Brown's cross had so much spin on it that the usually safe handed Doherty spilt the ball on his own line, Devine on hand to clear the lines there. But as Bangor poured up the park, they were leaving huge gaps, Robertson breaking up the play and releasing Scott Francis into space, and he picked out Nixon, the big man showing great feet to drag the ball back from a challenge and then lash in a rising shot that was just too high. That did at least give Bangor cause to think about how many players they could afford to throw forward, and took the pressure off us a little. In fact, when Devine played the ball forward, and Nixon flicked it on to Salisbury, the striker played a through ball into the right wing that allowed Jones to move into the box, the winger going down under a tackle from full back Mark Spring, but the ref waving Jones back to his feet, no foul as far as he was concerned. It had done enough to dampen Bangor's fire though, and with moments remaining, our goalscorer came off, 18 year old Andy McMillan came on for a short cameo appearance as we rounded the match out, and advanced in the Cup.

Bangor (0) 0
Coleraine (0) 1
-
Richard Salisbury (67)
Gerard Doherty; Ray Doran (inj - Robbie Walsh 45), Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson © (inj - John Robertson 45), Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones, Scott Francis; Richard Salisbury (Andy McMillan 91), Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- James Hancox, Michael Downey.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 40% - 60%. Man of the Match :- Gavin Whelan (Coleraine).

That was an absolute banana skin of a Cup tie, and while we were unlucky not to be awarded a second half penalty, Bangor were also unlucky not to manage at least one goal of their own. There is every chance they will be playing First Division football next season, and they will be decent at that level if they can keep the heart of that squad together, though two have already agreed moves to England this summer, and several others are being watched. I'm still hoping we won't be in the First Division, and that they won't be our problem.

That wasn't a classic performance from us by any means, but with a threadbare squad, we had got the job done, and we are now into the Quarter-Finals of the Northern Irish Cup. That game has had an impact on us again though, and while Ray Doran is going to be okay, Keith Steenson has twisted his knee, and the 19 year old Club Captain will now be out for up to five weeks, a pretty big blow to our already stretched squad. It was good that both Robbie Walsh and Andy McMillan were given an opportunity to get onto the park today, though it wasn't ideal in Walsh's circumstances, and he looked at one point like he might crumble. It is very possible that they, and others, may get more chances in the First Team this season with our inability to bring in more players during the Transfer Window. At least Richard Salisbury took his chance, and it was the only one he got as well.

Bangor were joined by Ballinamallard United and Loughgall as Second Division clubs who were knocked out of the Northern Irish Cup today, and the final eight is made up of five Premier Division clubs, and three First Division clubs. We were on the bus and on the way back towards the north coast when the draw was made, and there was good news too! We got one of the First Division clubs, and it would be at home! There was bad news though, as that First Division club would be Cliftonville, as we are paired with the runaway second tier leaders once again! If we make it through to the Semi-Finals, we will certainly have earned our spot.

There were also three First Division matches played today, and three home wins were recorded. Wakehurst are back up into second place after their 1-0 win over Dundela, as the teams in the chase for second continue to take points from each other. That allows Ards to move past Dundela and into fifth place with their 3-0 win over bottom of the table Dergview, while our next opponents Armagh City move up to ninth with a 2-1 win over Tobermore United.

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Sunday 8th February 2015
Former Aberdeen and Scotland Under-21 midfielder Connor Cassidy remained a Free Agent when the Transfer Window here closed at the end of January. He isn't now though, as the 22 year old long time target of ours has signed to stay south of the border, and actually remain in the same city, as he will play the 2015 season with Premier Division club Shamrock Rovers. And the contract makes it fairly easy to see why he wasn't keen to accept our terms, as the Dublin side are paying him £1,000 a week, more than three times what we were offering.

Tuesday 10th February
Richard Salisbury played 59 minutes of Wales Under-19's match in Swansea today, which they won 3-0 against Luxembourg, with our striker setting up a goal and named Man of the Match at the Liberty Stadium. The three Wales goals came from Mark Knight and Scott Pringle, both of Cardiff City in the first half, and a goal late in the second half from David Hughes, who plays for the American side, Des Moines Menace.

Wednesday 11th February
Matty Robson returns to training today, giving him a chance of being involved in the match against Armagh City at The Showgrounds this coming weekend. The 30 year old winger damaged his heel late on in the win against Dergview around a fortnight ago.

Another trio of First Division fixtures are played tonight, and Cliftonville continue to move towards an almost certain First Division Title and a quick return back to the Premier Division, as they move eighteen points clear with an emphatic 4-0 home win over bottom but one side Limavady United. Second place changes hands yet again, as Donegal Celtic win 1-0 at home to Banbridge Town to move back into the Playoff spot. Meanwhile, fourth placed Carrick Rangers slip up away from home, though it was to a Police Service of Northern Ireland side who now move back ahead us and into the top half, nudging us back down into eighth, though we do hold a game in hand on them.

Thursday 12th February
Extraordinary news from the Premier Division broke this morning. Dungannon Swifts, who have a best ever season finish of second in the top tier in 2011/12, but currently sit top of the Premier Division with a game in hand on Lurgan Celtic, have sacked their manager Patrick Robinson. A new consortium took over the club just ten days or so ago, and have decided that they wish to make a change, just two days before they kick off a vital period of two home matches in four days against Institute and second placed Celtic.

I might not like what I heard from Hugh Wade, the Chairman of the club, but at least he was honest about it. He had been asked about creating a link with a parent club after our fairly unsuccessful Transfer Window, particularly late on when we tried to bring in some loan signings. He said he'd give it some thought, but today he announced that after giving it some thought, he didn't see the point right now.

There was only one other piece of news today, and it's Transfer news, or at least, potentially anyway. St Albans City of the Blue Square South made their move for a player that is going to be out of contract in the summer, and he is very much on our radar as well. We make contact with the player, who is already playing in Northern Ireland, and we also offer him a deal to move here on a Free Transfer this coming summer.

Friday 13th February
Our early weekend gets off to a great start, with 17 year old today defender Robbie Walsh signing a four and a half year professional deal with the club. The youngster who can play in the middle or right of the back four or midfield, has already played five times for the Seniors this season, and looks a very decent prospect. He will be paid £5 per week on his new deal, with top up money for appearances. Walsh is currently valued at £6,000 in the Transfer Market.

We are home in our return to First Division action tomorrow, as we host Armagh City at The Showgrounds. They come to play us sat just one spot behind us in 9th place, but the bookies don't consider this one as even a close contest, as they have us as 1/8 favourites against our guests. Their 6'2 and 21 year old striker David Tierney has been their player to watch this season, he has 12 goals from 28 games in all competitions this season. But they are losing him at the end of the season, as he has agreed a move to Scottish side Stirling Albion.

Saturday 14th February

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Armagh City
Attendance :-
211. Weather :- Downpour, 7c.

Torrential downpours, but the match is on. Only just though, as there is some evidence of standing water on the playing surface. The starting lineup shows three changes to the team that won in Bangor last weekend. With skipper Keith Steenson out injured, John Robertson steps into the lineup, while on the left wing, there is a return from injury, with Matty Robson back in the side, replacing Scott Francis. Up front, Richard Salisbury's goalscoring performance in the Northern Irish Cup, plus another good outing for Wales Under-19's in midweek, was not enough to keep him in the side, or even the matchday squad for today. Paul Roberts is selected to start up front, with the available again Stuart Shaw on the bench as his fitness needs a bit of work after a short injury lay off. Tony Jones and Robbie Fisk are back and on the bench today after injury and ineligibility due to being Cup-Tied respectively, with Chris Johnston also available again today from amongst the substitutes.

Our first opportunity of note came in the 7th minute from one of our weak points, a free kick. Jeff Loughlins earned a booking when he committed the foul on the edge of the box, but Stewart Devine blasted his effort over the bar. Our passing style wasn't necessarily suited to these awful conditions, but we were still bossing the game, John Robertson and Ray Doran combining down the right in the 18th minute, and the latter played in Paul Roberts, the striker's shot on the turn was too high though. The theme of shots going too high continued as the half hour mark approached, Matty Robson picking the ball up from a throw in on the left, and playing the ball into the feet of Gerry Nixon, the striker creating a yard of room for himself, but also shooting over the cross bar. Ten minutes before the break, our chances of breaking City down got a whole lot better. Andy Dickinson launched the ball forward from centre back, and Loughlins was caught out of position, and with the ball going over his head, and Nixon behind him, he threw his hand up and controlled the ball with it. It might well have been worthy of a straight red anyway, but as he had already been booked, it was a second yellow, and now City would have to play nearly an hour of football with ten men. They made an immediate change, one of their strikers coming off, and a replacement centre back coming on in his place. From the resulting free kick, Devine touched it to the left this time, and Chris Jones sent in a low shot that keeper Willem de Lange watched wide. We created only one more chance before the break, John Robertson picked a great through ball, and Nixon controlled the ball near the penalty spot, but once more the shot was well over the bar. A very frustrating first half.

There was now a huge level of expectation on us to find a way through after the restart, which we would play against ten men. But our prospects took a turn when Nixon landed badly after jumping for a header and damaged his arm. Stuart Shaw came on in his place, and Roberts shifted into the target man role. Just over five minutes after he came on, he picked up the ball in the left channel when David Tierney's short pass missed the mark. Shaw drifted infield and towards the box, before firing a curling shot that beat de Lange, but hit the top of the cross bar on it's way over. City got a very rare attack with twenty minutes remaining, Steven Hollinger finding Ian Cox in acres of space thirty yards out, but his dipping shot didn't dip anywhere near enough. With only ten minutes remaining, I was starting to get really worried, and changed my right sided players, where we were having little success. Doran and Chris Jones were replaced by Tony Jones and Chris Johnston. But there was little to no improvement, and we would have just one more chance before final whistle. It would be another free kick, from almost the exact same position as we had our first chance from. Devine would hit this one again, and this time he did exactly what I wanted, firing the free kick low and hard. But it was a whisker wide, and we had endured a very frustrating afternoon, with two valuable points left on the table.

Coleraine (0) 0
Armagh City (0) 0

Gerard Doherty; Ray Doran (Tony Jones 80), Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Jones (Chris Johnston 80), Matty Robson; Paul Roberts, Gerry Nixon (inj - Stuart Shaw 56).
Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Michael Downey.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 59% - 41%. Man of the Match :- Ray Doran (Coleraine).

That can't go down as anything other than a wasted opportunity. We didn't manage a single shot on target, with the Man of the Match award going to a defender, when we spent almost an hour playing ten men. The players were told that simply wasn't good enough today.

And to make matters worse, we are now going to be without Gerry Nixon for anything up to six weeks, the striker has fractured his arm after landing awkwardly when jumping for a header. We'll miss his goals, and will be looking to others to pick up the slack if we are going to keep ourselves in contention for that coveted second place. But with Donegal Celtic, Carrick Rangers and Dundela all winning today, we have lost a bit of ground. We'll go into the midweek match against Queens University Belfast still in eighth place.

Sunday 15th February
It's a quiet day after yesterday's disappointment. But at least we had some good news on the injury front today, with right sided defender Aaron Smyth declared ready to return to full training tomorrow. It's not a position we are particularly struggling in, but having another player ready to go won't be a bad thing.

Monday 16th February
Gerard Doherty takes his regular spot in the Team of the Week for the First Division. His reward? A new contract. Though I'm not sure that it's much of a reward at all. Doherty has been an ever present this season, and has played at a very good level too. I wasn't sure if he would be our best option going into next season, but he has shown his desire to stay at The Showgrounds, by taking a pay cut to stay. It's not a minor one either, as his wage is more than halved to stay here, as he drops from £325 a week, right down to £150 a week on his one year extension through to the end of next season. He'll be 34 when the new season is underway, but if he wants to play for us that badly, how can we not keep him around when he's permorming?

Part of that money we have just saved on Doherty's contract is spent by lunchtime too. 26 year old left winger Ryan Twist will leave Second Division side Ballymoney United in the summer when his contract ends, and will move here to The Showgrounds to join us. The biggest criticism of the Leamington Spa born lad who has played his entire Senior career in Ulster is that he doesn't have the pace desired by most managers of their wingers. But he is superb with the ball at his feet, able to beat a defender and send over a great cross, and he has recorded ten assists this season so far in 22 matches across all competitions. He rejected a move back to England with St Albans City to join us, and I think he will be a very good piece of the puzzle to get in through the door this summer.

Tuesday 17th February
Left wingers are certainly the theme right now, and Scott Francis turns 17 today, which means his Senior deal comes into effect now. The arrival of Twist may push him down the pecking order a bit, but that will allow him to develop properly rather than being pushed in out of his depth. I still believe there are good things in the youngsters future here.

Tomorrow evening we are home again for our final First Division match of February. Once more, despite being pretty poor on Saturday, we are overwhelming favourites with the bookies to record a win, with our visitors this time being tenth placed Queens University Belfast. I hate to see it, but the media are less convinced of our ability to win, and they have labelled us as 'disappointing' in their preview of the match. What I hate more is that they're not wrong. We are facing another of my ex-players today as well, as former Lurgan Celtic centre back Glenn Walsh has been almost an ever-present for Queens this season, and is being linked with a summer move to Scotland or the Republic of Ireland.

There was one First Division match played this evening, and there really wasn't any ideal result for us. Ards beat Wakehurst 3-1 at home, and they move up to fourth, with Wakehurst now in 6th place, and they would become within striking distance for us if we could pick up a win ourselves tomorrow evening.

Wednesday 18th February

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Queens University Belfast
Attendance :-
223. Weather :- Wet, 7c.

A second home game in four games, and another soaking for the hardy souls who have made their way to The Showgrounds again, with our visitors travelling in from the capital this time. The players have a quick opportunity to put the disappointment and frustration of Saturday behind them, and there are three changes made to the lineup. Tony Jones returns at right back in place of Ray Doran, while in the midfield Michael Downey gets a rare start in place of John Robertson. Up front, with Gerry Nixon out, Paul Roberts is joined by Stuart Shaw. There is a place on the bench for Aaron Smyth as he starts his road back to match fitness after recovering from a broken leg. There is also a return to the matchday squad for Scott Francis, while Chris Johnston covers right wing and striker options.

Wearing our away yellow colours despite being at home, we came flying out of the traps this evening. Matty Robson stole the ball from full back Jim Kelly right from the kick off, and the ball was switched to the right wing, where Tony Jones sent the ball down the line to Chris Jones, who tried to catch out keeper Jason Moore when he looked out of position, but he managed to get fingertips to the ball to turn it over. That would be the first in a flurry of early corners, and Queens were unable to keep us out. The Jones' combined down the right wing once again, and Chris cut into the box, and picked a square pass to the feet of Stuart Shaw, the striker's first touch taking him away from a defender, and his shot taking a deflection off defender Glenn Walsh, not enough to divert it away from goal, but enough to take it from Moore's reach, and we were a goal up. And that quickly became two within three minutes, the roles reversed this time, Shaw picking up the ball from a throw in on the left, and he made a yard for himself to ping a firm pass to the feet of Chris Jones, and just like the striker, his first touch took him away from a defender, and then with a sweeping finish on his weaker left foot, he found the top corner to increase our lead. Ten minutes later, Queens attempted to hit back, a perfect through ball by Kyle Larkin through our defence found young striker Bob Foster, and he slipped his shot by Gerard Doherty, but also past the upright. But they dragged themselves back into the game moments later, a free kick midway through the half by Ryan Tafazolli was hit with a finesse that belied the 6'5 frame of the centre back, his shot curled around the wall and into the roof of the net. It's game on again! That was all the encouragement Queens needed, Foster having another go from further out, his dipping shot missing the target. We were starting to get rattled, Harkin with another through ball, Gavin Whelan finding himself at centre back for some reason, and he panicked, the ball hitting him and falling to Ian Quinn, who drove a weak shot right at a relieved Doherty. With the game close, there was a bit of niggle creeping in, and Paul Roberts added to it just over ten minutes before the break, as he took a theatrical looking dive in the penalty box, earning a booking, and a telling off from several Queens players. Some tackles started to fly in, which took the attention from the attacking play, Harkin's long range shot the last effort of the first half.

We were forced into a half time change, Michael Downey coming out of a tackle limping late in the half, and John Robertson replaced him. The young midfielder got stuck in right away, making a tackle on Jordan Hughes to win the ball back just outside the Queens box, and playing a pass to Shaw, who's curling effort was just wide of the target. Moments later, Shaw thought he had broken the offside trap when he latched onto Roberts reverse pass, but the flag went up very late. Then a Robson corner found Robert Donaghy, the centre back planting his header just wide of the target. Andy Dickinson was booked in the 57th minute for a foul on Liam Fagan in a very similar position to the one that Taffazolli scored from in the first half. He couldn't repeat the trick though, this time his shot a a few inches too high. Foster had to two quick efforts midway through the second half, one into the side netting, and another high and wide. Jim Kelly was next into the book, pulling down Robson as he cut infield off his wing with around twenty minutes to go, Tony Jones taking the responsibility this time, but his shot was high and wide, another chance to stretch our lead going to waste. I made a pair of changes in the 72nd minute, Tony Jones and Roberts coming off, and Aaron Smyth got his first taste of football for several months, while Chris Johnston came on to play up front. Donaghy sent another header wide from a corner, while at the other end, Hughes was played into space in the penalty box, but he made his run just too early, and he was offside. With just five minutes remaining, Aaron Smyth played a superb long diagonal pass from right back, spotting we had overloaded the left side of the park. Shaw flicked the ball on and sent Johnston into space, he drew the keeper and lifted his shot over him, but it just cleared the intended target of the top corner. That would be our last chance of the game, because we would spend the rest of it a man short. A long throw into the Queens box with three minutes to go was thumped clear by Walsh, and on halfway, sub Jordan Douglas was tackled from behind by Dickinson. He was sure he'd got enough of the ball, but the referee didn't buy that, and showed him a second yellow card. We now had three minutes plus injury time to navigate, and we moved right back into a defensive tactic, while Queens predictably did the opposite, pushing players upfield in the hunt for an equaliser. They sent the free kick right up to the edge of the box, Douglas flicking it on, Robertson hacking it clear, and managing to kick Smyth while he did it, leaving our only just returned full back limping away from that one. Balls were raining into the final third, all dealt with by our defence, and when we got the ball clear with seconds remaining, Johnston brought the ball down and spun away from Hughes, who brought him down, and then earned a booking for shoving Johnston back to the floor when he accidentally on purpose sent the ball into the front row of the main stand. We'd been hanging on at times there, but three points on the board was a must this evening.

Coleraine (2) 2 - Stuart Shaw (6), Chris Jones (9)
Queens University Belfast (1) 1 - Ryan Taffazolli (22)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (Aaron Smyth 72), Roberty Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Michael Downey (inj - John Robertson 45), Gavin Whelan; Chris Jones, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Paul Roberts (Chris Johnston 72).

Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Scott Francis.
Bookings :- Paul Roberts 33, Andy Dickinson 57. Sent Off :- Andy Dickinson 87
Possession :- 49% - 51%. Man of the Match :- Chris Jones (Coleraine).

That really should have been an easy win after we started at a blistering pace and found our shooting boots. But then we conceded the goal, the game got messy, and we were holding on for dear life by the time it finished. But we had got the job done, and we are back into the top half going into March, and just six points from the Promotion Playoff spot with eight games still to play.

But today has some seen some further damage to our threadbare squad. Andy Dickinson is given a warning after his late red card, his one match ban ruling him out of the Northern Irish Cup Quarter-Final match at home to Cliftonville in ten days. Joining him on the sidelines will be Paul Roberts, who is also suspended after his booking, though he would have been Cup-Tied anyway. And now Michael Downey is out for a month after twisting his knee just before half time. Add to that the injuries to Keith Steenson and Gerry Nixon, plus Robbie Fisk and Chris Johnston being Cup-Tied, and we are looking very, very threadbare for the this huge last eight match, and a visit from the First Division Champions elect.

On the plus side, we are at least unbeaten in five League matches now........

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Saturday 21st February 2015
Our Under-18's return to action today, and continue their fine recent form with a 3-1 away win against Donegal Celtic at their Belfast home. They were behind after quarter of an hour, but Joseph Nixon equalised in the 33rd minute, and Paul McMaster put us in front from the penalty spot three minutes into first half injury time. And McMaster repeated the trick just two minutes after the restart, and our youngsters have now moved up into sixth place.

Sunday 22nd February
Early in the New Year, we travelled to non-League side Brantwood in the Third Round of the Northern Irish Cup, and won 3-0. Their danger player was clearly 25 year old Michael McCartney, their 5'10 Captain who can play at centre back, centre midfield, or the holding role in between the two. And from this summer, he will be donning our blue and white, and not theirs, as he today agrees to move to us on a Free Transfer when his contract finishes at the end of this season. Before that Cup match, I made mention of the large wage they were paying him given their level. Well, he is actually taking a pay cut to move to The Showgrounds. I firmly believe he will turn out to be an excellent signing for us. He has six goals and six assists in 26 games for his current club so far this season.

Monday 23rd February
I'm glad we're not paying Gerard Doherty a bonus for each selection to the First Division Team of the Week, otherwise this club would be in even more financial difficulties than it already is. He is one of four included this time around, with Stewart Devine, Gavin Whelan and Matty Robson joining the goalkeeper in a selection dominated by Coleraine and Wakehurst players.

Wednesday 25th February
Forward Joseph Nixon turned 17 yesterday, and was asked to stop by The Showgrounds, where he was formally offered a Senior deal. Today he turned up for training, and brought with him the signed deal. It will take him through to the end of the 2016/17 season, and pays him £5 a week, with top up money for First Team appearances and goals.

We missed out on another new signing today, with 19 year old Barnsley defensive midfielder Steven Woodall rejecting our offer, and instead agreeing to sign for Shamrock Rovers of the Premier Division south of the border in the Republic of Ireland. Based on the money they were paying when they signed our long term target Connor Cassidy earlier in the month, it's likely we were never really in the hunt here. The deal will be completed when his current contract finishes this summer.

Friday 27th February
It's the eve of our big Northern Irish Cup Quarter-Final clash with Cliftonville. While everyone is discussing the game, and what chance we have of rolling over the Belfast side, we're discussing what options we have to fill out the First Team squad and who is going to play from the limited bodies we have available for this meeting. We'll play the same opposition in four weeks time, by which time Cliftonville will likely already have been crowned First Division Champions. But tomorrow, we are 9/4 underdogs to roll them out of the Cup in the last eight stage at The Showgrounds. Three players have today been withdrawn from the Under-18's match in Belfast against Crusaders tomorrow morning. All three will instead be part of the Senior Matchday Squad, where there may well be some unexpected selection choices.

Saturday 28th February
The Under-18's kick off the day, shorn of some of their talent that have been assigned to the First Team today. They travelled to the Grove Park Stadium in Belfast, to take on bottom but two side Crusaders, who took control, with Rab Fleming giving them a 25th minute lead. But their centre back Stuart Curley received a second yellow card with twenty minutes to play, and we capitalised, productive left footed winger Stuart Wilson slamming home an 82nd minute equaliser to salvage us a draw.

Northern Irish Cup, Quarter-Final
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Cliftonville
Attendance :-
340. Weather :- Wet, 11c.

The big day is here, and predictably, it is raining again. I doubt that is the reason the attendance is so poor though, I really thought we would have a much bigger crowd here today. The team selection was tricky, starting with the back four, as Stewart Devine was moved from left back and into the centre of the back four to cover a gap there, with James Hancox brought in to play the left back role. John Robertson is back in the midfield, replacing the injured Michael Downey, but the big shock is up front. Young striker Andy McMillan is brought in from the Youth side, and right into the lineup, the physical presence that the 6'3 and over 14 stone the 18 year old brings preferred to Richard Salisbury, who is on the bench. Joining him are Aaron Smyth and Scott Francis again, with another two call-up's from the Youth side, Robbie Walsh back in the matchday squad, and young midfielder Keith Steele brought in for the first time since I arrived.

We started nicely, passing the ball around well, and getting into the box, Chris Jones trying to trick his way past Ciaran Donaghy, and going down under his tackle, the ref pointing only for a corner. The defender had more trouble from the corner, Matty Robson's cross towards the penalty spot was attacked by two players, and Donaghy's header almost found his own top corner, landing on the roof of the net. We kept our foot down, and the players had been warned about the consequences of giving Frank Nouble room, John Robertson rattled a tackle into him the first chance he got in the 7th minute, leading to Stuart Shaw getting a shooting chance, that one drifting just wide. Andy McMillan was doing exactly what I brought him into the team today to do, winning the ball in the air and holding it up when it arrived on the floor. But Cliftonville had no plans on making life easy for us, Cameron Stewart whipping in a corner from the right, Nouble took it on his chest, but Tony Jones took it off his toe and hacked it clear. At the other end, Tony Jones throw in found Gavin Whelan, and he got the ball right back to the full back. He overlapped past Chris Jones and into the box, only to be felled by Stephen Connolly, this time the ref did point to the spot! Tony picked up the ball and marched to the spot himself, as we had the perfect chance to take the lead ten minutes before the break. He gave keeper Brian O'Donoghue the eyes, but the keeper didn't buy it, and when the spot kick was sent down the middle, the keeper made the save. That wasn't quite it for the drama though. Robson and Harry Pell got into a tussle trying to get to the loose ball before O'Donoghue fell on it, and they continued it all the way back towards halfway, where the English midfielder aimed a kick at our winger right in front of the referee, who having moments ago awarded a penalty, had no qualms about handing out a red card as well, and Pell got his marching orders. They had to make an immediate change, Timmy Adamson sacrificed to bring on a midfielder. That didn't stop our guests having the last chance of the first half though, Nouble collecting the ball from a throw in, and working his way into the box, but he lashed his shot over the bar, and we would go in all square at the break, but with a man advantage.

We had been here before quite recently, and had failed to get the job done against poorer opposition than Cliftonville. The players were given a talk about what an opportunity they had in this second half, there was a place in the last four of the Cup at stake. Just as we had an hour ago when the game started, we came out firing, James Hancox stealing the ball on halfway, and a dozen passes later, Whelan was picking out McMillan in the box, the striker spinning away from his marker, but he had his head back, and blazed a shot over the bar. Ten minutes later, a poor O'Donoghue clearance allowed Robson to send the ball over the defence's head, and McMillan got into the box, holding the ball up and playing it to Chris Jones, the winger's shot partially blocked and deflected away for a corner. As the hour mark approached, our lack of pace in the back four was highlighted, Stewart's long diagonal ball towards the corner saw Nouble easily outsprint Robert Donaghy, and then find Connolly near the corner of the six yard box. He sent the ball across the goalmouth, and Stewart was all alone, with plenty of net to aim at. But he tried to drag it back onto his left foot, and both Hancox and Robertson closed him down, and just like that, the chance had gone for our guests. Within moments, we were back down the other end, Robertson involved again, breaking up play and finding Robson, who sent the ball on to McMillan. The striker didn't have room for a shot, but picked out Shaw in space inside the box, he drilled his shot, but O'Donoghue made the save. The keeper would be called into action again a few minutes later, the Jones' making ground down the right, before teaming with first Whelan, and then McMillan, the striker rolling the ball square to Robson, his blasted effort again turned away by the keeper. We were pinning Cliftonville into their own half for spells of time now, and Whelan picked out McMillan with a through ball after we passed our way around their defence, but O'Donoghue kept us out again, this time with his legs! We were now into the final ten minutes, and I made a change, McMillan coming off, and Richard Salisbury came on, as I hoped a chance to show his composure may once more come his way. With four minutes to play, Tony Jones blasted a free kick inches wide of the target, and an extra half hour was looking very likely. We moved into injury time, and with 90 seconds or so to play, Stewart Devine tracked back to pick up the ball after it had been thumped clear. He played it through Robertson, and then Whelan, who pinged a low pass into the box, Shaw stepping over it, and allowing it to run into Robson's path, and the winger brought it under control, and then lifted it over the dive of the onrushing O'Donoghue, and high into the net! The visitors were furious, complaining there had been an offside, but it wasn't even close. David McAlinden was goal side of Robson when the pass was played, but he just didn't track the run. It was a great moment, Ciaran Donaghy booked for his protests. They had already taken off Nouble, so brought on Neil Fotheringham from the bench, but we also made a change, Shaw coming off and Robbie Walsh on as we went to five at the back, to see out the remaining time, and earn a famous win.

Coleraine (0) 1 - Matty Robson (90+2)
Cliftonville (0) 0
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Stewart Devine, Robert Donaghy, James Hancox; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Jones, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw (Robbie Walsh 90+3), Andy McMillan (Richard Salisbury 82).
Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Keith Steele, Scott Francis.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 62% - 38%. Man of the Match :- Matty Robson (Coleraine).

I'm not sure there are many better ways to win a Cup Quarter-Final that you're huge underdogs for, and I've even forgiven Tony Jones for missing that penalty as well. That was some moment when Matty Robson produced that finish, though I'm not sure it was worthy of Man of the Match, as for me it would have been John Robertson, who was superb in our midfield this afternoon.

Two of the other Quarter-Finals were played today, with Portadown beating Lurgan Celtic in the all Premier Division match, while the only other second tier club left in the competition, Donegal Celtic, are now also out, after losing 1-0 to Newry City. They were the team we were hoping to get in the Semi-Final draw, but alas, luck was not on our side. Our last four opponent will be either Glentoran or Linfield in a heavyweight clash on Wednesday night. They were the pair I was hoping to avoid, Linfield are now bang in form and have moved to the top of the Premier Division in recent weeks, and have games in hand, plus they have beaten Glenavon today in the League Cup Final, leaving them looking for a potential Treble this season.

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Posted (edited)

2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table, Up to & Including Saturday 28th February 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   |       | Cliftonville      |       | 18    | 17    | 0     | 1     | 39    | 8     | +31   | 51    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 18    | 10    | 3     | 5     | 19    | 14    | +5    | 33    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Carrick           |       | 18    | 9     | 3     | 6     | 30    | 23    | +7    | 30    |
| 4th   |       | Ards              |       | 18    | 7     | 8     | 3     | 29    | 21    | +8    | 29    |
| 5th   |       | Dundela           |       | 18    | 8     | 5     | 5     | 25    | 17    | +8    | 29    |
| 6th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 18    | 9     | 2     | 7     | 25    | 20    | +5    | 29    |
| 7th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 18    | 7     | 6     | 5     | 20    | 23    | -3    | 27    |
| 8th   |       | P.S.N.I.          |       | 18    | 5     | 9     | 4     | 18    | 21    | -3    | 24    |
| 9th   |       | Armagh            |       | 18    | 5     | 6     | 7     | 22    | 28    | -6    | 21    |
| 10th  |       | Queens University |       | 18    | 4     | 5     | 9     | 22    | 26    | -4    | 17    |
| 11th  |       | Banbridge         |       | 18    | 4     | 5     | 9     | 9     | 18    | -9    | 17    |
| 12th  |       | Tobermore Utd     |       | 18    | 4     | 3     | 11    | 17    | 25    | -8    | 15    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 13th  |       | Limavady Utd      |       | 18    | 3     | 5     | 10    | 17    | 28    | -11   | 14    |
| 14th  |       | Dergview          |       | 18    | 2     | 4     | 12    | 11    | 31    | -20   | 10    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Sunday 1st March 2015
It doesn't look like March will be a particularly busy month for us. We have two League games to start us off, away to Wakehurst next weekend, followed by a home match to Donegal Celtic the following weekend, a pair of crucial matches. We are due to face Cliftonville again, away from home in a League match two weeks later, but I believe that's when the Northern Irish Cup Semi-Final is going to be scheduled for, so it looks like a three game month for us.

It's clear my honeymoon period with Chairman of the club, Hugh Wade, and his Board of Directors is now over. The monthly review states that they believe I should be doing better in the role, despite improving our League position, taking us into a Cup Semi-Final, and posting a win rate of 66% since arriving. A loss of £12,500 in the month of February won't have helped, with the club now almost £215,000 in debt. We could do with winning the Northern Irish Cup to get into Europe and win some prize money to address the spiraling debts.

Monday 2nd March
Keith Steenson has returned to full training this morning. The 19 year old Club Captain and local lad had suffered a twisted knee that kept him out for much of February. His place in the injury room is immediately taken by Youth Team striker Joseph Nixon, who injured his chest during a weights session, and is out for around a month.

Wednesday 4th March
An attempt to bring in Pakistan International midfielder Adnan Ahmed has failed, after the Grimsby Town midfielder instead accepted an offer from Coca-Cola League Two side, Cheltenham Town, though there is still the very real possibility of them being a Blue Square Premier League side by the time he makes his move in the summer. It's probably for the best though, as the India National Team manager signing a Pakistan International for his club side would likely have gone down like a lead balloon.

Our Northern Irish Cup Semi-Final opponents were revealed this morning, and it will not be Linfield. The club with the hopes of a Domestic Treble were beaten in even more dramatic circumstances than our weekend win over Cliftonville. In front of a crowd of over 4,000 at The Oval in Belfast, the hosts side Glentoran were awarded a penalty four minutes into injury time. 16 year old right back substitute Jim Strong took on the responsibility, only to see his effort stopped by Jordan Taylor. However, the rebound fell right back into the path of Strong, and he lashed it into the roof of the net, to put Linfield out, and book us a date with the winners on Friday 27th March at Windsor Park, in a repeat of the Cup Finals from 1986, 2003, and most recently, 2004. That match means our away League game with Cliftonville is pushed back to the following Wednesday, which is the 1st April.

Friday 6th March
It's Wakehurst away tomorrow in our return to First Division action. We will have some players back from injury, suspension and ineligibility for this one, and the bookies are making us 4/7 favourites to beat the side who sit right above us in the table in 6th place. In fact, a win today could see us move as high as fourth place. However, that may not be the best result for our prospects of achieving a second place finish. Ards and Dundela sit in fourth and fifth place, just one point in front of us. But they are playing Donegal Celtic and Carrick Rangers away respectively, who sit in second and third places. Maybe draws in those other games would be best for us this weekend, but the main thing is dealing with the only part of the equation we can influence ourselves, and that's winning our own game.

Saturday 7th March

Northern Irish First Division
Warden Street, Ballymena
Wakehurst v Coleraine
Attendance :-
209. Weather :- Strong Winds, 12c.

A return to League action for this crucial match, and at least we have a bit more depth to the squad available to us today. Stewart Devine returns to his normal left back role, with Andy Dickinson available again to resume centre back duties, James Hancox left out of the squad today. There is also a return for Paul Roberts today up front, but Andy McMillan does keep his place in the squad, the teenage striker is on the bench, joined by the available again Robbie Fisk and Chris Johnston. There is also a return to the squad for Keith Steenson, our teenage Club Captain. Left out today are Robbie Walsh, Keith Steele, Scott Francis and Richard Salisbury.

With our success rate from direct free kicks less than impressive, Stewart Devine opted to chip his second minute effort into the box, Matty Robson beaten in the air by James Mellor, but Gavin Whelan collected the loose ball and sent a curling effort just over the goal frame. Devine sent the ball into the box again in the 10th minute, trying to find Stuart Shaw, the striker beaten to the ball by Gavin Long, who sliced his attempted clearance right against Mellor, who couldn't get out of the way, only able to look on as the ball spun off him and into the net. We were playing into the wind in this first half, and it was causing us some issues when we tried to clear the ball, it came right back into our box in the 14th minute, Kris McQuilken trying a pot shot that was just off the mark. Stephen Winton's direct free kick midway through the half was also off target, while five minutes later at the other end, Tony Jones and Chris Jones combined down the right, the latter's low square cross found John Robertson, but the midfielder couldn't keep his shot down. Wakehurst were finding the strong wind more of a hinderance than a help meanwhile, Ralph Norton's cross caught by the breeze and going out for a throw in, while Long's free kick was well over the bar by the time it started to dip. They created one more chance before the half time break though, McQuilken playing a one-two with Scott Bailie, and slipping his shot past Gerard Doherty, only to see if come back off the upright and thumped to safety.

We'd been holding on a little bit at times in that first half, but we would now have the wind at our back in the second half, highlighted by Doherty's goal kick bouncing right through to opposite number Josh Pelling, while the home keeper struggled to get his kick past halfway. A shot over the top from Winton near the edge of the box was the only chance of note created in the opening spell after the restart, but we were forced into a change just after the hour mark. Chris Jones looked in a lot of pain when he went down, and there was no question of him being able to play on. Chris Johnston came on in his place, while Robbie Fisk replaced an out of sorts Robert Donaghy at the same time. Fisk would quickly have to get into the game, McQuilken collecting a through ball and shooting first time, Fisk managing to pressure him enough to see he sent the shot wide. It was the other striker who was the focus of Fisk's attention moments later, our centre back going right through Bailie with a tackle from behind, earning himself a booking. From the free kick, Andy Nicholls sent a through ball into our box, which Andy Dickinson left to Doherty, without a shout it appeared, as the keeper didn't come off his line to collect it, and McQuilken nipped in to pick up the ball and bury it into the bottom corner for a 66th minute equaliser. That was a huge blow, and we had to push forward again to try and regain our lead. In the 77th minute, Tony Jones was given the freedom of the right wing at Warden Street, and he picked a cross into the middle for Chris Johnston, but he was unable to keep his header down. I used my final change, Roberts replaced with the size and strength of Andy McMillan, and with the seconds ticking down in the final minute he held up the ball and then released Johnston into space down the right, but the winger failed to get a cross over. In the final minute of injury time, Doherty sent the ball down the park, and Robson found space on the left wing. He did get his cross over, and it was a good one, picking out McMillan ten yards out, the teenager connecting with a header that was inches wide of the upright, and our final chance to pick up all three points was gone.

Wakehurst (0) 1 - Kris McQuilken (66)
Coleraine (1) 1 - James Mellor (10 og)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Robert Donaghy (Robbie Fisk 61), Stewart Devine; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Jones (inj - Chris Johnston 61), Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Paul Roberts (Andy McMillan 79).

Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Keith Steenson.
Bookings :- Robbie Fisk 65
Possession :- 39% - 61%. Man of the Match :- Gavin Long (Wakehurst).

We can only hope that the defensive lapse that cost us two points this afternoon doesn't cost us a shot at second place when the season is done. Andy Dickinson has been pretty reliable since coming into the club, so I'm not going to get on his case for one mistake. There are still seven games to go, and plenty of chances to take points from the teams around us. The other results that could impact us both ended in draws, so we haven't lost any ground, just a great chance to make some up.

But we have lost another player, and it might well be for the rest of season. Chris Jones injury isn't good, he has suffered a twisted ankle after trying to turn away from a tackle, and he is likely to be out until the end of next month, with our final League match scheduled for the last weekend of April. That's a big loss, the 19 year old winger has stepped up over the last month or two. It has also coincided with an upturn in our form, and we are currently six unbeaten in League matches.

Sunday 8th March
It wasn't linked to Andy Dickinson's mistake yesterday, but I guess people will make that assumption. Truth is, this one has been worked on for a week or so, and we have another new summer signing. Ryan Young is an 18 year old centre back in his first season of Senior Football. Born and raised in Gambia, but a holder of a British passport, he was very keen to move to the UK, and the 6'2 defender who is very good with the ball at his feet is relishing the prospect of joining us. We will have to wait a little longer for him to arrive, as his contract isn't up until the end of August. We beat three times Icelandic Premier Division Champion club ÍBV to his signature as well.

Monday 9th March
You know the drill by now, Gerard Doherty once again is named to the First Division Team of the Week, as no one else is currently able to get a look in when it comes to the goalkeeper position. He is the only one included from our club though.

Tuesday 10th March
I'm keen to increase our options when it comes to firepower at the pointy end of the park, and two young strikers who have started to make a name for themselves with Premier Division clubs, are maybe not getting quite as much football as they would like, and are soon to be out of contract, have received offers from us. One would be a great result. Both would be outstanding work. One already has a long list of admiring clubs, while the other would be more under the radar right now.

Friday 13th March
Tomorrow aftertoon will be a huge game for us at The Showgrounds, as the side currently sat in second place, Donegal Celtic, come to visit us. A defeat tomorrow would probably leave us with too much to do, and too many clubs between us to have a realistic chance of reaching the Promotion Playoff. The bookies have faith in us continuing the push though, they have us as 4/7 favourites tomorrow, Celtic haven't won any of their last three, though only one of those games were in the First Division. Their dangermen to us will be 29 year old Shaun McAuley and 31 year old Graeme Armstrong, who are both playing their first seasons in Northern Ireland and have 25 goals between them in all competitions.

With both Michael Downey and Gerry Nixon returning to training today, our squad continues to get healthier, deeper and stronger. If we can keep our squad fit for the remainder of the season, well, you never know. Neither will be fit for the match with Celtic tomorrow though.

Saturday 14th March
Our Under-18's this morning suffered their first defeat in Group 1 action since their loss against Glentoran the week before Christmas. It was the first part of a double header at The Showgrounds, where the visitors were Ards, who left with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Roy McKee goal shortly before the hour mark. Our injury list added one more name after this match as well, 17 year old defender Robbie Walsh suffered a damaged heel, and he will now be out for two or three weeks. Our Youth Team have dropped back down to 8th place, just clinging on to a top half position.

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Donegal Celtic
Attendance :-
226. Weather :- Drizzle, 7c.

The second part of the double header at The Showgrounds is here, and this is a big one for us. Visitors Donegal Celtic sit in the second place spot that we are aiming for, and a win here, in the final League match of March, will turn April into a six match shootout that will make for a very interesting finale. There is just one change to the starting lineup from the side that drew against Wakehurst last weekend, injured right winger Chris Jones replaced by Chris Johnston, who is now going to get a bit of a run in the side. That in turn means another Youth Team player who gets called up into the First Team, and included in the matchday squad today is 16 year old Colin Canning, a first year player for us who could make his Senior Debut if he is called upon, reward for some excellent performances for the Under-18 side.

We aimed to start on the front foot, Tony Jones highlighting our continued need for a free kick expert with an effort that swung quite a way off target with just ninety seconds on the clock. When Celtic got an attacking free kick, Roy Blackwell curled it into the box, Aaron Brown meeting it with a header that missed the mark. In the 19th minute Brown was off the mark again, this time with a pass from centre back, Gavin Whelan and John Robertson pressuring high up the park and forcing the mistake, and Jones got the ball down the line to Chris Johnston. The winger picked out Stuart Shaw in plenty of space with a diagonal through pass, and the striker sent his low finish across goal and keeper Phil Straker, and into the bottom corner, his 10th goal of the season. It was great to see us be a little sharper up front, and Shaw won a far post header when Stewart Devine whipped over a free kick from the left, the strikers header back across goal was only just over the bar. But in the 28th minute a set piece did pay off, Robson's corner had plenty of pace on it, Straker came off his line to collect it, but it didn't make it that far, Tony Jones glancing in his header at the near post behind the stranded keeper, for his first Coleraine goal and we were two up! We had to make a change moments later, our injury woes striking again, Robert Donaghy going down, and he was replaced by Robbie Fisk. But it didn't seem to impact our attacking prowess. Right on half time, Jones was brought down on the halfway line by Blackwell. He took the free kick quickly, arcing a beautiful cross field curling ball to the left of the box, where Robson brought it down, and then lifted it back across goal, where Shaw met it on the slide, controlling his side footed finish, which rose into the roof of the net for his second of the match. What a first half!

It was crystal clear that Celtic had spent ten minutes of hell in the dressing room at half time, only ten minutes as they were out very early for the second half. They immediately got the ball to right winger Kieran St Amie, who produced a superb trick to get by Robson and into the box, where Devine put in a tackle, and the winger appealed for a spot kick, which was dismissed by the ref. That would be just the start of a sustained period of intense pressure from the visitors, full back John Brown missing the target with a full blown strike from outside the box. John Brown was quickly back in the play with a curling cross from the right that Blackwell just failed to get to at the far post. Blackwell himself then had a chance to cross, finding Graeme Armstrong who's downward header beat Gerard Doherty, but Robertson got a toe on it to divert it against the post, before Fisk sent it safely behind for another corner. Doherty punched that one partially clear, skipper Rab Kelly sent in a low shot, and Jones got enough on it to send it the wrong side of the post and out for yet another corner. We were being absolutely over run, and defending purely on instinct, but we kept Celtic out. Robertson was booked in the 56th minute, taking one for the team and bringing down Armstrong when a counter attack looked like it would have us outnumbered. But we then countered ourselves, Robson blocking a shot from range by Shaun McAuley, and then sending it down the left channel where Shaw got a run on his marker and into the box, driving his effort for a hatrick the wrong side of the near post though, and into the side netting. Kelly collected a booking for Celtic as the frustration grew for our guests, maybe more so with twenty minutes to play, sub Liam Wills picking up a pass 40 yards out and his driving run saw him twist in and out of both Fisk and Andy Dickinson, before unleashing a shot that flew by Doherty, only to crash back off the cross bar. A low Terry Vickers shot on the turn was well held by Doherty, before Wills was released into the right channel of the box, and he angled his run and sent a low shot between Doherty and the near post to reduce the arrears in the 73rd minute. Five minutes later, having already lost Donaghy to injury, we then lost his replacement Fisk. That meant Keith Steenson bein called in from his warm up to go in at centre back, but at the same time, we switched to a defensive formation to attempt to have what he held, and Paul Roberts also came off, Aaron Smyth his replacement, and he went into a two man holding system, joined by Robertson. Now it was just a case of buckling up and holding on, an 88th minute Daniel Ball cross on the run found Wills, but he couldn't quite direct his header onto target. We dodged another bullet just a minute later, John Brown's chipped cross from the right found Adrian McCaffrey all alone, but Jones got just enough pressure on him to get him to send his volley wide. Whelan earned a very late booking for time wasting, but with four minutes of injury time played, and not much left, St Amie's corner was met by Aaron Brown, and he powered a header into the roof of the net from eight yards out. Too little too late though, as there was barely time to restart, and we had held on for a vital win!

Coleraine (3) 3 - Stuart Shaw (19,45), Tony Jones (28)
Donegal Celtic (0) 2 - Liam Wills (73), Aaron Brown (90+4)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Robert Donaghy (inj - Robbie Fisk 32 (inj - Keith Steenson 78)), Stewart Devine; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Paul Roberts (Aaron Smyth 78).

Unused Substitutes :- Colin Canning, Andy McMillan.
Bookings :- John Robertson 56, Gavin Whelan 90+2
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Stuart Shaw (Coleraine).

Well, that was your prime example of a game of two halves. We were simply superb in the first half, but we then spent almost the entire second half being pinned back into our own third of the park, and while I'm very proud of our defensive effort, we certainly used up a fair share of the luck that experts always say successful teams need.

And we might need some more of that luck. Robbie Fisk out for two weeks, though he wouldn't be eligible for the Northern Irish Cup Semi-Final match with Glentoran anyway, he is Cup-Tied, luckily the injury to his thigh is nothing more than bruising. Not such good news for Robert Donaghy though, who also suffered a thigh injury, but his is a strain, suffered when he mis-kicked the ball with an attempted clearance. He's out for a month, meaning he may have played his last game of the season, and leaving us now very threadbare for centre backs.

In brighter news, we are now up to fifth in the table, and within striking distance of every club in front of us, bar one. That one is of course Cliftonville, today confirmed as First Division Champions with a 2-0 win away to Ards, who drop to sixth. So the one automatic promotion spot is gone, and now we are all fighting over second, and a Promotion Playoff. A 1-0 away win over Tobermore United leaves Carrick Rangers sat in second right now on 34 points, Donegal Celtic drop to third on goal difference after losing to us, Dundela are fourth on 33 points after a 3-2 win at home to Limavady United, while we are fifth on 31 points, one ahead of beaten Ards and Wakehurst. Everyone has six games to play, and April is going to be very interesting.

Looking further ahead, this summer and the 2015/16 season is also going to be interesting, as our weekend gets better and better................

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7 hours ago, oche balboa said:

As always this is a good read 

Thank you Oche. Always nice to hear from you, and I hope you and yours are staying safe.

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Fingers crossed that Coleraine can be the club that brings success! Still enjoying this Neil, I've always admired your eye for detail and this is no different, great stuff!

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16 hours ago, EvilDave said:

Fingers crossed that Coleraine can be the club that brings success! Still enjoying this Neil, I've always admired your eye for detail and this is no different, great stuff!

Thank you very much ED. Nice to see you back pal, and hope all is well with you.

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Sunday 15th March 2015
Is it wise to kick the hornets nest? To p*** off a heavyweight club right before you play them in the Semi-Final of the nations biggest Cup tournament? Probably not of course, but that is exactly what we have done. And we have managed it by securing the signing of one of their best young talents. Pat McIlroy is a 20 year old 6'2 striker, and is currently part of the Northern Irish Under-21 squad too, returning a goal from five caps. He only turned 20 yesterday, and on that day he made the decision to leave Glentoran, the club he joined as a 15 year old, and this summer he will arrive at The Showgrounds on a Free Transfer. He says the reason behind his decision is the offer of more regular First Team football, but I very much suspect that an enormous pay rise from his £15 per week contract that expires in the summer will have made his decision a little easier too. Pat was only 16 when he made his debut for Glentoran, and has played 23 times in League matches for them overall. He has been regularly selected in Cup matches, and this season has featured in 23 games overall, netting six times. It's a deal that has left Glentoran fuming.

I was hoping it would be a double signing, but our offer to Lurgan Celtic's striker Paddy Canning fell short. Their young striker will instead head across the Irish Sea, as he has signed a deal with struggling Coca-Cola League Two side, Morecambe. Some believe this could only the start, and that the floodgates may open and Lurgan could lose several of their best players this summer, especially if they don't earn a place in Europe.

Monday 16th March
With a new striker on the way in this summer, clearly other clubs believe that there will be have to be departures from The Showgrounds too. With his contract still not renewed, Stuart Shaw is a candidate to leave to those looking in from the outside, and Crusaders boss Neil Carson has heaped praise on the 22 year old Scottish striker with eleven goals in all competitions. They are unaware that there is a deal on the table, and that we believe we are close to getting his signature on it.

Shaw is one of four of our players who are included in this weeks First Division Team of the Week. It goes without saying that one of the others is Gerard Doherty, and also included are Tony Jones and Matty Robson.

Wednesday 18th March
Aaron Smyth has today asked for a Transfer away from Coleraine. His reasons are a lack of first team football, which does seem a little petty, considering he has spent six months out with a broken leg. In reality, Smyth is pretty injury prone, last season was the first time in the 27 year old's career that he had played 30+ League games in a season. But he does have another year left on his deal, and frankly, he hasn't given us any value for money for the £190 a week he has been collecting. For the club, I'd rather see Smyth pay the club back, and his request is rejected for the time being at least.

Thursday 19th March
Also not going anywhere is striker Stuart Shaw. The 22 year old, our top scorer right now this season, has signed a one year extension to his contract to take him through to the end of next season, earning a very slight pay rise from £90 per week up to £100. That news ends the interest in his signature from Crusaders, and Scottish club Queen's Park.

Saturday 21st March
No game for the First Team this weekend, but there is a match for the Under-18's, and they return to winning ways. A pair of second half goals at The Showgrounds were enough to earn the Group 1 points on offer against Newry City Youth, the goals going to Joseph Nixon and Paul Walsh, while there was a Man of the Match performance from 16 year old left winger Scott Francis, who not only skippered the side, but also setup both goals. Our youngsters move up into 7th place.

Sunday 22nd March
Just one Coleraine player is called up for International Duty for the coming week. It's once again the Wales Under-19 striker Richard Salisbury, who is in the squad for Thursday's away Friendly against San Marino, which take place in the South West of the tiny nation, in a town called Chiesanuova.

Thursday 26th March
If you ask the average fan or pundit, no one is really giving us much of a chance in tomorrow evenings Semi-Final at Windsor Park against Glentoran. The bookies are not exactly hedging their bets, they have us at 4/1, but 4/7 for Glentoran, the same price as we were to beat Donegal Celtic almost a fortnight ago, may mean that they are not writing us off completely.

Marty Quinn is a former Coleraine favourite, the man who managed here between 1999 and 2008 is still revered by the clubs supporters too. He's been Glenavon's boss since 2008, and he has given an interview to say that we shouldn't be ruled out quite so easily, and if we can shackle midfielder Conor Walsh, we may be able to get something out of this game.

In other news of the day, Robbie Fisk is back in training, and Richard Salisbury played the whole of Wales Under-19's fairly routine 4-0 win over San Marino this afternoon, though he didn't manage to get his name on the scoresheet.

Finally, our next League game is on Wednesday, away to newly crowned First Division Champions and now promoted Cliftonville. They are hoping to make it a party evening at their Solitude home in the capital, and have made the game a fan evening. I'm hoping a few of them will be playing now it makes no difference to the hosts, but will still be very important for us.

Friday 27th March

Northern Irish Cup, Semi-Final
Windsor Park, Belfast
Glentoran v Coleraine
Attendance :-
5,502. Weather :- Breezy, Wet, 10c.

A big crowd, and a huge day. But it's tinged with a little disappointment before it even starts, as while our team didn't quite pick itself, our matchday squad absolutely did, as I only had enough players to fill out the substitutes bench. Keith Steenson is back in the side, but not in his usual or preferred position, as the skipper is today at centre back with Andy Dickinson. That in turn compounded our problems in the midfield area. We have no right winger with Chris Johnston not eligible today as he is Cup-Tied, so Gavin Whelan is moved out there. That leaves John Robertson and Michael Downey in midfield, two players who both like to do the same job, and Downey isn't really match fit either. It was either that, or throw young Colin Canning in at the deep end before his armbands would fit him. There is better news up front, Gerry Nixon is fit and raring to go, and he is selected to partner Stuart Shaw up top. There is little depth on the bench today, with three defenders included, and none of them centre backs, Aaron Smyth, Ray Doran and James Hancox, with youngsters Canning and striker Andy McMillan also amongst the subs.

Glentoran tried to put us in our place early on. Aynsley McDonald and Philip Spiers combined down the left, but the cross was pulled back too deep, Alex Francis walked onto it though and struck a low shot that Gerard Doherty turned around the post. That gave them a little early encouragement, and on the opposite side of the park, Luke Hughes picked out Spiers, and he turned his marker and fired in a shot that hit the cross bar, the rebound finding Ian Roberts, but he scuffed his low shot wide with Doherty out of position after his attempt to stop the initial shot. It had been a rough opening ten minutes, and it wouldn't get any better either. Keeper Robbie Hanna launched a clearance down the park which Spiers brought down. The ball went through Gavin McDonald, Francis, and then onto Thomas Butler, who strode into the right channel of the box and struck a rising shot that Doherty tipped over the bar. We had survived their opening salvo's, and on the 20 minute mark we managed to get up the park ourselves, Gavin Whelan sending a dangerous low diagonal pass into the box, Hughes cleared it as far as Stewart Devine, and he picked out Matty Robson, who's low shot on the turn was just wide of the post. We had their attention at least now, though they went right down the other end, and Butler came across the face of the box, and when Whelan tackled him the ball went loose to Conor Walsh, his fierce drive was wide though. I was nervous if our makeshift team could hold them out, but they were also having problems at the back. Gerry Nixon had a low shot saved by the legs of Hanna, but an attempted clearance hit John Robertson and spun into the air. Robson flicked the ball back towards the edge of the box, where Stuart Shaw got between the centre backs, and connected with a low driven volley as the ball came down, which beat Hanna and found the bottom corner of the net to give us an unlikely lead! Our fans were heavily outnumbered today, and that quietened down the stadium. Briefly. Right from kick off, Hughes, Walsh and Francis combined to send Butler down the right, and he cut across field again, beating Devine and Whelan on the way, before slipping a pass to Roberts, and he found the top corner from inside the box for an immediate equaliser. During that passage of play, Devine picked up an injury, but I didn't make the change at that point, preferring to see if the left back could go on. Five minutes before the break, Whelan made a great run down the right, beating two players, one of whom managed to get back in position to block his cross out for a corner. Unfortunately, Robson chose that moment to send over his worst corner of the season, and we would go in for the break all square.

That had been a fairly successful first half on the whole, though it could have easily gone the other way if Glentoran had been more clinical, or Doherty hadn't made some good stops. Devine would continue after the break as the game restarted, and it was fairly quiet to start with, Michael Downey picking out Shaw near the edge of the box, who turned away from is marker and sent in a shot that just missed the top corner. The half that had started quiet, remained so, and in particular a very quiet twenty minute spell. In the 75th minute, Devine could go on no longer, and he was switched for James Hancox. By this time, Glentoran had made all their changes, the last just moments earlier, Spiers going off with an injury. Francis let a shot from range go, which was a rarity in the second half, but it was well off target. With the ninety minutes almost up, we suffered another injury of our own, Robson unable to continue this time, and we had no natural replacement for him. It meant a change around, Michael Downey also coming off, Colin Canning coming on for a Senior Debut and going on the right wing and Whelan sent back into midfield, while young striker Andy McMillan was asked to do a job on the left wing, essentially providing us with another target man, if out of position. One of Glentoran's subs would have a late, late chance to stop this match going to extra time, Johnny Hagan getting the ball on the left and beating Keith Steenson, and then stepping away from Andy Dickinson, but sending his shot over the cross bar. Extra time it would be then.

Nobody seemed too keen to pour forward during extra time, which I elected to take as a sign that we had done a good job so far today. An uneventful first period came to life a little late on, as we made a slick passing move to get the ball out to the right side, Canning's attempted cross was blocked though. With five minutes to play in the second session, Glentoran went on the attack down their left, Hagan and sub Eoghan Osbourne failing to get a cross in, but able to switch the ball to the right, Butler finding Roberts on the edge of the box, and he played in another sub Martin Donnelly near the penalty spot. He struck a shot past Doherty, which smashed off the underside of the crossbar, bouncing just the right side of the goal line, at least from out point of view. We were starting to creak, and just two minutes away from the lottery of spot kicks, we buckled, skipper Sean Ward sending over a cross from the right, and Tony Jones was slow to get out, Donnelly played onside, this time bringing the ball down and guiding his shot low into the net to delight their fans.

Glentoran (1) 2 - Ian Roberts (29), Martin Donnelly (118)
Coleraine (1) 1 - Stuart Shaw (27)
after extra time (1-1 after ninety minutes)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Keith Steenson ©, Stewart Devine (inj - James Hancox 75); John Robertson, Michael Downey (Colin Canning 90); Gavin Whelan, Matty Robson (inj - Andy McMillan 90); Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Ray Doran.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 54% - 46%. Man of the Match :- Martin Donnelly (Glentoran).

No one would be able to say that we hadn't given a good account of ourselves today, and we were just ninety seconds away from getting to penalties, but they got us in the end, and our chances of reaching the Cup Final and our hopes of making it into Europe next season were over. We'll never know if we could have gotten the better of them without the injury and eligibility issues.

Speaking of injuries, our problems had deepened still further today, with Stewart Devine's injury much worse than first feared. He has clearly done more damage by playing on as he did, as the 30 year old's season is now over, a pulled hamstring keeping him out for up to six weeks.

Financially, the day had been successful. We were awarded £3,500 from the FA for reaching the last four, and we earned £15,000 or thereabouts from gate receipts today. A drop of the ocean in the grand scheme of things though, as we are still £197,500 in debt.

Saturday 28th March
Congratulations to Matty Robson. His assist in the Northern Irish Cup Semi-Final yesterday afternoon was his 13th for the club, a new record, surpassing the previous best of 12 by the retired Stephen Shaw.

That wasn't exactly the big news of the day though on a busy day of football across Ulster. No, that was reserved for another Cup Semi-Final that reached extra time, and this one did end up in a shock, as while holders Portadown went in front twice against Newry City at The Oval, they couldn't get the job done, and a Dave Bamber winner in the 113th minute meant it would be them who would face Glentoran in the Final.

In todays First Division action, results did not go our way at all. Carrick Rangers are second after a home win against Queens University, with Donegal Celtic remaining third with their identical home win over Armagh City, a pair of 2-0 results. Dundela also achieved the same result, though theirs was on the road as they won away to Banbridge, while Wakehurst take our fifth place spot from us, for now at least, with a 1-0 home win over Dergview.

Tuesday 31st March
Tomorrow we take a trip into Belfast to play the newly crowned First Division Champions, who are expecting a big crowd at Solitude for the occasion. We beat them last time we met, only our third success against them in twenty attempts. Now we really need to make it two in a row to keep pace with the clubs who won on Saturday afternoon. Our hosts Cliftonville are the 1/2 favourites with the bookies though.

We have a new player available to us for the match too, with 20 year old local boy Matthew Dornan recalled from his loan at our Second Division affiliate side Portstewart today. I'd resisted the urge to call him back up before now, he would have been Cup-Tied, and they were still pushing for promotion. Those chances are pretty much over now, and the 6'4 twenty year old who can play with both feet and has just been offered a new one year deal will compete for a place. He can play up front, behind the strikers, or on the left wing. He scored five goals and added two assists during his loan, which included twenty League matches, and he played an average rating of around 6.50.

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2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table, Up To & Including Tuesday 31st March 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Cliftonville      |       | 20    | 18    | 1     | 1     | 42    | 9     | +33   | 55    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Carrick           |       | 21    | 11    | 4     | 6     | 35    | 25    | +10   | 37    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 21    | 11    | 4     | 6     | 23    | 17    | +6    | 37    |
| 4th   |       | Dundela           |       | 21    | 10    | 6     | 5     | 32    | 21    | +11   | 36    |
| 5th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 21    | 10    | 3     | 8     | 27    | 24    | +3    | 33    |
| 6th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 20    | 8     | 7     | 5     | 24    | 26    | -2    | 31    |
| 7th   |       | Ards              |       | 21    | 7     | 9     | 5     | 29    | 25    | +4    | 30    |
| 8th   |       | Armagh            |       | 21    | 7     | 6     | 8     | 28    | 31    | -3    | 27    |
| 9th   |       | P.S.N.I.          |       | 21    | 6     | 9     | 6     | 20    | 23    | -3    | 27    |
| 10th  |       | Queens University |       | 21    | 5     | 6     | 10    | 24    | 29    | -5    | 21    |
| 11th  |       | Limavady Utd      |       | 21    | 5     | 5     | 11    | 22    | 32    | -10   | 20    |
| 12th  |       | Tobermore Utd     |       | 21    | 5     | 3     | 13    | 18    | 27    | -9    | 18    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 13th  |       | Banbridge         |       | 21    | 4     | 6     | 11    | 11    | 23    | -12   | 18    |
| 14th  |       | Dergview          |       | 21    | 2     | 5     | 14    | 13    | 36    | -23   | 11    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Wednesday 1st April 2015
April will be a month of wall to wall to football that will bring our domestic season to a close, with a sprinkling of International Football thrown in for good measure. Six League matches will decide our fate in the First Division, with the target of second place still in sight, which would see our season extended and participation in a Promotion Playoff with a Premier Division club. That run of games starts tonight against the newly crowned Champions of Cliftonville. It's then followed by a home match with Police Service of Northern Ireland, a crucial away match with current second place side Carrick Rangers, before returning home to play Limavady United. We then finish with two matches in four days at the end of the month, away to Banbridge, and finishing at home to Dundela who are also still in the hunt for second right now. Also featuring this month will be some competitive age group football with India.

The Board are still a little underwhelmed with how the season has been going, and are still of the opinion that I could be doing a better job. Part of their reason for discontent is apparently, their agreement with the fans that the signing of Paul Roberts was a poor piece of business. I'm inclined to agree. However, they are all much happier with the signing of Tony Jones. A monthly profit of just over £14,000 isn't a bad thing either. A win tonight might turn things around though.

Northern Irish First Division
Solitude, Belfast
Cliftonville v Coleraine
Attendance :-
465. Weather :- Dry, 13c.

'Fan Night' had put over one hundred on the usual attendance at Solitude, possibly helped by the arrival of some more Spring like weather. Stewart Devine's season ending injury means we are in the less than ideal situation of having to go with James Hancox at left back, a player who has already signed a deal to move on this summer. In better news, we have Chris Johnston available again on the right wing, allowing Gavin Whelan to move back into the midfield. On the bench, Robbie Fisk is available again, though we do still have Colin Canning and Andy McMillan, the former due to a lack of other options, the latter because he is preferred to both Richard Salisbury and Paul Roberts right now.

I've seen some of my teams have some real ropey starts in my near seven years as a Manager, but today, well, today topped the lot! In the seventh minute the ball was hoisted into our penalty box, Keith Steenson heading it out, James Gray volleying it back at goal, but over the bar. But our respite was brief, Mark Haughey picking up a loose ball on halfway after a John Robertson sliding tackle, and he pinged a low pass into the box, finding Frank Nouble, who got by Steenson and into space, and his low shot was close enough to Gerard Doherty for the keeper to get a good hand to it, but too powerful for him to keep it out. And that was just the start, Haughey won a header on halfway in the 11th minute, and he found Gray, who sent a pass to Cameron Stewart, who twisted inside and outside James Hancox, buying his yard of room and sending a low shot under Doherty and into the far bottom corner, to put us two down within only just over ten minutes on the clock. We attempted to hit back, Gavin Whelan dropping a pass over the back four and into the path of Chris Johnston, who sent a low pass into the box, Gerry Nixon hitting it first time at goal, Brian O'Donoghue saving it with his legs. But we were quickly pinned back into our end, Nouble picking up the ball from a throw in, and moving into the box, before driving a shot at goal that Doherty did superbly to tip over the cross bar. But from the corner, they picked out Nouble again, Martin Dodds finding him at the back post, and Nouble's downward header made it 3-0 with just sixteen minutes played. But we did at least this time manage an immediate reply, Tony Jones sending the ball into the box, and Johnston got goal side of Ciaran Donaghy, and beat O'Donoghue at his near post to bring us back into the game somewhat at least. The game finally quietened down a bit, and the next chance came ten minutes before the break, a rather elaborate free kick found Nixon, but his attempted curling shot from the edge of the box was missing the curl. David McAlinden's effort for the hosts was much closer, but still wide of the target to round off a very entertaining, if fairly one sided first half.

The players were told that they were expected to play much better in the second half than they had so far, and that message seemed to have got home, ten minutes after the restart, Whelan making a tackle on halfway, and sending Stuart Shaw into space, the striker getting into the box, drawing O'Donoghue off his line, and firing past him, the ball coming down off the underside of the bar and against the far post, before Haughey headed it clear. We continued to push, Whelan's shot from the edge of the box blocked, before Tony Jones sneaked into the box and sent a shot in that O'Donoghue turned over the bar. Just after the hour, Matty Robson played a one-two with Shaw, and then sent a low cross through the six yard box, Johnston sliding to reach it at the far post, but unable to get the touch required to send it into the net. The chances kept coming, Nixon heading over a cross from Jones, and then he was played into the box with a superb pass from Robertson, but rushed his shot and shanked it high over the bar. I changed us to three at the back, and also three up front, Steenson replaced by Andy McMillan as we decided to go for route one. But that left gaps at the other end, Nouble almost claiming his hatrick with a viciously struck shot that was only inches away from finding the top corner. Back at the other end, we created one last chance, Robertson again the man who played the pass, this time finding Shaw, who also cleared the cross bar by some way.

Cliftonville (3) 3 - Frank Nouble (8,16), Cameron Stewart (11)

Coleraine (1) 1 - Chris Johnston (18)

Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Keith Steenson © (Andy McMillan 73), James Hancox; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Robbie Fisk, Michael Downey, Colin Canning.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 38% - 62%. Man of the Match :- Frank Nouble (Cliftonville).

It's not very often you can go to the stand out team in the Division, and boss possession, shots, corners, or in fact just about any statistic you care to mention. Apparent from one, the most important one, the one that decides who wins the game. Our opening quarter of an hour or so was pretty appalling, but after that, we were the best side by a mile. But we missed chance after chance to salvage something from that start, and we had wasted our game in hand, and we're now down to just five matches remaining, and still sat in 6th place. What we wouldn't give for a Frank Nouble in our team right now.

There was at least one piece of good news today I suppose, injured 19 year old centre back Robert Donaghy has signed a one year contract extension to remain at the club, the local lad has appeared in 26 matches in all competitions so far this season, and sees his wages doubled to £20 per week as part of the new deal.

Thursday 2nd April
Contract news is all there is today as well, with another one year extension signed, this one for 20 year old attacking midfielder Matthew Dornan, who has just returned from his loan spell at Portstewart. He also sees his wages doubled to £20 per week, another local lad who stands 6'4, he has played 21 times in the League for Coleraine's First Team so far in his young career.

Friday 3rd April
We might not have reached the Cup Final, but we are pretty much playing five of them in a row now, as we really can't afford to drop any more points in our run in if we are to have a chance of stealing second place. Tomorrow we host the Police Service of Northern Ireland at The Showgrounds, their squad has been heavily depleted by injuries, and they have won only two of their last eight in the League, leaving them pretty much safe from relegation, but too far adrift of the pack to harbor any hopes of reaching the Playoff themselves. For that reason, we are red hot 1/8 favourites for tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday 4th April
Our Under-18's travelled into Lurgan this morning to face a Glenavon Youth side who proved too good for our youngsters. Scott Francis had us a goal up at the break, but we were very much second best after the restart, and three goals in a nineteen minute spell leaves the hosts in second behind leaders Glentoran, while our lads drop to seventh place.

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Police Service of Northern Ireland
Attendance :-
218. Weather :- Dry, 14c.

A second game in four days in this hectic spell, but there is no chance to either starting lineup or matchday squad for us in this absolutely must win match. You wouldn't know it was ourselves with the greater need for the points as the game started though, as PSNI came out looking for the opener, James Forythe making a neat run down the right, and playing a one-two with Mark Kane, but sending his shot over the bar from the edge of the box. Meanwhile, we looked a little out of sorts, Tommy Hutchinson's free kick into our box was headed clear, and Chris Johnston sent a long ball forward to put Stuart Shaw into space. The striker was dispossessed outside the box, but when the ball was passed back to keeper Gordon O'Brien to clear, he mistimed his clearance attempt badly, sending it to Shaw fifteen yards out and all alone, but he blazed a rushed effort well over the bar. Kane had the next chance, his shot on the turn partially blocked, and looping onto the roof of the net. Gerry Nixon got his knee above a bouncing ball to send in a twenty yard shot next, but O'Brien comfortably got across to that one and held it. He was involved again moments later, sending a pass from the left to Shaw, but his long range curler never threatened the target. On the half hour, James Hancox and Matty Robson had to team up to stop Hutchinson in the right channel of the box, the PSNI players feeling that he was fouled, the ref not agreeing with them, though he did book Gavin Whelan shortly after for a poorly timed tackle. Before the break, Shaw got the ball to the feet of Nixon again near the box, but once more the ball was ballooned well over the bar, and it remained goalless at the break, which suited the guests much more than it suited us.

The players had to endure almost fifteen minutes of being berated at the break, mainly for their lack of endeavour and composure. Dropping points was simply not an option today. But it was still PSNI who had the first attack of the second half, Kyle McDowell and Forsythe doing the build up work, and finding Kane, who's first touch took him away from a defender, but he then also sent a shot over the bar. Kane was soon on the ball again, twisting and turning to get into our penalty box, before being dealt with by Keith Steenson, who took the ball from him, and then played it off his legs and out for a goal kick. At the other end, Johnston played a short square pass to Whelan, and he let fly from 20 yards out, but O'Brien held it well. With just under quarter of an hour to play, a long pass down the left should've been easily dealt with by Tony Jones, but he didn't control the ball well, and Forsythe took it and shot quickly, that effort flashing wide of the near post. It was time for a change up. Hancox and John Robertson came off, Aaron Smyth and Michael Downey came on, and we went very attacking, with only Andy Dickinson at centre back, Steenson in front of him, with Downey in the middle with Smyth and Jones in wing back roles. Whelan would play behind the strikers. The impact was almost immediate. We won a free kick outside the box, and Jones sent it wide to Robson, and while the PSNI defence scrambled back, his low cross found it's way past sub Greg Inglis, and found Shaw, who placed his low shot inside the near post to finally break the deadlock with a little under ten minutes to go! Now we had to funnel back into a defensive shape as quickly as we had flipped into attack. That went well, but then in injury time David Beckett held the ball up on their right wing, and released a quickly overlapping Paul Clarke into plenty of space. As everyone made their way towards the six yard box, he played a clever low cut back cross to pick out sub Danny Hone, who controlled the ball beautifully and let fly, Steenson getting enough of a boot onto the shot to deflect it over the bar. We still had to deal with the corner, Dickinson headed it out of the six yard box, Grant Peden walked onto the ball, but he was leaning back and couldn't keep his shot down. Job done, even finding time to give Colin Canning a very short Senior League debut, but we made really hard work of that.

Coleraine (0) 1 - Stuart Shaw (81)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (0) 0
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Keith Steenson ©, James Hancox (Aaron Smyth 77); John Robertson (Michael Downey 77), Gavin Whelan; Chris Johnston (Colin Canning 90+2), Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Andy McMillan.
Bookings :- Gavin Whelan 36
Possession :- 47% - 53%. Man of the Match :- Matty Robson (Coleraine).

I can't say that I enjoyed a single minute of that. We were well below par, and it took moving into a very attacking formation to find a way through. The more every match matters, the less fun it gets watching from the sidelines. And we have four more of these to go yet!

Not that today did us too many favours. Dundela made hard work of their win away to bottom of the table Dergview, and they move up into second spot, courtesy of one of the results that did go our way, Carrick Rangers beaten 2-1 away to Ards. There was no right or wrong result in the Wakehurst v Donegal Celtic match, but the home side won it 1-0, and we remain in sixth place, two points away from Wakehurst above us, and five behind Dundela in second place. It's ten days till our next match, and it's another huge match, away to Carrick Rangers.

2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table (Top) - Up To & Including Saturday 4th April 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Cliftonville      |       | 22    | 19    | 1     | 2     | 47    | 13    | +34   | 58    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Dundela           |       | 22    | 11    | 6     | 5     | 33    | 21    | +12   | 39    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Carrick           |       | 22    | 11    | 4     | 7     | 36    | 27    | +9    | 37    |
| 4th   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 22    | 11    | 4     | 7     | 23    | 18    | +5    | 37    |
| 5th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 22    | 11    | 3     | 8     | 28    | 24    | +4    | 36    |
| 6th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 22    | 9     | 7     | 6     | 26    | 29    | -3    | 34    |
| 7th   |       | Ards              |       | 22    | 8     | 9     | 5     | 31    | 26    | +5    | 33    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Monday 6th April 2015
19 year old centre back Robert Donaghy is back in training after missing three weeks with a thigh injury. That's a good step for us, as it gives us a bit more flexibility in the squad by having the local lad back. And with a new contract in his pocket, hopefully he'll be eager to impress.

Tuesday 7th April
On the flip side of the coin, we have Aaron Smyth, who has already had a Transfer Request rejected. This week, Smyth has had his say to the press, saying that he isn't prepared to sit on the sidelines and wait for First Team football at The Showgrounds, and would rather move on. Smyth still isn't match fit, or anywhere close, after missing months of football with a broken foot. With no Reserve matches, and with him being too old for our Youth Team, until such time as he is doing enough to shift Tony Jones from his spot, he is told he will have to be patient. It's a reply that isn't likely to go down well.

Thursday 9th April
I haven't found myself linked with too many jobs during my career, but I am today. Llanelli AFC are sat second in the Principality Welsh Premier League, so suffice to say that any change of Manager is unlikely to be by choice. 51 year old Englishman and current man in charge Gary Whild has only been in the role since December, having previously been at Redditch United for a long spell before leaving to take the job at Stebonheath Park in West Wales, so he's been in the job a similar amount of time to the spell I've been at Coleraine. His contract is due up in a few months, and there appears to be issues on both sides. The squad he has is a good one, and will be playing European Football next season almost guaranteed. I'm currently second favourite with the bookies should the role come up, with a trio of currently unemployed English Managers also in the running, including Chris Brindley, who was Whild's second in command at Redditch, as well as Neil Parsley, who has been out of the game for over a year after being sacked by Bury, and Andy Gurney, who resigned as Manager of North Wales side Bangor City last month.

Saturday 11th April
Our Youth side were brought crashing back down to earth today, and also down to 8th spot in Group 1, after being thumped at The Showgrounds by their opposite numbers by our fiercest rivals, Ballymena United. A goal five minutes before half time put the visitors in control, and two more goals in the last ten minutes gave a lopsided edge that was pretty well earned to the final scoreline. They move themselves up to 11th in the League.

No game for the First Team today while I was away in India with the Under-23's, but there was some good news, as Chris Jones returns to training a week earlier than expected. That gives the 19 year old right winger a chance of returning to action before the end of the season, something thought unlikely when he was initially injured.

Sunday 12th April
Two more players who I believe would be fantastic signings have received contract offers to join us this summer. One is interested, but we cannot match his wage demands, so we offer the best deal we can afford, though there is very significant competition from Coca-Cola League Two side, Brentford. The other player is a player I have had play for me before, and while he doesn't seem too keen, we'll see if he changes his mind with an offer of a good pay rise.

Monday 13th April
We return to action tomorrow evening, and it's a huge match for us, as we make the 50 mile trip to the East coast, and head for Carrickfergus, where we will face the side sat in third place right now, Carrick Rangers, in a must win match. We have won only once in five previous meetings with them, losing two. The earlier meeting this season at The Showgrounds ended in a 1-1 draw, Rangers going down to ten men just after the half hour mark while a goal up, and Keith Steenson netted a second half equaliser. Our hosts have won three of their last five in the League after a run that threatened to derail their Playoff hopes, but if we beat them tomorrow, which we are narrow favourites to do, we will go level on points with them, their goal difference advantage over us is significant however.

Tuesday 14th April

Northern Irish First Division
Taylor's Avenue, Carrickfergus
Carrick Rangers v Coleraine
Attendance :-
227. Weather :- Dry, 18c.

And so we are on to the next Cup Final, another huge day, but not just for us this time. Robert Donaghy is back, fit, and raring to go, and he rejoins Andy Dickinson at centre back, with Club Captain and local boy Keith Steenson on the bench today, unable to unseat John Robertson, who has been doing a great job in midfield to be fair. That's the only change in the starting lineup, but there are two more on the bench, Chris Jones is available again, while Matthew Dornan is also on the bench after returning from his loan at Portstewart. That means that Colin Canning and Andy McMillan are both left out, and they are sent back to the Youth Team. Stuart Shaw makes his 50th career League appearance for us tonight.

Rangers made a quick start, James Best winning the ball in midfield and sending it wide on the right to Jeff Larkin. He crossed it into the middle, picking out Gary Wilkinson, but his header was very poor, sending it wide when he was right in the middle of the six yard box. Wilkinson soon had another try, his shot on the turn blocked by Gerard Doherty, going right back to the striker, who caught his shot much better this time, and Doherty made a superb stop to turn that one aside. On the quarter hour mark, Evan Moran almost caught Doherty out from the left wing, swinging his centre onto the target, Doherty turning the ball over the bar at the last second. It continued to be primarily one way traffic, nice build up play from skipper Matt Stedman led to Jason Murray getting inside the box and sending in another shot, Doherty again making the save, this time at full stretch. Midway through the half, and we finally showed a bit of intent ourselves, Tony Jones and Chris Johnston combining down the right, and the winger stepped infield and found Gerry Nixon near the corner of the box, where the big striker held up the ball, then shot on the turn, his effort just over the near top corner. A better chance went begging moments later, Matty Robson pinging a low and quick free kick into the box, Johnston failed to control the ball, and the opportunity was gone. Ten minutes before the break, Rangers won a free kick outside our box, full back Darren McClelland curling his left footed effort around the wall, and it was headed for the top corner, but Doherty got that one too, getting his fingertips onto the ball and flicking it over the cross bar. Moran's corner went through our six yard box, but no one got a touch on it. Half time, and our keeper had kept us in the game.

We would need to be much better in the second half, and we got ourselves a free kick on the edge of the box early, but Tony Jones missed the target with his curling effort. But it wasn't long before we were under pressure again, good build up work again through the midfield and down the right, and Murray sent a short pass to Stedman, who's shot on the turn needed yet another save from Doherty, as he turned that one over the top too. At the other end, Nixon and Gavin Whelan played in Stuart Shaw, the striker twisting and turning for a yard of space, and then sending his left footed shot in, Dean Dixon throwing himself to the right to push that one away. McClelland was booked after wrestling Nixon to the floor outside the box, Robson going for power with the free kick, but it was too high. Nixon tried a low effort midway through the half, but Dixon made the save, and Johnston was just beaten to the rebound, Matthew Lee sending it out into touch. With twenty minutes to go, Chris Lins was played into the box, and he got his shot past Doherty, but just wide of the target. Centre back Jason van Matre was not even that close with his free kick, his effort was well off target. We were now in the latter stages of the game, and with only ten minutes left to play, Nixon headed down a cross for Robson, and the winger fired across goal, then put his head in his hands as his shot came back off the inside of the far upright. But moments later we were back in the box, Robson finding Nixon this time, and the striker did his hold up job superbly, and he sent a short diagonal pass into the run of Shaw, who was unmarked, and he sidefooted his shot beyond Dixon and into the bottom corner! Now we had to hold on for the last ten minutes, and Rangers made three immediate changes to move into a more attacking formation. We rode it out for a few minutes, and then made our changes to drop back into a defensive formation, John Robertson and goalscorer Shaw coming off, Robbie Fisk and Keith Steenson coming on, as we went to five at the back, with Steenson sat in front, and just Nixon up top on his own. We managed to clog our third of the park enough to prevent Rangers getting a shot at goal, and we had notched a vital win.

Carrick Rangers (0) 0
Coleraine (0) 1
-
Stuart Shaw (80)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Robert Donaghy, James Hancox; John Robertson (Keith Steenson 86), Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw (Robbie Fisk 86), Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Chris Jones, Matthew Dornan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Stuart Shaw (Coleraine).

As much as we were outplayed on the whole in the first half, we were a lot better in the second half, but it would be fair to say we had pinched one there. And what a great time of the season to do it too, as we drew ourselves level on points with our defeated third placed opponents, and fourth placed Donegal Celtic who didn't play tonight, both staying ahead of us thanks to their better goal difference, something which could yet cause us issues. Dundela stay second after a good 3-0 home win over Tobermore United, the same score that Wakehurst are beaten by at Cliftonville, allowing us to jump ahead of them. Seventh placed Ards lose, while 8th placed Armagh City win, but both are now only a point away from being eliminated from the Playoff race. At the bottom, Dergview are close to having their relegation rubber stamped as well.

I can't agree with the Man of the Match decision tonight. All credit to Stuart Shaw for providing us with the winning goal late on, and on the occasion of his 50th Coleraine League appearance, but if it wasn't for the outstanding Gerard Doherty at the other end, we would have been well out of the game by that point, the keeper earning his 12th clean sheet in all competitions this season.

2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table (Top) - Up to & Including Tuesday 14th April 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Cliftonville      |       | 23    | 20    | 1     | 2     | 50    | 13    | +37   | 61    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Dundela           |       | 23    | 12    | 6     | 5     | 36    | 21    | +15   | 42    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Carrick           |       | 23    | 11    | 4     | 8     | 36    | 28    | +8    | 37    |
| 4th   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 22    | 11    | 4     | 7     | 23    | 18    | +5    | 37    |
| 5th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 23    | 10    | 7     | 6     | 27    | 29    | -2    | 37    |
| 6th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 23    | 11    | 3     | 9     | 28    | 27    | +1    | 36    |
| 7th   |       | Ards              |       | 23    | 8     | 9     | 6     | 31    | 29    | +2    | 33    |
| 8th   |       | Armagh            |       | 23    | 9     | 6     | 8     | 32    | 33    | -1    | 33    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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Wednesday 15th April 2015
One of the two players that I had offered a contract to for a summer move was 31 year old Netherlands Antilles International right winger, Richal Leitoe. I had signed him during my time in charge at Ayr United, and he is still there now despite there being Cup football only in Scotland at the moment. But he has been in superb form for them this season, scoring five times in six matches, but I couldn't convince him to make the jump across to join us. Despite the fact he would be earning more money, he didn't think that a move to Ulster would be the best thing for him at this point. There doesn't seem to be any other clubs particularly interested in him, so we'll keep an eye on his situation through the summer.

Thursday 16th April
Another who didn't want to make the jump was the other player we had been chasing. But this time, that was a good thing, as Cliftonville centre back Declan O'Hara rejected the offer from Coca-Cola League Two side Brentford, and will instead remain in Northern Ireland and sign for us when his contract expires this summer. It's a fantastic signing, and will be a second spell at The Showgrounds for the 32 year old left footer. Born in Belfast, he started his career at Reading in Coca-Cola League One in 2000, but returned to Ulster to join us two years later without making an appearance for them. He stayed for eighteen months, before leaving to join Cliftonville, and he has been there for the eleven and a half year since, playing at least 20 League games each season as a staple of their side, and passing the 350 Career League games mark this season. But things have changed, and while he is playing, he has clashed constantly with their new manager Danny Allsopp this season, leading to him being fined three times. Things came to a head recently, and he asked for a Transfer, and we made our move. He might be getting on in years now at 32, and he may have lost a yard or two of pace, but I'll eat my hat if O'Hara doesn't improve us, as a team with a goals against record that would put us in the bottom half of the table. He is also taking a big cut to move here, halving his current weekly salary of nearly £700.

Saturday 18th April
17 year old Youth Team centre midfielder Gary Campbell's season is over, after he damaged his foot during a training ground tackle this morning. He will be out for a month.

Monday 20th April
Gerard Doherty is named in the First Division Team of the Week. Shock. He is the only one of our players to be selected.

Tomorrow evening we play our penultimate home match of the season, and it's a derby, as we host big rivals from less than fifteen miles away, Limavady United. They are very much seen as the poor relations in the rivalry, the Torino to the Juventus, or the Espanyol to the Barcelona if you like. There is often a Division gap between the clubs, sometimes two, and we have met only three times since the 2008/09 season when the save began. Coleraine have won them all. Without conceding a goal. The bookies have us as sure fire winners at 1/6 on. But all but mathematically safe of bottom, and also unlikely at this point to get dragged into the battle to avoid 13th either, you'd be absolutely mad to think that United won't make the short trip with plans to cause irreparable damage to our hopes of making the Promotion Playoff. Their squad is young, a 29 year old in Sean Brennan, their next two youngest players are 23 and 22. They've never paid, or received a Transfer Fee in their history. Yet we write them off at our own peril. Neither side can afford to go too close to the edge, the referee appointed has shown six red cards in just eight First Division games this season.

Tuesday 21st April

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Limavady United
Attendance :-
251. Weather :- Dry, 17c.

Derby Day, and I have been pretty scathing in the press about how United have historically been very much inferior to us, now we need to make sure we put them in our place, as they would take great delight in smashing our hopes of finishing in second place. There are no changes to either starting lineup or matchday squad since our last match in Carrickfergus.

We quickly had the ball zipping around, and in the tenth minute, Tony Jones short throw in was passed between Stuart Shaw and Gavin Whelan, before being sent to the right back again, who found himself in plenty of space down the right. Jones angled the ball into the near post channel of the box, and Chris Johnston latched onto it, firing his shot between keeper Graham Blake and the near post, and high into the net, to put us in front from our first attack of note! United attempted to hit right back, Simon Turkington with a cross from the right, and Jon Hardy got his shot all wrong, slicing it high and wide. Turkington was involved again moments later, his high cross was headed down by John Lamb for Hardy, and he decided not to shoot this time, sending a square pass to Gary Scullion, but his shot wasn't any better, also missing the target by some way. But their finishing was much more clinical in the 27th minute, as we missed two chances to get the ball clear, as Lamb found Sean Brennan in the corner of the box, and he got it square to Mark Bain in some space, and he struck a left footed shot beyond Gerard Doherty's dive and into the bottom corner, putting United level, a scoreline which stuck right through to halfway.

We had played okay, but hadn't created enough chances, or been clinical enough with the ones we had created. We set about correcting that after the restart, Jones earning us a corner, Matty Robson's delivery was caught by keeper Blake under pressure from both Gerry Nixon and Robert Donaghy. A few minutes later, Robson had a chance to send over a free kick from the right edge of the box, and Jones got on the end of it but his header was wide of the near post. Robson soon picked up a booking that was purely out of frustration, and he wasn't the only one feeling that way. Turkington was allowed to make great yardage down the right unchallenged, before sending over a cross that Hardy couldn't quite get high enough to meet perfectly, sending his header back across goal wide of the mark. Jones took a knock with just over quarter of an hour to play, and we used it as a chance to try and turn the screw on our rivals. James Hancox was taken off with him, as we brought on Keith Steenson and Matthew Dornan, moving to a much more attacking formation at the same time. Robson was soon presented with a chance to send in another free kick, this one just missing the head of Nixon, and United counter attacked, Bain playing Brennan into acres of space, but he blazed his shot high over the bar as Doherty came out to meet him. Steenson took one for the team, earning a booking when United had a great counter attacking chance, and then with minutes to play, Doherty had to tip a shot from Brennan over the bar. The corner produced nothing, but neither did we, a late flick on from Nixon failing to find Shaw, and we had been held to a draw that United duly celebrated.

Coleraine (1) 1 - Chris Johnston (10)
Limavady United (1) 1 - Mark Bain (27)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (inj - Matthew Dornan 74), Andy Dickinson, Robert Donaghy, James Hancox (Keith Steenson 74); John Robertson, Gavin Whelan; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Staurt Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Aaron Smyth, Robbie Fisk, Chris Jones.
Bookings :- Matty Robson 58, Keith Steenson 82
Possession :- 49% - 51%. Man of the Match :- Mark Bain (Limavady United).

That wasn't far off a disaster. At a time when we couldn't afford to drop points, we did just that, and it was made worse by the fact that the damage was inflicted by our of our fiercest rivals. That damage will now almost certainly mean that we are in the same Division as them once again next season, with our hopes of reaching the second place required to be in the Promotion Playoff tie, all but gone.

And the opportunity to gain some ground was there as well today. Dundela lost away to Queens University Belfast, but hold on to second, as Carrick Rangers also lost away from home, this time the spoilers were Armagh City. They drop all the way down to sixth place, as Donegal Celtic draw at home with Cliftonville, and Wakehurst are the only top six side to win today, as they defeat Police Service of Northern Ireland at home. What a chance we have missed! If we had won today, we would now be third, and only two points behind Dundela who we entertain on the final day of the season.

2014/15 Northern Irish First Division Table (Top) - Up To & Including Tuesday 21st April 2015

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Cliftonville      |       | 24    | 20    | 2     | 2     | 51    | 14    | +37   | 62    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   |       | Dundela           |       | 24    | 12    | 6     | 6     | 36    | 22    | +14   | 42    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 24    | 12    | 3     | 9     | 29    | 27    | +2    | 39    |
| 4th   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 23    | 11    | 5     | 7     | 24    | 19    | +5    | 38    |
| 5th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 24    | 10    | 8     | 6     | 28    | 30    | -2    | 38    |
| 6th   |       | Carrick           |       | 24    | 11    | 4     | 9     | 36    | 30    | +6    | 37    |
| 7th   |       | Armagh            |       | 24    | 10    | 6     | 8     | 34    | 33    | +1    | 36    | 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Edited by neilhoskins77
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  • 1 month later...

Thursday 23rd April 2015
Donegal Celtic played their game in hand this evening, and it was not the result we wanted, as they won 2-0 at home to move back up into third place in the table. It was not the result that Dergview wanted either, as the defeat finally confirmed their relegation down to the Second Division, which was inevitable for a while, and they had done well to stave off until just two games from the end of the season. They will be joined by either Tobermore United, Banbridge Town or Limavady United. We face Banbridge away this weekend.

Friday 24th April
Tomorrow afternoon we will play our penultimate match of the season, with our hopes of even having a chance of returning to the top tier all but gone. Our hosts will be Banbridge Town, who have their own issues, sat in 12th place and right above the dotted line that signify's the trap door down into the Second Division. We go into the match as absolute red hot favourites, and we have never lost to Town either, winning four and drawing three of our seven encounters.

Saturday 25th April
The day begins with our Under-18's playing, and defeated, as they are unable to strike back at Taylor's Avenue when midfielder Patrick Whiteside put Carrick Rangers in front midway through the second half. There are two rounds of matches remaining in Group 1 now, and we are now sat 9th, three points away from a spot in the top half of the table.

Northern Irish First Division
Crystal Park, Banbridge
Banbridge Town v Coleraine
Attendance :- 216. Weather :- Dry, 11c.

It's not quite nothing to play for here for us, mathematically we can still finish second, realistically, it's very unlikely. And it's far from the case for the home side, who are still in danger of people dragged into the relegation zone. The injury to Tony Jones means that Aaron Smyth is in from the start today at right back, though Jones is fit enough for a place on the bench, the only change for us from the draw at home to Limavady United last time around.

We started slowly, and poorly. Gerry Nixon went to ground in the centre circle in the 11th minute in an attempt to win a free kick, but the ref wasn't having it, and Banbridge came right back down the park. Eamon McCarthy stripped the ball away and found Alan Hill, who then sent it to the left where Ally McDonald had plenty of room. His cross picked out Hill, who sent in a low shot that Gerard Doherty was at full stretch to keep out, with the ball then running loose to an unmarked Philip Neill, who had an open goal to aim at, but lifted his shot over the cross bar, holding his head in his hands after missing a golden chance to put Banbridge in front. Five minutes later, and an almost identical situation played out at the other end, Aaron Smyth with a superb 70 yard cross field pass from right back, sending Nixon into space down the left wing, and his low cross was turned onto the target by Stuart Shaw, the strikers effort saved superbly by Chris Oldfield, the ball running to winger Chris Johnston, and unlike Hill at the other end, he did hit the target, or would have if it weren't for Oldfield getting back into position and producing a second superb stop, tipping the shot over the bar. In the 25th minute, we won ourselves the last in a series of corners. Gavin Whelan's delivery was part cleared, John Robertson got it back to Smyth, who moved it on to Johnston. His low cross picked out Shaw, the strikers shot blocked, and Whelan picked it up on the side where he had taken the corner, a defender ran at him at pace, and Whelan stepped back inside him, and smashed a low shot that caught Oldfield cheating off his post as he expected the cut back, and Whelan's effort was behind him, giving us the lead! Town attempted to hit back right away, the ball hit down their right, where Neill brought it down, and with his first touch got between James Hancox and Matty Robson, before striking a dipping shot that just cleared the cross bar. But Doherty had to be alert ten minutes before the break, full back Glenn McGarvey overlapping nicely and receiving the ball to feet and getting into the box, trying to beat our keeper at his near post, but he pushed it away for a corner. So Doherty was alert, but the rest of the team sadly were not. Moments later, McGarvey took a free kick quickly in midfield, his short pass played to Matt Brierley, and his through ball picked the run of McCarthy, the strikers rising shot beating Doherty and finding the roof of the net! And they might even have taken the lead before half time, McCarthy taking a corner that found the late arriving Declan Donnelly, but he wasn't nearly as effective without his TV sidekick Ant, and shanked his volley wide. All square at the break.

I told the players that I needed to see some fire and fight from them in the second half, though Robert Donaghy didn't quite understand the message, as he picked up a very early second half booking for a pretty poorly timed tackle. The rest of the team knew what I meant though, Doherty playing us out from the back, sending a short pass to Hancox, and the soon to be departed from the club left back sent a superb raking pass down the left wing for Robson, who looked to hold the ball up just inside the box while waiting for support, but was instead sent to the grass by a rash and unnecessary challenge from Seamus Thompson, the ref pointing to the spot. Oldfield attempted to put Whelan off, but failed, and the skipper for the day blasted the penalty high into the top corner to reinstate our lead! Whelan was having a stormer of a game, and he won a fifty-fifty tackle in the centre circle with Aaron Lescott, leaving the Banbridge player floored, and sprayed a pass to the right for Johnston, who beat his marker for pace, and sent a cross towards the penalty spot, which the ref pointed to for the second time in less than five minutes when Thompson again fouled one of our players in the box, this time going through the back of Shaw as he prepared to meet the cross on the half volley. There was no doubt about who would take it, and little doubt over the outcome, as Whelan picked the opposite bottom corner this time, completing his hatrick and increasing our lead to 3-1. Town made a double change, Thompson coming off unsurprisingly, the poor kids confidence was shot to bits, and Neill joined him too as Banbridge went to a much more attacking formation. And we switched completely off. In a few minutes that highlighted the frustration of my time here so far, I could only watch on as a long throw in from sub Lee Moore into our box was allowed to bounce and beat both Whelan and Donaghy, and Hill stole in to loop a header beyond Doherty and inside the far post to half the deficit on the hour. Then from the other side of the park, Moore found Hill with a shorter throw in this time, to his feet just inside the box, and he was allowed to get a square pass in, where McCarthy was unmarked, and slotted a low shot through the crowd and into the bottom corner, our lead wiped out! Robbie Fisk came on for Donaghy, who might not have given away a pair of penalties, but he wasn't much better than Thompson. But Banbridge had now quickly settled back into a more normal formation, keen to have what they held at the very least. Whelan threaded a through ball to Nixon, who rolled his marker twenty yards out, and struck a curling shot that just missed the top corner. The pair combined again in the 73rd minute, Nixon missing the target again. Less than ten minutes to go, and at the other end, sub Shaun Freeman got himself into a one on one with Fisk, but didn't fancy trying to get around the centre back, and instead tried an audacious lob from range, and Doherty easily caught it. With moments left on the clock, Hill knocked the ball down to another sub, Nigel Gibson, who also shot from range, failing to get his shot on target. I've nothing more to say.

Banbridge Town (1) 3 - Eamon McCarthy (38,66), Alan Hill (60)
Coleraine (1) 3 - Gavin Whelan (26,53 pen, 56 pen)
Gerard Doherty; Aaron Smyth, Andy Dickinson, Robert Donaghy (Robbie Fisk 66), James Hancox; John Robertson, Gavin Whelan ©; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.

Unused Substitutes :- Tony Jones, Keith Steenson, Chris Jones, Matthew Dornan.
Bookings :- Robert Donaghy 46
Possession :- 43% - 57%. Man of the Match :- Gavin Whelan (Coleraine).

I had plenty to say on the bus back north to Coleraine though. 'I can stand on the touchline and change the team mentality, but I can't change YOUR mentality! And if you keep switching off as individuals every time we score or take the lead, we are going to fall out very soon! This club is getting promoted next season, and some of you need to work out whether you want to be part of that. It's gut check time lads, and if you don't have the stomach for the fight, I'll replace you with someone who does! We've one match left, home to Dundela on Tuesday night, and you're all effectively playing in a trial match. They need a point to all but guarantee promotion, and it's your job p*** all over their party!'

Dundela had been held to 0-0 draw at home to Ards today, but Donegal Celtic were beaten 1-0 away to Police Service of Northern Ireland, giving Dundela a two point advantage and an eight goal superior goal difference as well ahead of the final evening of matches. If we had held our leads against Limavady United and Banbridge, we would be level on points with Dundela, sat in third place and facing a winner takes all match for the Promotion Playoff spot. And that was the real reason I was so annoyed with the team.

Robert Donaghy is out for the last match of the season, his yellow card triggering a one match suspension. The jury is out on whether the 19 year old has played his last match for the club, the same going for James Hancox, who has already agreed his move to Lurgan Celtic, but Stewart Devine may be fit enough to take his place on Tuesday after being given the green light to return to training today.

31 year old Gavin Whelan was Man of the Match after his first career League hatrick. The Irish midfielder is clearly one of our best players, but even he switched off after we went two in front, allowing that throw in to bounce and go over his head. The quality of both squad and squad depth has to improve markedly this summer to achieve our club goals next season.

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Monday 27th April 2015
Predictably, Gavin Whelan is included in the First Division Team of the Week. Also included is goalkeeper Gerard Doherty, who has been included pretty much every week since I've got here, and should be made to undertake a lie detector test to see if he has a family member who picks this lineup.

Despite our very sketchy form, the bookies have us as the narrow favourites to finish the season with a win tomorrow night, and potentially spoil Dundela's season, assuming Donegal Celtic can get the win they need at home to fourth placed Carrick Rangers, who are not out of the equation, but would need a huge goal swing as well as to beat Celtic and us beat Dundela. No such worries for Cliftonville, who end the season at home to Police Service of Northern Ireland, where they will finally be presented with their First Division Championship trophy and Winners' Medals. In the press conference on the eve of the match, I tell the media that I want to see the team put in a performance, and start to build some momentum ready for next season.

Tuesday 28th April

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Dundela
Attendance :-
237. Weather :- Breezy, 18c.

The season ends here for us, but Dundela are hoping for a few extra games if today goes their way. We won't be rolling over though, if for no other reason than if two clubs are going up, I'd rather it was Donegal Celtic who would join Cliftonville, I'm still of the opinion that Dundela are punching above their weight this season. They deserve our respect today though, but I am changing things up very slightly, using this 'free hit' to try something new. Today we're going with three centre backs, two wing backs, and just one midfielder in the centre, who should be supported well enough by the wing backs and the deep lying Gerry Nixon if I've set the team up well enough. With Robert Donaghy suspended, Stewart Devine sits on the left of the back three, with Robbie Fisk brought in to the side as well, John Robertson dropped to the bench, and Glenn Whelan in midfield on his own.

We came out looking good, the back three immediately looking pretty comfortable in their high line, and mopped up anything that came over the halfway line, distributing the ball to their wing backs. Twice in the early stages that route got the ball to Chris Johnston and into the box for Stuart Shaw, his first effort blocked, the second time he forced a very good stop out of Declan Brown who was nearly beaten at his near post. That corner was taken by Matty Robson, an inswinging effort that curled right back towards goal at the near post, Chris Coleman having to kick it off the line for the visitors. Our early dominance continued, and midway through the half, Gavin Whelan won a midfield battle, and played the ball on to Gerry Nixon, who held it up and then steered it back into the path of Whelan who drove a low shot in that Brown had to grab at the second attempt. At the other end, a free kick from centre back Andy Burns swung wide of the target, and before the half hour, Whelan combined with Robson to find Shaw in the box, the striker rolling his marker well, but then blasting his shot high over the bar from 15 yards out. Moments later Shaw again had the ball at his feet after a deflected cut back cross from Aaron Smyth on the right, this time he was leaning back though, and his effort was even worse than the first one. The last chance of the half came just before the break, Robbie Fisk miscontrolling the ball, Craig Lloyd and Evan Wright taking it from him, and finding Ben Manning, but he tried to place his shot from 25 yards out, missing the target with a poor effort.

I was pretty happy with how we had played in the first half, but I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in the Dundela dressing rooms, where everything was still very much in the balance with Donegal Celtic also goalless at the break. Here it was a very slow start to the second half, taking until nearly the hour mark before anything of note happened, Doherty launching the ball down the park, and Nixon flicked it on to Shaw, who in turn sent it wide to Johnston. The winger took the outside route just inside the box against Chris McLoughlin, the left backs tackle sending Johnston to the floor, but the ref indicating that he took the ball, and waving play on. Aaron Smyth tried his luck with a free kick from a great position midway through the half, getting it to curl around the wall, but not managing to get the dip to bring it back down on to the target. Dundela blinked first to make a change, and I responded with two of my own, Tony Jones replacing Smyth at right back, while Keith Steenson came on for Stewart Devine at centre back as we went for fresher legs but no change of shape. A superb late chance would present itself in the final ten minutes to end the Dundela party, with Donegal Celtic now leading. Johnston twisted inside and outside McLoughlin, choosing the latter and squaring the ball to Nixon, but the lacking in confidence striker decided to try and take a touch first, and three defenders converged on him to close down his space and dispossess him, the chance going without a shot. With the clock striking ninety, Burns was booked for a foul, and Tony Jones stood over the free kick, touching it several yards to the left to Robson who walked onto it and struck a fierce drive down the side of the defensive wall, leaving Brown struggling to get across his goalmouth, but the ball only hit the side netting. We had dominated the game, but failed to find a way through.

Coleraine (0) 0
Dundela (0) 0

Gerard Doherty; Stewart Devine (Keith Steenson 76), Andy Dickinson, Robbie Fisk; Aaron Smyth (Tony Jones 76), James Hancox; Gavin Whelan; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson; Stuart Shaw, Gerry Nixon.
Unused Substitutes :- John Robertson, Chris Jones, Matthew Dornan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 50% - 50%. Man of the Match :- Chris McLoughlin (Dundela).

How good a result was that? Well, it's not easy to tell to be honest. We should have won, no doubt about that, we created enough chances to win, and held our visitors to no shots on target, an easy evenings work for Gerrard Doherty. Are Dundela the latest minnow club in Northern Ireland to make huge strides forward, or have they just had an over-achieving season?

We will know more next month, as the goalless draw was enough for them to confirm second place, Donegal Celtic's one-nil win enough to match the point total, but not the goal difference of their rivals. Dundela will now face the 11th placed Premier Division club in a Promotion/Relegation Playoff. That will be either Institute, sat 10th at the moment with a two point gap but a tougher final match of the season at home against Crusaders, or Ballymena United in 11th, who are also at home to already relegated Lisburn Distillery. Both of the sides in the Playoff battle are rivals of ours, so we will be looking on in interest.

That is all we will be doing now though, our season is over. 5th place is not what we were hoping for, but the club were sat 9th when I arrived with only 13 points from 11 games, and we would take 27 points from our final 15 matches, a significant improvement, not to mention a Northern Irish Cup Semi-Final appearance. Our reward for our League finish? £1,000, and with £1,400 paid out to the squad for their League position, we get no prize money left over. Easy come, easy go.

The final piece of League business to clear up was at the other end of the table, where Tobermore United secured a last day point with a 2-2 draw away to Ards. It wasn't enough to save them though, Banbridge Town won 2-1 away to Armagh City, and it's United who join Dergview in the drop to the third tier, and they'll be replaced next season by Annagh United who won the Second Division Title on goal difference from the also promoted Bangor.

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2014/15 Northern Irish First Division - Final Table

| Pos   | Inf   | Team              |       | Pld   | Won   | Drn   | Lst   | For   | Ag    | G.D.  | Pts   |

| 1st   | C     | Cliftonville      |       | 26    | 22    | 2     | 2     | 59    | 14    | +45   | 68    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 2nd   | Pl    | Dundela           |       | 26    | 12    | 8     | 6     | 36    | 22    | +14   | 44    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 3rd   |       | Donegal Celtic    |       | 26    | 13    | 5     | 8     | 27    | 20    | +7    | 44    |
| 4th   |       | Carrick           |       | 26    | 12    | 4     | 10    | 37    | 31    | +6    | 40    |
| 5th   |       | Coleraine         |       | 26    | 10    | 10    | 6     | 31    | 33    | -2    | 40    |
| 6th   |       | Armagh            |       | 26    | 11    | 6     | 9     | 38    | 36    | +2    | 39    |
| 7th   |       | Wakehurst         |       | 26    | 12    | 3     | 11    | 30    | 30    | 0     | 39    |
| 8th   |       | Ards              |       | 26    | 8     | 12    | 6     | 34    | 32    | +2    | 36    |
| 9th   |       | Queens University |       | 26    | 8     | 8     | 10    | 30    | 32    | -2    | 32    |
| 10th  |       | P.S.N.I.          |       | 26    | 7     | 9     | 10    | 21    | 29    | -8    | 30    |
| 11th  |       | Limavady Utd      |       | 26    | 7     | 6     | 13    | 30    | 39    | -9    | 27    |
| 12th  |       | Banbridge         |       | 26    | 5     | 10    | 11    | 18    | 29    | -11   | 25    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| 13th  | R     | Tobermore Utd     |       | 26    | 5     | 7     | 14    | 20    | 32    | -12   | 22    |
| 14th  | R     | Dergview          |       | 26    | 2     | 6     | 18    | 14    | 46    | -32   | 12    |
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

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2014/15 Coleraine Squad Stats (includes all competitions)

| Name              | Pos      |Age |Nat|-| Apps | Gls | Ast | MoM | Pas | Tck | Drb | Sh T | Yel | Red | Av Rat |

| Gerard Doherty    | GK       | 33 |NIR|/| 38   | -   | -   | -   | 35% | 0.03| -   | -    | 2   | -   | 6.68   |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Ray Doran         | D R      | 21 |ENG|/| 2 (2)| -   | -   | 1   | 54% | 5.05| 2.76| -    | -   | -   | 6.95   |
| Andy Dickinson    |D RC, M C | 19 |ENG|/|17 (1)| -   | -   | -   | 57% | 3.52| 0.06| -    | 2   | 1   | 6.87   |
| Robbie Walsh      | D RC, DM | 17 |NIR|/| 2 (4)| -   | -   | -   | 59% | 1.37| -   | 33%  | -   | -   | 5.90   |
| James Hancox      | D L      | 24 |ENG|/|23 (2)| 1   | -   | 1   | 68% | 2.47| 0.72| -    | 4   | -   | 6.40   |
| Stewart Devine    | D L, M C | 31 |SCO|/| 13   | -   | -   | -   | 67% | 2.97| 0.32| -    | -   | -   | 6.75   |
| Robbie Fisk       | D C      | 20 |ENG|/| 2 (6)| -   | -   | -   | 51% | 4.61| 0.27| -    | 1   | -   | 6.71   |
| Robert Donaghy    | D C      | 19 |NIR|/|27 (2)| 1   | 3   | 2   | 65% | 1.97| 0.08| 38%  | 6   | 1   | 6.58   |
| Aaron Smyth       | D/WB R   | 27 |NIR|/| 6 (3)| -   | 1   | 1   | 69% | 2.22| 1.85| -    | 1   | -   | 6.53   |
| Mark Hammond      | D/WB R   | 20 |NIR|/| 2    | -   | -   | -   | 67% | 1.00| 1.00| -    | -   | -   | 5.45   |
| Paul Clarke       | D/WB R   | 17 |NIR|/| 0 (1)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | 1   | -   | 5.40   |
| Roy Logan         | D/WB R   | 19 |NIR|/| 7 (1)| -   | -   | -   | 66% | 0.98| 0.56| -    | 2   | -   | 6.07   |
| Tony Jones        | D/WB R   | 19 |SCO|/|17 (2)| 1   | 2   | -   | 64% | 3.52| 3.70| 25%  | -   | -   | 7.02   |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Keith Steenson    |D C,DM,M C| 19 |NIR|/|26 (4)| 1   | 1   | -   | 67% | 2.60| 0.27| 36%  | 4   | -   | 6.43   |
| John Robertson    | DM, M C  | 20 |SCO|/|12 (6)| -   | -   | -   | 78% | 5.82| 0.51| -    | 1   | -   | 6.81   |
| Michael Downey    | DM, M C  | 18 |NIR|/|11 (5)| -   | 1   | -   | 68% | 1.17| 0.09| -    | 4   | -   | 6.06   |
| Nigel Buchanan    | DM, M C  | 18 |NIR|/| 0 (1)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | -      |
| Keith Steele      | M RC     | 18 |NIR|/|11 (3)| 1   | 2   | -   | 60% | 0.32| 0.40| -    | 3   | -   | 5.90   |
| Chris Trainor     | M C      | 18 |NIR|/| 0 (1)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 5.30   |
| Chris Jones       | AM R     | 19 |ENG|/| 26   | 4   | 6   | 1   | 55% | 0.80| 2.69| 46%  | 6   | 2   | 6.57   |
| Colin Canning     | AM R     | 16 |NIR|/| 0 (2)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 6.10   |
| Gavin Whelan      | AM RC    | 31 |IRL|/| 37   | 8   | 7   | 4   | 70% | 2.07| 0.76| 28%  | 4   | 1   | 6.86   |
| Chris Johnston    | AM R, ST | 19 |NIR|/| 8 (6)| 3   | 2   | -   | 63% | 2.49| 6.06| -    | -   | -   | 6.98   |
| James Nicholl     | AM L     | 18 |NIR|/| 0 (1)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 5.20   |
| Matty Robson      | AM L     | 30 |ENG|/| 36   | 5   | 15  | 4   | 67% | 1.74| 0.81| 38%  | 3   | -   | 6.59   |
| Scott Francis     | AM LC    | 17 |IRL|/| 2 (4)| -   | -   | -   | 55% | 1.07| 1.07| -    | -   | -   | 5.90   |
| Sean Armstrong    | AM LC    | 20 |NIR|/| 1 (2)| -   | -   | -   | 60% | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 6.17   |
| Matthew Dornan    |AM LC, F C| 20 |NIR|/| 0 (1)| -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 6.10   |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Gerry Nixon       | AM R, ST | 20 |SCO|/| 17   | 8   | 4   | 2   | 65% | 0.58| 0.64| 36%  | -   | -   | 6.86   |
| Ciaran Owens      | AM/F C   | 18 |NIR|/| 1 (1)| -   | -   | -   | 50% | 0.69| -   | -    | 1   | -   | 7.15   |
| Joseph Nixon      | AM/F C   | 17 |NIR|/| 2 (4)| -   | -   | -   | 33% | 0.34| 1.37| 14%  | -   | -   | 6.03   |
| Andy McMillan     | ST       | 18 |NIR|/| 1 (4)| -   | -   | -   | 66% | 0.64| 0.64| 16%  | -   | -   | 6.43   |
| Danny Esler       | ST       | 19 |NIR|/| 2 (3)| 1   | -   | -   | 46% | -   | 1.18| 37%  | -   | -   | 6.25   |
| Paul Roberts      | ST       | 21 |IRL|/| 4 (2)| -   | -   | -   | 67% | -   | 1.01| -    | 1   | -   | 6.28   |
| Richard Salisbury | ST       | 19 |WAL|/| 1 (4)| 1   | -   | -   | 76% | 0.58| -   | 33%  | -   | -   | 6.50   |
| Robbie Allen      | ST       | 19 |NIR|/| 0 (2)| 1   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -   | -    | -   | -   | 6.45   |
| Sam Winnall       | ST       | 24 |ENG|/| 17   | 5   | -   | 1   | 35% | -   | 1.02| 43%  | 1   | -   | 6.63   |
| Stuart Shaw       | ST       | 22 |SCO|/|31 (1)| 14  | 6   | 6   | 65% | 0.55| 0.79| 40%  | 1   | -   | 6.86   |
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

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Friday 1st May 2015
The month of April finished with me once again being strongly linked with a move to Welsh club Llanelli AFC, who have still not come to an agreement with current Manager at the club, Gary Whild, despite them enjoying a pretty good season with a third place finish, meaning a place in the UEFA Europa League Qualifying Rounds, and they still have a Cup Final to look forward to this weekend as they face The New Saints for the Welsh Premier League Cup at the Millennium Stadium.

We have also missed out on another signing target, with Linfield's 19 year old centre back Jonathan Magill electing to move across the Irish Sea and join English Coca-Cola League Two side, Burton Albion. It had long been rumoured that Magill would leave after a rather public falling out with David Jeffrey, the former Manchester United player who has been in charge at the Windsor Park club for 18 years now.

With the season now finished, the Board are not entirely satisfied with how things are going, though they do mention that there has been an improvement since my arrival. They are not happy with the signing of Paul Roberts, but they believe that the signing of Tony Jones is a very good piece of business. We lost almost £15,000 last month, and right now the club is almost £220,000 in the red. I'm not expecting my Transfer Budget to be very high this summer.

Saturday 2nd May
The Northern Irish Cup Final was played today at Windsor Park, and a goal in each half from Andrew Waterworth gave red hot favourites Glentoran their second Cup success in three seasons in front of over 10,000 fans. Waterworth took his goal total for the season to 27, as his side lifted the Cup for the 22nd time in their storied history. With the Cup now completed, our Board pay out £1,600 to our squad to share after reaching the Semi-Finals this season.

Meanwhile in League action, there was a real turn up for the books as Institute defeated Crusaders at home to avoid the Relegation Playoff spot, which went to Ballymena United despite their win over the already doomed Lisburn Distillery.

Our Under-18's were in action in their penultimate match of the campaign, drawing 1-1 at home to Linfield, both goals coming in the first half, Joseph Nixon cancelling out the early opener from Keith Moore. The lads sit in 9th place, unable to move into the top half of the table now. From the Reserve team, 19 year old striker Danny Esler has left the club today after failing to earn a semi-professional deal. The local lad played seven times for the First Team in League matches, failing to find the net, and is now looking at other options in the game.

Monday 4th May
Gerard Doherty is once again included in the First Division Team of the Week, despite not being called upon to make a single save last week against Dundela. He has a pair of team mates for company as well, with Matty Robson and Gavin Whelan also included.

Saturday 9th May
The Under-18's finish their season in style with a 2-0 win over Portadown Youth at Shamrock Park. Right back Paul Clarke put in a match winning performance, setting up the 10th minute opener for Paul Walsh, before netting the second himself just after the half hour mark, ensuring a 9th place finish for our young lads in Group 1, which was won by Glentoran.

But the main match today was the First Leg of the Playoff between Ballymena United and Dundela at the Ballymena Showgrounds, for a place in next seasons Premier Division. A first half goal from Simon Surgenor had United in the driving seat, an advantage that had every chance of being increased when Dundela centre back Neil Shaw was shown a second yellow card just before half time. But Dundela held firm, and kept the deficit down to a single goal, giving them every chance when they return to Wilgar Park for the Second Leg next week.

Wednesday 13th May
History is made in Northern Irish domestic football today, as Dundela overturn the First Leg deficit at their East Belfast home ground, beating Ballymena United 2-0 and taking their place in the Premier Division for the first time in their history. A pair of first half goals from 17 year old forward Darren Monaghan, who had only found the net once in the League this season before tonight, swung the tie in their favour, and Ballymena United couldn't find a way back, the 1954/55 Northern Irish Cup Winners are promoted.

The implications of that result are that Dundela are now the latest club in previous years to fight their way from the third tier up into the top level, and now they will be furiously doing their sums to work out how much they can afford to spend to try and firstly remain at the top table, and then establish themselves as a Premier Division club. There are implications for us as well of course. Namely, that we are joined in the First Division by our fiercest rivals now, and they could be in for a rude awakening. In the 24 hours following the defeat that cost them their Premier Division status, one player has already agreed a move elsewhere, another has been the subject of a bid, and one more has asked to leave, while another ten are being targeted by other clubs.

Sunday 24th May
Super Sunday, or as close as it will get to being one for a while around here. We have signed a new four year deal with a company to sponsor our shirts, worth £12,000 a season to the club.

Hoping to wear that shirt in the not too distant future for the First Team is 17 year old left winger Stuart Wilson, who has just completed his first year with the club, and has now signed a three year semi-professional deal with us. Plenty of pace, and a good crosser, he racked up four goals and six assists playing for the Youth side, a promising start to his career. 

Tuesday 26th May
The club have today announced a financial loss of £95,000 for the last financial year, which equates to 43% of their turnover of £210,000 for the same period. As of right now, the club is £215,000 in the red, yet still no one seems overly concerned. Maybe there's a rollover on the lottery this coming weekend.

Sunday 31st May
A fairly quiet and uneventful month at The Showgrounds has ended with striker Richard Salisbury selected for the Wales Under-19's squad that will play twice in four days at the Liberty Stadium, home of Swansea City, entertaining first Belarus, and then Germany in a pair of Friendlies. He's the only player from our Coleraine squad selected for International Duty, though I will also be away too, as I lead India on a mini South-East Asia Tour.

At least we both know we're are headed, not a luxury currently afforded to 18 year old keeper Darren Keegan or 24 year old striker Sam Winnall. Both are out of contract at the end of next month, and neither is being offered a new deal, and will be leaving The Showgrounds. Keeper Keegan played six times in the League for the club in the season before my arrival, but has played very much second fiddle to Gerrad Doherty since then, failing to make a competitive appearance since.

Former Wolverhampton Wanderers youngster Winnall was pretty much a first choice when I took the job, in what was his second spell with Coleraine having left for a season with Glebe after joining us initially from rivals Institute. Unfortunately, that season at Glebe was his best one, and just three goals in 30 League games over two spells here isn't going to cut it, especially with new arrivals coming in this summer.

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Monday 1st June 2015
The Transfer Window is open across the UK, but I have done a lot of my business to strengthen the squad already. I will be keeping an eye out for any players who may be getting released by their clubs of course, and if the opportunity to improve our options presents itself, and we are able to agree terms, I will always try to improve the squad. Some new talent coming through the Youth Intake would be most welcome too of course.

Friday 5th June
Richard Salisbury is on duty for Wales Under-19's at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea this evening against Belarus. He started the match, and played 72 minutes in fairly unflattering fashion, before being substituted. The game was over realistically as a contest well before then, 19 year old Wrexham defensive midfielder James Lyons opened the scoring after just forty seconds, and repeating the trick in the 17th minute. Accrington Stanley's 19 year old striker Glen Upton completed the job five minutes after replacing Salisbury as substitute.

Monday 8th June
Salisbury came on seven minutes into the second half as Wales Under-19's once more played at the Liberty Stadium, this time against perennial European heavyweight football nation, Germany. They sent a squad drawn from some of their finest clubs to South Wales, but they couldn't find a way through the rearguard of Ian Rush's side, a goalless draw a very credible result.

Friday 12th June
We have joined the queue interested in Institute's highly rated 21 year old Jordan Byrne. Much like Keith Steenson, he can play centre back, defensive midfield and in the middle of the park. He stands 6'3 tall, and is a very physical player, so would be more likely to compete with John Robertson for a spot. But he has plenty of options, with newly promoted Cliftonville, along with Monaghan United from south of the border and Morecambe from across the Irish Sea all ready to move for him as well. He receives an offer from us today.

Sunday 14th June
Another potential option is 25 year old Glentoran midfielder Luke Murphy. He is said to be far from happy with life at The Oval, and looking to leave at the end of the month when his contract expires. But there is the major sticking point. That deal currently pays him £1,200 a week, so that one will certainly be a long shot.

Monday 15th June
UEFA have announced their annual club rankings this morning, a list that see's Coleraine down one spot on last year and placed 508th. That puts us around primarily other clubs from Ulster, and some of the Welsh clubs who have been successful in the past, but currently are not in the Welsh Premier League. That stings a little. This is a bigger club than that. The biggest movers are Israeli Premier League Runner's-Up from this season, Maccabi Petach-Tikva, who move up nearly 150 spots to 158th on the back of their UEFA Europa League campaign where they made it into the Group Stages, earning a home victory over Benfica too.

Tuesday 16th June
On a day when it was confirmed that they have lost the services of Jordan Byrne, who has decided to sign for Premier Division new boys Cliftonville, the process of rebuilding to avoid another relegation fight has started from Institute, and it has begun with an offer for our striker Sam Winnall. His contract is expiring in a fortnight, and he is not being offered a new deal. They have now given the English striker a contract offer for him to consider, with Lurgan Celtic and Queens Park also said to be interested.

Wednesday 17th June
And just like that, the new season is underway, with the UEFA Europa League First Qualifying Round starting tonight. Two clubs from Northern Ireland are involved, and both are handed tough ties, and lose their home First Leg encounters. Dungannon Swifts conceded a goal in each half at Stangmore Park against the team that finished third in Hungary's top tier, MTK Budapest. They have an almost entirely home grown squad, and yet they have several players worth more than it would cost to buy a club itself in Northern Ireland. At an almost full Knockramer Park, playing their first ever European match, Lurgan Celtic were just three minutes from earning an outstanding goalless draw with Slovakian side 1.FC Tatran Presov, but midfielder Daniel Rehak found a way through in the 87th minute to ruin their night. Fair play to my old employers though, they had a really good go at that.

Friday 19th June
With the new season almost ready to go live, our Under-18's confirm their continued entry into the age group Leagues for the 2015/16 season.

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2014/15 Season Review
(*I am of course happy to accommodate requests for players, teams and leagues to be included in reviews*)

UK
Northern Ireland
Premier Division

Champions :- Linfield (80 pts), Runner's-Up :- Lurgan Celtic (69 pts)
Relegation Playoff :- Ballymena United lose 1-2 on aggregate against Dundela
Relegated :- Lisburn Distillery (26 pts)

This time last year, I mooted the point that the Belfast dominance of the Premier Division may be over with Portadown winning a second successive Title. They were well off the pace this year, but for a long spell it looked as though Lurgan Celtic or Dungannon Swifts would compete for a maiden crown at either club. But then Linfield wound up their form, and while Lurgan started struggling for goals, and Dungannon went right off the boil, Linfield overtook them and moved effortlessly into an unbeatable lead, and their 56th Premier Division success. At the other end, newly promoted Lisburn Distillery were well off the pace and relegated right back to the second tier. Institute avoided the Playoff with a final day win, putting Ballymena United in the firing line. They lost to Dundela, surprisingly so, more still after winning the First Leg, and join Distillery in the drop. 

First Division
Champions :-
Cliftonville (68 pts), Runner's-Up :- Dundela (44 pts)
Promotion Playoff :- Dundela win 2-1 on aggregate versus Ballymena United
Relegated :- Tobermore United (22 pts), Dergview (12 pts)

It was a case of catch us if you can at Solitude, and no one could get near Cliftonville. Led by 18 goal forward Frank Nouble, they were the class of the Division by far, and had the Title sewn up early to leave everyone else fighting it out for second. Coleraine joined them in the drop from the Premier last season, but won't be joining them in a return. It took a management change for them to hit any run of form, but it was too late, and Dundela won the Playoff race, and took full advantage to dispatch Ballymena United and step into the top tier for the first time in their history. Dergview managed just two wins all season at the bottom, doing well to avoid relegation for as long as they did. Three were still in line to join them on the last day, Tobermore United's draw wasn't enough as the other two both recorded wins. Both of the sides promoted from the Second Division last season comfortably avoided relegation, in fact Armagh City were very competitive in 6th place.

Second Division
Champions :-
Annagh United (51 pts), Runner's-Up :- Bangor (51 pts)
Relegated :- Killyleagh YC (29 pts), Moyola Park (23 pts)

The closest of the three Divisions, with just 15 points separating 3rd and 13th. Above them, Annagh United and Bangor fought a season long battle for the Second Division Title, which was ultimately decided on the penultimate day when both played their final away games, United winning, Bangor losing at Loughgall. It will be interesting to see how they fare in a very competitive looking First Division next season. The battle to stay in the Division was even more keenly contested than the Title fight. The leaky defence of Moyola Park did for them, and they finished bottom. One of four would join them on the last day, Ballymoney United ensured their safety with a win at Chimney Corner. The two United's both lost, Coagh and Ballinamallard. But despite a win over already doomed Moyola Park, it would be Killyleagh who joined them, as they were unable to make up the goal difference gap that their poor record in front of goal had caused. They were the only side to average less than a goal a game, managing only 20 all season. 

Northern Irish FA Cup
Glentoran
beat Newry City 2-0 at Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Irish League Cup
Linfield
beat Glenavon 2-1 at The Oval, Belfast

Northern Irish Intermediate League Cup
Portstewart
beat Coagh United 4-3 on penalties (0-0 after extra time) at Windsor Park, Belfast

Northern Irish Intermediate Cup
Cliftonville
beat Donegal Celtic 3-1 at Seaview, Belfast
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England
Barclays Premier League
Champions :-
Arsenal (81 pts), Runner's-Up :- Liverpool (77 pts)
Best of the Rest :- Manchester City (75 pts), Newcastle United (67 pts), Everton (66 pts)
Relegated :- Portsmouth (34 pts), Plymouth Argyle (26 pts), Stoke City (22 pts)
Top Scorers :- Adam Lallana (Leicester City - 18 goals), Carlos Vela (Arsenal - 17 goals), Ronnie Schwartz (West Brom - 17 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Fernando Torres (Liverpool - 7.69), Ivan Marcano (Liverpool - 7.55), Carlos Tevez (Man Utd - 7.54)

Wenger may be gone, but that hasn't extinguished The Gunners at all, as they notch a new Premier Division record fifth successive Title under their new Mexican manager José Manuel de la Torre. The upheaval continues at the Emirates though. It was a new Manager last year, and now it's new owners, with Peter Hill-Wood leaving his post as Chairman, and Portuguese born mogul Jorge Ramos takes the mantle. The problems continue at Old Trafford for Manchester United, who finished sixth this season. Frank Rijkaard was sacked at the end of November, and replaced by Steve Bruce, who led them to the FA Cup to salvage some pride for the club who had previously dominated the Premier League. Last season's Playoff winners from the Championship couldn't keep pace on their return to the Premier League, as Stoke City go right back down, joined by PL debutants Plymouth Argyle. One relegation spot remained, and it was a straight shoot out between Portsmouth, who survived in the final minutes of last season, and West Ham United, who were a point behind them. This year, the boot would be on the other foot, Pompey were thrashed 4-0 at Anfield, while West Ham clung on for a point at Upton Park against Spurs, despite having Scott Parker sent off with five minutes to play. West Ham stay up, and Pompey slide down to the Championship.

Coca-Cola Championship
Champions :-
Blackburn Rovers (95 pts), Runner's-Up :- Bolton Wanderers (85 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Nottingham Forest (75 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Queen's Park Rangers (83 pts), Preston North End (79 pts), Peterborough United (76 pts)
Relegated :- Norwich City (41 pts), Coventry City (41 pts), Bristol City (36 pts)
Top Scorers :- Leroy Lita (Notts Forest - 23 goals), Jermaine Beckford (Notts Forest - 22 goals), Matt Derbyshire (Blackburn - 22 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Steven Fletcher (Blackburn - 7.63), Chris Maguire (Bolton - 7.45), Jordan Robertson (Preston - 7.41)

Show some love for the Lancashire boys, as Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers return to the Premier League at the first attempt. Rovers were the class of the Division that is notoriously difficult to get out of by the preferred route, with Bolton confirming their return on the final day with a home win over Birmingham City, after Queens Park Rangers had missed the chance to reel them in during the penultimate round of matches. As is often the way, the team closest to automatic promotion but missing out, couldn't get the job done in the Playoffs. Three goals down inside half hour of the first leg against Nottingham Forest, there was no way back for QPR, and Forest would move on to play Preston North End, who overhauled a first leg defeat by thrashing Peterbrough United at Deepdale. A red card for Welsh International defender Mark Bradley before the break when they already a goal down spelt disaster for North End, and Forest added a second goal after half time to confirm the win, and one of England's most history laden clubs are back in the top tier for the first time since this save began, 45 goals between Leroy Lita and Jermaine Beckford accounting for well over half their squad total. There is another, less desirable route out of the Championship. The trap  door opened on Bristol City and Coventry City, the latter ending a three year spell in the second tier. They were joined on the last day by Norwich City, last year's League One Champions, who's point was not enough when Watford won away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Coca-Cola League One
Champions :-
Northampton Town (86 pts), Runner's-Up :- Carlisle United (78 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Southend United (76 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Crystal Palace (73 pts), Barnsley (72 pts), Grimsby Town (70 pts)
Relegated :- Bradford City (52 pts), Luton Town (51 pts), Wycombe Wanderers (50 pts), Crewe Alexandra (43 pts)
Top Scorers :- Matthew Paterson (Barnsley - 33 goals), Ashley Grimes (Carlisle - 24 goals), Paul McGowan (Leyton Orient - 24 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Matthew Paterson (Barnsley - 7.43), Steven Gillespie (Doncaster - 7.32), Ashley Grimes (Carlisle - 7.29)

With no intention to offend anyone, I'm not sure many people would have picked out Northampton Town as the side who would walk away as League One Champions, predicted to finish no better than mid table, and in a League with the likes of more illustrious clubs such as Crystal Palace, Barnsley, Brighton, Charlton and Cardiff, all with proven Championship records, if not higher still. More than that, they were joined in promotion by the talented, but threadbare squad of Carlisle United, who's future success may depend on their ability to keep hold of hotshot striker Ashley Grimes, who has now scored 65 goals in 110 League games over three seasons for the Brunton Park club. Two of the more fancied clubs to miss out on automatic promotion were involved in the Playoffs, but Palace and Barnsley would face each other, and a superb home showing at Oakwell sent Barnsley to Wembley. Grimsby Town won the League Two Playoffs last year, and were hoping for a Wembley return after beating Oldham Athletic on the final day in a winner takes all match for a Playoff spot. Grimsby won, and had to get by Southend United to fix that Wembley date. They lost 3-0 on aggregate, and an early Luke Moore goal in the Final put Southend back into the Championship after a one year absence, the only one of last years relegated clubs to make an immediate return. At the bottom, promoted Crewe Alexandra were the first to be relegated, while on the last day Wycombe Wanderers, Luton Town and Bradford City all picked up points in their efforts to stay up, all failing when Swindon Town's winger Ben Corcoran scored a second half equaliser at Huddersfield Town, condemning the trio to the drop.

Coca-Cola League Two
Champions :-
Scunthorpe United (80 pts), Runner's-Up :- Shrewsbury Town (80 pts), Also Promoted :- Rotherham United (79 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Accrington Stanley (74 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Kettering Town (74 pts), Bristol Rovers (73 pts), Stockport County (71 pts)
Relegated :- Cheltenham Town (49 pts), Ebbsfleet United (35 pts)
Top Scorers :- Craig Westcarr (Kettering - 26 goals), Peter Thompson (Stockport - 25 goals), Elliot Benyon (Torquay - 23 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Peter Thompson (Stockport - 7.28), Michael Collins (Shrewsbury - 7.28), Shaun Harrad (Burton - 7.27)

Once more the best Title Race in the Football League came from League Two, with Scunthorpe United winning away on the final day to leapfrog Rotherham United who drew, and Shrewsbury Town, who lost at Bristol Rovers, though they also both won automatic promotion. The win for Rovers, along with a win for Stockport was significant, as it kept Burton Albion out of the Playoffs. This is the third year in a row that Stockport have made the Playoffs, and failed. They lost at home to Kettering, and while they won the second leg, they couldn't find the other goal they needed to force extra time. So in just their second season since their return to the Football League, there is now an opportunity for Kettering Town to move up again. They would face Accrington Stanley at Wembley, after they squeezed by Bristol Rovers with a thrilling 3-2 win at The Crown Ground, where Rovers winger Carl Davidson was sent off with four minutes to play, and striker Paul Clapson netted three minutes into injury time. At Wembley, a 20th minute goal from Wales Under-21 International striker Glen Upton meant it would be Accrington Stanley who would be promoted. At the foot of the table, last seasons Blue Square Premier Playoff winners Ebbsfleet United were out of their depth in the Football League, and their first trip to League Two came to an end after just a season, leaving them with a squad of player keen to move on now. They would be joined in Non-League football by Cheltenham Town, who only just managed to stay up last season after being relegated from League One the season before, and missed the chance to escape again this year, losing at home to Kettering, when a win would have seen them survive with Morecambe held at home by Chester City.

Blue Square Premier League
Champions :-
Exeter City (86 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Bury (86 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Derby County (81 pts), Mansfield Town (76 pts), Stevenage Borough (75 pts)
Relegated :- Staines Town (49 pts), Grays Athletic (42 pts), Tamworth (41 pts), Bath City (39 pts)
Top Scorers :- Tom Pope (Bury - 26 goals), Scott Spencer (Kidderminster - 25 goals), David Scullion (Mansfield - 24 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Lee Novak (Exeter - 7.44), Sean Short (Crawley - 7.26) James Lawrie (Derby - 7.18)

Exeter City managed this year what Derby County failed to manage last year, winning the Blue Square Premier Title on goal difference despite being thumped on the South Coast by Weymouth on the last day. Fortunately for them, Bury failed to take advantage themselves, losing at home to Macclesfield Town, and The Grecians return right back to the Football League. That meant the North West side would have to try their luck in the Playoffs, which Derby had already secured their place in, and Mansfield Town and Stevenage Borough claimed places in on the final day. It's worth noting that had they not been deducted ten points for going into administration, Barnet would have taken the final spot. Though they probably wouldn't have done a better job than Stevenage did, as they won the first leg 2-0 against Bury, while Derby won by a single goal away to Mansfield. In the second leg's, Derby got the job done, though they did it the hard way, needing a late goal to confirm their ticket to the Final. No such luck for Stevenage, as Richie Baker scored in the 90th minute to level the tie after Tom Pope's first half goal, and winger Matty Done missed Stevenage's crucial spot kick in the penalty shoot-out. At Wembley, there was an early lead for Derby, But Pope equalised quickly, put Bury in front in extra time, and then Baker confirmed their return to the Football League after Simon Johnstone was sent off for The Rams. A third season of Non-League football awaits them, salt rubbed into the wounds with Nottingham Forest moving into the Premier League. At the foot of the table, only one of the promoted teams went right back down, and Staines Town were only dumped into the relegation zone on the final day, drawing 0-0 at home to Kidderminster Harriers, while Barrow secured their safety with a home win over an already relegated Tamworth side.

Blue Square North
Champions :-
Southport (69 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Workington (69 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- AFC Telford (69 pts), Histon (68 pts), Gateshead (67 pts)
Relegated :- King's Lynn (43 pts), Droylsden (42 pts), FC United of Manchester (38 pts)
Top Scorers :- James McPike (Braintree - 20 goals), Daniel Powell (Gainsborough - 19 goals), Kamahl Wight (Stafford - 19 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Jack Midson (Histon - 7.13), Matt Tubbs (Farsley - 7.13), Tim Hopkinson (Workington - 7.10)

Blue Square South
Champions :-
Forest Green Rovers (84 pts)
Playoff Winners :- Dartford (69 pts)
Also In Playoffs :- Dover Athletic (76 pts), Newport County (70 pts), Team Bath (68 pts)
Relegated :- Hitchin Town (40 pts), Bongor Regis Town (34 pts), Canvey Island (25 pts)
Top Scorers :- Jack Deeney (Maidstone - 21 goals), James Forrest (Welling United - 17 goals), Graham Murray (Hornchurch - 16 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Danny Naylor (Dover - 7.36), Graham Murray (Hornchurch - 7.13), Jack Deeney (Maidstone - 7.06)

FA Cup
Manchester United beat Chelsea 1-0 at Wembley Stadium, London

League Cup
Chelsea beat Everton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium, London

Community Shield
Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 at Wembley Stadium, London

Johnstone's Paint Trophy
Colchester United beat Tranmere Rovers 2-0 at Wembley Stadium, London

Football Conference League Cup
Woking beat Derby County 3-1 at Wembley Stadium, London

FA Trophy
Crawley Town beat York City 2-1 after at Wembley Stadium, London
----------

Scotland

League Football shows no sign of a return to everyday life in Scotland anytime soon. Unconfirmed reports suggest that there is an illegal underground League taking place that allows the nations leading clubs to continue to operate on a sound financial footing, supplementing the money they make from Cup football, and for the lucky few, European football as well. As for the Cup football that is taking place, Celtic are now two years without a trophy, reaching the Scottish Cup Final this season, only to lose on penalties to Rangers, while also losing the League Cup Final to Dundee United.

Scottish FA Cup
Rangers beat Celtic 4-3 on penalties (1-1 after extra time) at Hampden Park, Glasgow

Scottish League Cup
Dundee United beat Celtic 1-0 after extra time at Hampden Park, Glasgow

Scottish League Challenge Cup
Clyde beat Airdrie United 1-0 at Fir Park, Motherwell
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Wales
Premier League
Champions :-
The New Saints (74 pts), Runner's-Up :- Rhyl (72 pts)
Relegated :- Cefn Druids (29 pts), Airbus UK Broughton (27 pts)

The Llanelli stranglehold in the Principality is snapped by The New Saints. In a near 20 point swing, TNS overhauled the 16 point gap from last year, and finished three points in front of their rivals, who were pushed down to third by the revival of Rhyl, who improved by over 20 points from last season to move from 7th up into second place, thanks in no small part to a move that saw them loan 17 year old wing wonder and England Under-19 International trickster Clayton Coulson from Everton. The new League Champions made it a Double when they added the Welsh Cup, though Llanelli did gain a small measure of revenge with the capture of the Premier League Cup, their third in five seasons. At the bottom, Airbus UK Broughton and Cefn Druids both fell from comfortable mid table positions last season into the relegation zone, the latters poor end of season form seeing them fail to overhaul Porthmadog. Promoted last season into the WPL were Caernarfon Town, who finished a very credible 7th, though they didn't have a single Welsh player in their squad.

Welsh FA Cup
The New Saints beat Newtown 2-1 at Castle Park, Wrexham

Welsh Premier League Cup
Llanelli AFC beat The New Saints 2-1 after extra time at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

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On 29/07/2020 at 09:59, oche balboa said:

What happened with the Scottish League? 

KUTGW mate 

It failed a few seasons ago mate, just got stuck after the 2011/12 season when I was with Ayr United. That's why I had to end that chapter.

Cheers fella

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2014/15 Season Review (continued)

Best of Europe
UEFA Champions League
Valencia (SPA) beat Arsenal (ENG) 2-1 at Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

UEFA Europa League
Manchester City (ENG) beat Chelsea (ENG) 4-2 at Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, Scotland

UEFA European Super Cup
AC Milan (ITA) beat Real Madrid (SPA) 3-1 at Stade Louis II, Monte Carlo, Monaco

Belgium
Champions :- Anderlecht (45 pts), Runner's-Up :- Standard Liege (45 pts)
Top Scorer :- Dieumerci Mbokani (FC Brussels - 22 goals). Top Average Rating :- Roland Juhász (Anderlecht - 7.42)

France
Champions :- Olympique Lyon (74 pts), Runner's-Up :- Paris Saint-Germain (67 pts)
Top Scorer :- Helton dos Reis (FC Nantes - 22 goals). Top Average Rating :- Túlio de Melo (FC Girondins Bordeaux - 7.46)

Germany
Champions :- Bayer 04 Leverkusen (71 pts), Runner's-Up :- FC Bayern Munich (65 pts)
Top Scorer :- Patrick Helmes (Bayer 04 Leverkusen - 20 goals). Top Average Rating :- Patrick Helmes (Bayer 04 Leverkusen - 7.58)

Holland
Champions :- PSV Eindhoven (71 pts), Runner's-Up :- Ajax Amsterdam (70 pts)
Top Scorer :- Marko Markovski (Willem II - 26 goals). Top Average Rating :- Ismael Bangoura (Ajax Amsterdam - 7.69)

Italy
Champions :- Inter Milan (81 pts), Runner's-Up :- AS Roma (75 pts)
Top Scorer :- Salvatore Foti (Fiorentina - 15 goals). Top Average Rating :- Christian Chivu (Inter Milan - 7.70)

Portugal
Champions :- FC Porto (70 pts), Runner's-Up :- Benfica (66 pts)
Top Scorer :- Rafael Sóbis (Benfica - 19 goals). Top Average Rating :- Oscar Cardozo (Benfica - 7.75)

Russia
Champions :- CSKA Moscow (67 pts), Runner's Up :- Spartak Moscow (64 pts)
Top Scorer :- Alexandr Prudnikov (Spartak Moscow - 17 goals). Top Average Rating :- Alexandr Prudnikov (Spartak Moscow - 7.50)

Spain
Champions :- Real Madrid (92 pts), Runner's-Up :- Valencia (86 pts)
Top Scorer :- David Villa (Valencia - 21 goals). Top Average Rating :- Vagner Love (Real Madrid - 7.98)
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Rest of the World
FIFA Club World Championship
Real Madrid (SPA) beat Club Fútbol Monterrey (MEX) 2-0 at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt

Copa Libertadores
Boca Juniors (ARG) beat SC Internacional (BRA) 5-1 on aggregate

Copa Sudamericana
Palmeiras (BRA) beat Atlético Mineiro (BRA) 4-3 on aggregate

Asian Champions League
Bejing Guo'an (CHN) beat Shandong Luneng (KSA) 2-0 on aggregate

North American Champions League
New York Red Bulls (USA) beat Club de Fútbol América (MEX) 3-1 on aggregate

OFC Champions League
Auckland City (NZL) beat JS Baco (NCL) 2-0 at Stade Pentecost, Nouméa, New Caledonia

Argentina
Champions :- Independiente, Runner's-Up :- San Lorenzo

Australia
Hyundai A-League Regular Season Champions :- Queensland Roar. Runner's-Up :- Central Coast Mariners
Hyundai A-League Grand Final Series :- Central Coast Mariners beat Queensland Roar 1-0 at Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford

Brazil
Champions :- Santos, Runner's-Up :- Flamengo

United States of America
Major League Soccer Regular Season Champions :- Colorado Rapids, Runner's-Up :- Real Salt Lake
Major League Soccer Final :- New York Red Bulls beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 at Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida
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International

2015 North American Gold Cup :- Hosts :- United States of America. Holders :- United States of America.
Final :- Mexico beat United States of America 4-0 at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America
Top Scorer :- Carlos Vela (Mexico - 5 goals)
Top Average Rating :- David Nava (Mexico - 8.12)

2015 Copa America :- Hosts :- Bolivia. Holders :- Argentina.
Final :- Argentina beat Brazil 5-4 on penalties (0-0 after extra time) at Hernando Siles Stadium, La Paz, Bolivia
Top Scorer :- Juan Carlos Arce (Bolivia - 5 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Vagner Love (Brazil - 7.96)

2015 Under-20's World Cup :- Hosts :- England. Holders :- Italy.
Final :- Holland beat England 2-1 (after extra time, 1-1 after 90 mins) at Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Top Scorer :- Evando (Brazil Under-20's - 7 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Daniel Rivero (Uruguay Under-20's - 7.93)

2014 Asian Under-19 Championship :- Hosts :- Japan. Holders :- China.
Final :- Japan beat Australia 1-0 at Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, Japan
Top Scorer :- Zhao Bin (China - 6 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Sun Hongjun (China - 8.15)

2015 South American Under-20 Championship :- Hosts :- Uruguay :- Holders :- Brazil.
Final Standings :- 1st :- Argentina. 2nd :- Uruguay. 3rd :- Brazil.
Top Scorer :- Matías Fernández (Argentina - 6 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Roberto Hurtado (Colombia - 7.85)

2015 European Under-21's Championship :- Hosts :- Spain. Holders :- Poland 
Final :- France beat Romania 2-1 at Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Top Scorer :- Eliot Puech (France - 4 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Marco Stam (Holland - 7.55)

2015 European Under-19's Championship :- Hosts :- Greece. Holders :- Germany
Final :- Greece beat Germany 2-0 at OAKA Spyros Louis, Athens, Greece
Top Scorer :- Kostas Alexopoulos (Germany - 6 goals)
Top Average Rating :- Kostas Alexolpoulos (Germany - 7.75)
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Awards
FIFA World Footballer of the Year
1st :- Fernando Torres (Liverpool & Spain), 2nd :- Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina), 3rd :- Carlos Vela (Arsenal & Mexico)

UEFA European Footballer of the Year
1st :- Robinho (Manchester City & Brazil), 2nd :- Michael Carrick (Newcastle United & England), 3rd :- Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal & Togo)

UEFA European Golden Boot
1st :- Helton dos Reis (FC Nantes - 22 goals), 2nd :- Stevo Nikolic (CFR Cluj - 29 goals), 3rd :- David Villa (Valencia - 21 goals)

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Saturday 20th June 2015
The Annual Awards Night has taken place tonight, where Scottish 22 year old striker Stuart Shaw has been voted Player of the Year by the Coleraine fans, narrowly pipping Gavin Whelan and Matty Robson to the accolade. The trio were all also included in the Best Eleven lineup for the club from last season.......

                             Gerard Doherty,
                               Tony Jones, Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine,
                               Chris Johnston, John Robertson, Gavin Whelan, Matty Robson,
                                  Gerry Nixon, Stuart Shaw.

Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, James Hancox, Keith Steenson, Ciaran Owens, Chris Jones, Matthew Dornan, Sam Winnall.

The three players that fought it out for the Player of the Year Award were all also inducted into Coleraine's Best Overall Eleven, a selection that currently only includes one other current player from our squad, goalkeeper Gerard Doherty.

The club have been given £2,500, our cut from the First Division TV Rights for this season. Not exactly English Premier League money is it? Who knows if we'll actually be on TV at any point this season, but the fixture list has been released, and we have a start that I'd hope will see us put a couple of early wins on the board. We start at home to Queens University Belfast, followed by away games against newly promoted Bangor, and the short trip to play Wakehurst.

I was entirely expecting the Board to insist that promotion is a must this season. That however, is not the case. Their minimum expectation is that we finish in the top half of the Division. With an offer of nearly £3,000 per week in wage budget to achieve that target, the shortest meeting about season expectations in history is done. Personally, I'm hoping we win the League, but for an extra £200 a week in Budget that we certainly can't afford, and keeping in mind that may well be the reason they don't necessarily expect promotion at Boardroom level, I accept their demands quite happily.

That's one of the most important aspects of the new season dealt with, and now on to another, the Youth Intake. This year it is nine players strong, seven from right here in Coleraine, and another two from down the road in nearby Limavady, lovely to take a few youngsters from under the noses of a rival who put a big dent in our Playoff hopes last season. The intake is defensively heavy, but I'm absolutely fine with that this year. As is almost always the case, I don't agree with the backroom teams assessment of who will be the most successful of this new crop of youngsters, but it is always interesting to see if my thoughts are more accurate than theirs. So lets have a quick look at the new faces to The Showgrounds......

Almost 16 years old, right back Liam McDonnell has a lot of work in front of him to crack the First Team in a position where we have a lot of depth and cover players. He is very defensively minded, though does have excellent pace, and does well in the mental side of the game. Timmy Curran is 16, and is pretty much the opposite, right footed, but capable of playing either side of the back four, and brings far more attacking intent to the table, though at the sacrifice of some of the mental aspects required of a defender.

On the other side of the back four, we have two very good new prospects, and there may well come a time in the future where a decision needs to be made on which one is the best bet. 16 year old six footer Jason Campbell has all the attributes of an attacking wing back, the only flaw in his game right now is his marking, which is very poor for a player in a defensive role. The alternative, just turned 16 year old left wing back Lee Mooney. He is far more adept defensively than Campbell, but appears to be less of an impact going forward himself. A combination of the two players would be the ideal.

We have some centre back options amongst the new intake, 16 year old centre back Jeff Houston is aggressive, maybe a little too aggressive. A lad who hasn't had an easy upbringing, it would be fabulous to see him find a solace in football, but he definitely needs to calm down a little. Would it be too much to ask for 6 months older and almost half a foot taller Glenn Harbinson to take his new team mate under his wing and be the calming influence required in his life? The latter is the most likely of the pair to make it. Throw Joe Gibbons into the mix as well, another 16 year old who stands at six feet tall, but he is neither defender, defensive midfielder or centre midfielder yet. He can operate in all three positions, but hasn't really mastered any of them.

The final two players are the recruits from Limavady, and both are strikers. Martin Friars is the backroom staff's pick to make the biggest impact at the club, a six foot tall striker who brings superb pace and agility with no little finishing ability, composure and flair. That is a pretty good combination. He may have the perfect foil to partner him in attack right with him too, Darren Doyle is 6'4, and an absolute work horse of a player who is good in the air, has plenty of strength to give himself a shot against most centre backs, and is deceptively quick off the mark too, though his top speed is nowhere close to Friars. I'm picking Mooney as the one to make the biggest impact, just ahead of Friars, with potential new strike partner Doyle behind them.

Sunday 21st June
Speaking of strikers, the future of one has been settled, and Sam Winnall will leave the club at the end of the month, signing a deal with Premier Division side Institute. The former Wolverhampton Wanderers youngster is rejoining Institute for a second spell, after initially joining them when he left his hometown club. He scored three League goals in 29 First Division games, before joining us for his first of two spells here, scoring just once in 19 Premier Division games, and then rejoining us after a career best season in the top tier with Glebe Rangers.

17 year old second year player Paul McMaster is a contender to Captain the Under-18 side this season, and the centre back has signed a new Youth deal to take him through the next two seasons with the club. It's possible that a loan spell would be more beneficial to his development going forward though.

Wednesday 24th June
A brief flirt with European football has quickly come to an end for two Northern Irish clubs in the UEFA Europa League. It was a fairly painful experience for Dungannon Swifts, who having lost 2-0 at home to Hungarian outfit MTK Budapest, travelled to one of the gateways to Eastern Europe, and were met by a very hostile barrage of goals from their opponents, who found the net an incredible three times in the opening four minutes of the match. They added one more just after the half hour mark, before promptly losing interest, and settling for a 6-0 aggregate win. They move on to face Vetra Vilnius of Lithuania in the Second Qualifying Round.

There was far more credit for Lurgan Celtic. Drawn against Slovakian side 1.FC Tatran Presov, they were unlucky not to hold on for a draw at Knockramer Park, and acquitted themselves well away from home too, holding on till half time, despite having skipper and centre midfielder Scott Hammond sent off five minutes before the break for a second yellow card. That left them with too much to do, and in one of his final games for the club before he leaves to join Inter Bratislava, attacking midfielder Igor Sukennik signed off with two goals in nine minutes and the Slovaks win the tie 3-0, also moving on to face opposition from Lithuania.

Thursday 25th June
Our Pre-Season schedule has now been finalised after some last minute chopping and changing around of fixtures and dates. There are five fixtures in total, two of which we are obligated to play, and one of them is almost a week after the domestic season actually starts. But we start with two home games that we are happy to have on the schedule, as we host a pair of English Coca-Cola League Two clubs, starting with Bradford City on Saturday 17th July, followed by a visit from Chesterfield the following Thursday. Then just two days later, we are obliged to face Coleraine Crusaders away, before we visit Second Division outfit Killymoon Rangers on the following Wednesday, which is the 29th July. The season kicks off on the Saturday, but we then are obligated to make the short trip to face Portstewart on Thursday 6th August, just 48 hours after an away League match with Bangor, baffling scheduling as there is currently no fixture planned for two weeks after that second League game. Expect to see under strength squads taken to the two obligated matches. We were due to also fit in a quick trip to England for a Friendly against Blue Square North side, Tamworth. That date has been cancelled.

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Wednesday 1st July 2015
The first day of July is the day that players arrive at their new clubs, and things are no different here, as our summer signings arrive, and some room needs to be made. Sam Winnall makes his move to Institute, while Richard Salisbury is offered to feeder club Portstewart on a season long loan. Keeper Darren Keegan is released, while striker Paul Roberts is being offered to anyone who is interested in taking him. I still have numerous irons in the fire to try and improve our squad, but we are already over Wage Budget, and almost a quarter of a million in the red. Still, no one at the club appears too concerned over our financial issues.

Thursday 2nd July
A loan offer has been made, and accepted, for a player at a leading Scottish club. We have one rival for his signature on a deal that would bring him into the club for seven months.

Paul Roberts has left the club with immediate effect, paid £1,000 to terminate his £110 a week deal that had two seasons remaining to run. He has several clubs who are willing to sign him, so he is unlikely to be out of work for very long. He isn't the only striker to leave today, Richard Salisbury agrees to move on loan to Portstewart of the Second Division for the season, though we can recall him at any time should we need to.

After two Northern Irish sides crashed out of the UEFA Europa League in the First Qualifying Round, the nation is left with Glentoran flying the flag in the Second Round. But their chances are not much better than those of Dungannon and Lurgan, after being handed a tough draw against Denmark side Odense, or OB as they are more commonly known. With their ranks filled with current or former Danish age group International players, they had too much for Glentoran at The Oval. A goal in each half from 25 year old former Under-21 International striker Patrick Mortensen giving the visitors a 2-0 lead to return home with.

Friday 3rd July
Our attempt to bring in 19 year old Dundee United attacking midfielder Tom Backhouse on loan, has failed. He has instead opted to join Forfar Athletic for a 7 month spell. Loans are my best realistic hope of improving our squad though. We are already over £600 a week over Budget for wages, and at those numbers, any attempts to bring in players permanently are likely to be blocked.

Monday 6th July
With efforts to bring in loan players at the maximum, results are far from that level. We are competing against Football League clubs primarily to try and pick up some quality and depth, and it's going to be a long haul for little, or maybe even no reward.

Tuesday 7th July
Another knock back from a player we were trying to loan. We will see this one in action soon potentially, as Middlesbrough utility player Justin Scott agrees a six month loan to Chesterfield, who visit us for a Pre-Season Friendly later this month.

He would later be joined by young Liverpool striker Graham Vilakazi, the 19 year old South African born speedster made his Premier League debut for The Reds last season, and doesn't see a move across the Irish Sea for six months as something that will enhance his reputation.

Thursday 9th July
In the Second Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League, sole survivors Glentoran met the same fate as Dungannon and Lurgan in the previous round. In fact, their demise was identical to Dungannon's, as after losing the First Leg 2-0 at home to Danish club OB, they were then beaten 4-0 in Odense in the return, and just like The Swifts, they conceded early, with two penalties awarded against them in the opening three minutes.

Wednesday 15th July
In the last week, we have been knocked back by over 20 players who have declined to spend some loan time at The Showgrounds. After failing to get any of our targets from England's Premier League or Championship, my attempts to land some young Scottish talent to boost our squad had also failed. It's beginning to look like we will have to go with what we have.

Linfield are the last remaining Northern Irish hope in Europe this season, as they get their campaign underway in the UEFA Champions League First Qualifying Round. But after that First Leg, it might be a short European journey for the nations Champions. They are drawn against NK Domzale of Slovenia, and lose 2-0 at Sportni Park, conceding a goal in each half. Their case for the return wasn't helped when Denmark Under-19 International left back Ole Petersen was sent off with three minutes to play, and will be missing when Linfield try and overturn the deficit at Windsor Park.

Friday 17th July
Despite constant failures, I've continued to try and hit the loan market to make something stick. It is now the eve of our opening pre-season contest, and we still don't have a credible challenger or even backup for Gerard Doherty in goal, something that needs solving urgently as Darren Keegan has left the club. The only cover right now is 19 year old Limavady born youngster, Trevor Smyth. A left back or better yet, wing back, would also be handy, as with Hancox moved on to Lurgan Celtic, our only options there are Stewart Devine, or new Youth Intake youngsters Lee Mooney and Jason Campbell. Should we decide to continue with our three centre backs tactic going forward, we would need another specialist there too, though this is less important with Gambian International and British passport holder Ryan Young scheduled to join the club on September 1st, assuming the Board don't block that deal which was agreed months ago.

Tomorrow afternoon we host Bradford City, who on Wednesday lost away to Scottish side East Fife. After winning Coca-Cola League Two in the 2012/13 season, The Bantams finished tenth in their first season back in the third tier, but they were relegated on the last day of the 2014/15 season when Swindon Town moved ahead of them on goal difference with an equaliser in their game, and with only minutes to go in the season. Cost cutting ensued, and City let go of almost twenty players, while so far bringing in just one this season, and that is a loan player. The squad that remains is a blend of younger players, journeymen, and unhappy players who are looking for a way out after the relegation.

29 year old Norwegian International goalkeeper Dag Ole Thomassen falls into the latter category, and the club would prefer that once capped Northern Irish International centre back Carl Magnay also did, but he is pretty happy with his near £5,000 a week contract that still has two seasons to run. Another player from these shores in their squad is 31 year old winger Pat McCourt, who for some reason has only picked up two caps to date. A former Celtic and Swansea City player, who arrived at Valley Parade last season, but was mainly used as an impact player from the bench. They'll be without last seasons top scorer, 21 year old Lee King netted 22 times, but also falls into the category of wanting out, and is sidelined with a groin strain.

Saturday 18th July

Pre-Season Friendly
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Bradford City
Attendance :-
770. Weather :- Dry, 14c.

It's a home start for pre-season, and a very healthy crowd at The Showgrounds as our visitors are Bradford City from the English Coca-Cola League Two, following their relegation from the third tier last season. We go with the three centre back system that we ended last season with, Declan O'Hara taking the slot on the left side of the trio, with Andy Dickinson and Robbie Fisk joining him. Tony Jones and Stewart Devine make a strong set of wing backs, with Gavin Whelan as the lone centre midfielder, Chris Johnston and Matty Robson on the wings, and new signing Pat McIlroy joins Stuart Shaw up front. The bench has some youngsters filling it out, but still looks strong, with the exception of goalkeeping, where we still don't have a credible back up and young Trevor Smyth is deputising today. Three more youngsters, Glen Harbinson, Lee Mooney and Andy McMillan, are on the bench, with another two new signings joining them, Michael McCartney and Ryan Twist.

City had us pinned back into our own third of the park in the early stages, Thomas Patterson's corner found Lionel Ainsworth, who's shot was well blocked but spun into the path of Peter Winn, his low shot needed to be pushed away by Gerard Doherty. They wouldn't have things all their own way though, as in a role reversal of how they were supposed to be setup, Stuart Shaw brought the ball down on halfway and held it up, then clipped a pass through the visitors defence to send new partner Pat McIlroy clear in on goal, the striker forced slightly wide and onto his weaker left foot by a covering defender, his attempt to lift it over the advancing keeper was within the reach of Dag Ole Thomassen. As the midpoint of the half approached, Carl Magnay lofted the ball forward, Winn sent it low into the box looking for Paul Heffernan, overhitting it slightly, but Doherty was slow off his line, and Andy Dickinson had to intervene to thump it behind to safety. The keeper was back in credit moments later though, as he got across his goalmouth to turn aside Jordan Cropley's low drive that was headed for the bottom corner. A bit of end to end play saw a chance at both ends around the half hour mark, Joseph Lapira found himself in acres of room on the right for City, and his whipped cross picked out Heffernan on the penalty spot, but he couldn't keep his header down, while at the other end of the park, Matty Robson had to earn his crossing space on our left, and when he did he picked out McIlroy who got goalside of his marker, but saw his glanced header come back off the underside of the bar. Ten minutes before the break, Shaw rolled his marker and lifted a shot over Thomassen, but just too high to open the scoring. But three minutes before the break, we found a way through, and from much closer range, and a tried and tested method, Robson's inswinging corner kick finding Dickinson who had rose the highest, and he sent his header into the roof of the net right under the cross bar. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only constant we had carried over from last season, as we brought our defensive frailty with us into the new season. Winn had acres of space on the left, and got to the edge of the box unchallenged before firing in a low curling shot that found it's way past Doherty and inside the near post to level the game back up a minute into injury time.

All square at the break then, and it had been an entertaining first half. The second half could go either way, with both sides having plenty of substitutes to bring into the action. We made four changes at half time, Tony Jones, Gavin Whelan, Robson and McIlroy all departing, Aaron Smyth, new boys Michael McCartney and Ryan Twist, plus striker Gerry Nixon all came on. Our subs settled in quickly, McCartney sending Nixon into space, but the striker rushed his shot and missed the target. Shaw would show him how it should be done moments later, Stewart Devine and McCartney combining, and the latter played Shaw in beyond the offside trap, and he picked the same spot Winn had earlier, blasting his low shot home to reinstate our lead. City responded by making a quartet of changes of their own, and three of them quickly combined to bring their side level for a second time, Keith Fahey picking up the ball in midfield, finding Pat McCourt who skipped past one challenge, and then played a slide rule pass into the run of Kevin Cawley, who angled his lifted finish over Doherty and into the bottom far corner. So we had been quickly pegged back for a second time, but could City do it for a third time? They'd need to, as less than ten minutes later Devine whipped in a corner, and Nixon met it from just two yards out with a planted downward header, and we were in front once again! For a pre-season match, this was a cracking match, and very competitive, as shown by Dickinson, who was booked in the 70th minute for a foul just outside his own box, fortunately we weren't punished further, Fahey's free kick high and wide of the target. But we couldn't keep them out, though this time it was a bit of magic to bring the Football League side level. Cawley laid the ball off to McCourt on halfway, and the former Celtic winger set off, ghosting past McCartney, then Dickinson, and then Devine, before stepping back inside Dickinson who had got back for another try at halting his run, before McCourt curled the ball around Doherty's dive and into the far top corner, earning a round of applause from the home fans who appreciated the skill level from the Northern Irish International. By now, Dickinson was starting to struggle with a knock, and five minutes later he would come off, one of five more changes made, with a tenth and final switch made in the 84th minute, a few minutes after City had made their second batch of substitutions. They made their final changes in the dying moments, but there was still time for Billy Davis to send over a good cross from the left that was just too high for Cawley, and knocked clear by Lee Mooney. And with the clock striking ninety, Fahey drove in a long hopeful effort from range, but that one flashed wide of the target. A very entertaining draw.

Coleraine (1) 3 - Andy Dickinson (43), Stuart Shaw (50), Gerry Nixon (66)
Bradford City (1) 3 - Peter Winn (45+1), Kevin Cawley (57), Pat McCourt (73)
Gerard Doherty; Declan O'Hara (Robert Donaghy 77), Andy Dickinson (inj - Glenn Harbinson 77), Robbie Fisk (Keith Steenson 84); Tony Jones (Aaron Smyth 45), Stewart Devine (Lee Mooney 77); Gavin Whelan © (Michael McCartney 45); Chris Johnston (Chris Jones 77), Matty Robson (Ryan Twist 45); Stuart Shaw (Andy McMillan 77), Pat McIlroy (Gerry Nixon 45).

Unused Substitutes :- Trevor Smyth (GK), John Robertson.
Bookings :- Andy Dickinson 70
Possession :- 54% - 46%. Man of the Match :- Pat McCourt (Bradford City).

What an entertaining afternoon that was in front of a bumper crowd, and hopefully we'll get some of them back into The Showgrounds when the domestic season begins. We looked sharp going forward, but there are clearly issues at the back, with a potential lack of concentration, and us seemingly vulnerable right after we score. Obviously we won't be playing Bradford City's every week, but it needs sorting out if we're going to get ourselves in the promotion hunt. And lets be clear, we need to be. Financially, historically, by any parameter you wish to mention, this club should be in the top tier. Football just doesn't always work out that way however.

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Sunday 19th July 2015
Another aspect of being successful this season is going to be getting the right pieces to the puzzle in regards to the makeup of our squad. The overwhelming majority of our business is done already, and we have done well with the players we have brought in I believe. But we still have no-one to rival Gerard Doherty for the goalkeeper starting spot, and with what are fast becoming loan pleas falling on deaf ears, we could have a problem there. We are really scraping the barrel to try and find someone now.

Monday 20th July
It must been some training session today, clearly too far over the line though as we received a pair of injury reports following it. They both concern younger squad members, both defenders. Gary Donnelly pulled a hamstring, ruling himself out for six weeks. Far more seriously, and with potentially more impact on the First Team depth chart is the injury to Youth Intake prospect Lee Mooney. The 16 year old has damaged his hip and without specialist treatment, he was out for the season at least. That specialist help is sought, but it will be still be late October or early November before he can return to training.

Wednesday 22nd July
After losing two-nil in Slovenia in their First Qualifying Round tie of the UEFA Champions League against NK Domzale, the onus would be on Linfield to go out and attack in the Second Leg at Windsor Park. With standing permitted, and almost 19,000 in the ground, Linfield did just that, with disastrous consequences. A penalty just ninety seconds in, a second goal before the half hour mark, and despite a very brief rally from the Northern Irish Champions, one more before the break. A final goal on the hour mark from the Slovenians rounded off the scoring, and finished the Ulster participation in Europe for the season. 6-1 to Domzale on aggregate, who advance to face Swiss Champions from last season Young Boys of Bern in the Second Qualifying Round.

Thursday 23rd July
Tonight we continue our pre-season schedule with a second and final home game, as we once again welcome Coca-Cola League Two opposition, with Chesterfield following on from Bradford City's visit. The Derbyshire based club finished right in the mid table last season, exactly the same distance from relegation as they were from the Promotion Playoffs. They did make the Playoffs in 2013/14, the closest they've come to returning to League One since their relegation from the third tier in 2011/12, their only season outside the Football League's basement since the save began after their runner's-up spot in 2010/11 earned them automatic promotion.

There isn't much expectation on them making any real progress this season either. They lost their best player over the summer, England Under-19 International midfielder Graeme Wales heading north to St Johnstone on a Free Transfer. They needed to bring in two players to adequately replace him, 24 year old Jamie Lindsay making the opposite trek from north of the border as he signs on a Free after a career spent at Kilmarnock so far, while 19 year old Mike Brown arrives on loan from Doncaster Rovers, after a fairly average temporary move to Morecambe two seasons ago. Also arriving on loan is talented left footed utility player Justin Scott from Middlesbrough, who has previously spent time on loan with Scottish side Livingston.

Retained from last season is quite a mixed bag of players. They're fairly solid in goal, with well travelled veteran Stuart Nelson seemingly finding a home at Saltergate, as he goes into his fifth season with the club. 28 year old Youth Product and Utility player Jamie Lowry has played over 300 League games for the club now, and remains and important part of the setup. 30 year old former Australian Under-21 International centre back Aaron Downes can top that, as has played more than 400 times in League football for the club, where he has spent eleven seasons and not missed many games. They can call upon an International from down under as well, 24 times capped New Zealand forward Allan Pearce is now 32, but has signed a new deal for a fifth season with the club. He has a good strike partner now too, in 24 year old Adam Boyes, who has just come off his best ever season, with 16 League strikes last season.

Pre-Season Friendly
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Chesterfield
Attendance :-
357. Weather :- Showers, 17c.

Only one change made from the weekends opening pre-season tilt here with Bradford City, and that is amongst the substitutes, where the injured Lee Mooney is replaced by fellow Youth Intake full back Jason Campbell. The Coca-Cola League Two side had us pinned back deep from early on, Mike Brown's eighth minute screamer of an effort from 25 yards out only just missed the top corner, before Stuart Flemming got a lot closer, his close range header from Thomas Shaw's corner coming back off the goal frame. Allan Pearce had the next go, missing the target after collecting Browns knock down in the box. He had a much better chance moments later, Andy Dickinson and Robbie Fisk getting their wires crossed, Gerard Doherty coming to their rescue to take the ball off Pearce's head as he looked set for an easy finish. Shaw sent a free kick across goal and right through our six yard box on the half hour mark as the one way traffic continued, and the goal they deserved would soon arrive. Jamie Lowry sent a through ball into the box for Adam Boyes, and as he spun away from Dickinson, the centre back caught his trailing leg, conceding a penalty and getting booked for his trouble. Justin Scott sent the spot kick in via the post with a sidefooted effort, and we were deservedly behind. It did at least shake us into life a little, Pat McIlroy's shot on the turn was too high though. And the status quo quickly resumed, Shaw curling a free kick around the wall and off the inside of the post, Doherty gratefully fell on it, before Pearce went for a more primitive blasted effort when they earned another free kick in first half injury time, but he missed the target.

We had been completely and utterly dominated in that first half, and I made ten changes to switch every outfield player for the remainder of the match. That didn't go so well, and seven minutes after the restart we were two down. There was a large slice of luck to this one, we were setup to defend a set piece, which was part cleared, but the ball went back out to Brown, and he found Lowry, the utility player letting go a shot from the edge of the box, which took a huge deflection off Gerry Nixon, wrong footing Doherty and finding the bottom corner. If anything, Chesterfield were upping their game now, and number three arrived just after the hour, Pearce making a run from the centre of the park into the right channel, and then sliding a diagonal pass between our defence to Boyes as he broke the offside trap, and cooly sidefooted past Doherty to make it 3-0. I was hoping they would start making some changes of their own, but they made only two with Scott and Brown being replaced. We did win a series of corners to try and get a foothold back in the game, Keith Steenson thumping a header against the bar after connecting with a Chris Jones delivery, before he sent in a lofted cross from just inside the box on the right, and picked out young Andy McMillan, who got in front of Aaron Downes and buried his header high into the net to pull us back into the game just a little. With a little under a quarter of an hour to play, they made another two changes, Lindsay and Pearce replaced this time, and they soon found a fourth, sub Ryan Lynch sending the overlapping Shaw free down the right, and he picked out Boyes near the penalty spot, who volleyed his shot into the ground and it bounced back up and in. That gave our visitors the confidence to make more changes, and go for more goals, though I thought Jason Campbell was very unfortunate to have a penalty awarded against him with five minutes to go, as he tangled legs with Matthew Fox as Glenn Harbinson cleared the ball. With Scott off, Phil Picken took this one, and blasted it low into the corner to complete a pretty miserable afternoon for us, which could have got worse but for Doherty tipping over David Meyler's drive from range.

Coleraine (0) 1 - Andy McMillan (66)
Chesterfield (1) 5 - Justin Scott (34 pen), Gerry Nixon (52 og), Adam Boyes (61,81), Phil Picken (86 pen)
Gerard Doherty; Declan O'Hara (Robert Donaghy 45), Andy Dickinson (Glenn Harbinson 45), Robbie Fisk (Keith Steenson 45); Tony Jones (Aaron Smyth 45), Stewart Devine (Jason Campbell 45); Gavin Whelan © (John Robertson 45); Chris Johnston (Chris Jones 45), Matty Robson (Ryan Twist 45); Stuart Shaw (Andy McMillan 45), Pat McIlroy (Gerry Nixon 45).

Unused Substitutes :- Trevor Smyth (GK), Michael McCartney.
Bookings :- Andy Dickinson 33
Possession :- 48% - 52%. Man of the Match :- Adam Boyes (Chesterfield).

That was a fairly brutal lesson from the Coca-Cola League Two side from across the Irish Sea, and we have a lot of work to do before the new season starts in just over a weeks time. We have two more games before then, though one is earmarked to play a weakened side when we make the short trip to play Coleraine Crusaders in less than forty eight hours time.

It's vital we get ourselves some kind of pick me up now from those games, as we have been given a fairly kind early season fixture list, and we don't want to find ourselves in a position where we are kicking ourselves later on down the road if we make a slow start, as that is pretty much what happened last season before I arrived.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Friday 24th July 2015
Our efforts to bring in another keeper to challenge Gerard Doherty continue to hit brick walls, with clubs unwilling to let players go, the players having preferable options, or in some cases, just flat out not wanting to come to The Showgrounds to play either for us, or at this level of football.

Under normal circumstances, a game tonight against non-League neighbours Coleraine Crusaders would be a chance to fill our boots. The Anderson Park outfit who play at an amateur level are a feeder team to us, and we are obliged to play this fixture. But just two days after a tough mauling from Chesterfield, I'll be playing a much weakened lineup tomorrow afternoon. They have a lack of quality that should mean a comfortable evening for us across town, 31 year old left back Alan Walls has been a career player at Crusaders, but has now been told he can find another club, as has 28 year old centre back Nigel Campbell. On the left wing, there isn't much more certainty over the future of 26 year old left winger Roland Riley, who is out of contract at the club.

Saturday 25th July

Pre-Season Friendly
Anderson Park, Coleraine
Coleraine Crusaders v Coleraine
Attendance :-
58. Weather :- Dry, 23c.

We make the short trip across town to face amateur side Coleraine Crusaders, making eleven changes from the starting lineup that faced Bradford City and Chesterfield, though seven of those starters are on the bench today. Even Gerard Doherty gets a rest, as young keeper Trevor Smyth gets a start in a lineup consisting of young players, and some of those expected to be on the fringes of the First Team this season. Robert Donaghy gets a start at centre back, joined by youngsters Glenn Harbinson and Joe Gibbons, with former Bristol City youngster Ray Doran at right back, and Jason Campbell at left back. Club Captain Keith Steenson starts in midfield, with Chris Jones and Irish youngster Scott Francis on the flanks, while Andy McMillan is selected up front, partnered with Matthew Dornan.

After a quiet opening spell, we started to apply some pressure, Chris Jones 11th minute mazy run finally got him into the right channel of the Crusaders penalty box, but his chipped cross failed to find a blue shirted team mate. Undeterred, he tried again, this time winning a corner which Scott Francis whipped into the middle, Andy McMillan not able to adjust himself enough to get his awkward looking header onto the target. It wasn't unfamiliar to our own effort to hold out the tide against Chesterfield, as the Crusaders failed to really get into our half, much less trouble our keeper. But to our frustration, we were unable to create anything clear cut on goal, a Jason Campbell cross from the left finding skipper Keith Steenson, but his shot was partly blocked, taking all the pace from it. That changed in the 32nd minute though, Steenson clipping the ball to the left for Francis, and the teenager sent in a quick cross that Matthew Dornan brought down, before taking it away from a defender and blasting the ball home from ten yards out to put us ahead. Jones continued to be the tormenter in chief to the Crusaders, skipping past defenders at will, Rab Todd in particular struggling to keep him at bay, but the best of his crosses, a low slung effort, rolled right through the six yard box.

So just the one goal in a first half that we made desperately hard work of. I made only one change at the break though, Steenson replaced by John Robertson, who was also in need of some game time. Not that we looked any better after the restart, Andy McMillan resorting to shooting from range as the mid point of the second half approached, before then chesting the ball down to Jones, who's low cross rolled right through to keeper Jonathan McKenna, with Dornan claiming a penalty, believing he was being held by Nigel Campbell, the referee disagreeing. As Crusaders got their first sight of goal, Neil Mooney driving across the face of the target, I turned to my bench. Half a dozen changes were made, with Robert Donaghy, Ray Doran, Campbell, Jones, Francis and McMillan all replaced, as on came Robbie Fisk, Robbie Walsh, Stewart Devine, Gavin Whelan asked to play on the right wing, young prospect James Nicholl on the left, and Pat McIlroy joining the forward line. It was not a success, McIlroy getting into a shoving match with Campbell, who was booked, while our striker wasn't the only one failing to provide any real action. Until the final minute that was. Jackie Rainey switched the play from left to right, and John Cassidy was right in front of my bench when he sent in an inswiging cross. It beat everyone. 'Catch it Trevor', I yelled from the sideline. Too late. The young keeper hadn't spotted the danger, and could only put in a last ditch and unsuccessful diving effort to reach the overhit cross as it crept inside the far post. How embarrassing!

Coleraine Crusaders (0) 1 - John Cassidy (89)
Coleraine (1) 1 - Matthew Dornan (32)
Trevor Smyth; Glenn Harbinson, Robert Donaghy (Robbie Fisk 66), Joe Gibbons; Ray Doran (Robbie Walsh 66), Jason Campbell (Stewart Devine 66); Keith Steenson © (John Robertson 45); Chris Jones (Gavin Whelan 66), Scott Francis (James Nicholl 66); Matthew Dornan, Andy McMillan (Pat McIlroy 66).

Unused Substitutes :- Gerard Doherty (GK), Andy Dickinson, Michael McCartney, Chris Johnston, Ryan Twist.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 41% - 59%. Man of the Match :- Jackie Rainey (Coleraine Crusaders).

You'll not be needing me to tell you that wasn't anywhere near good enough. Am I over-estimating our squad strength and prospects here, or was this just 'another of those days'. I have to admit, that with the League start now just a week away, and only one more Friendly to play before then, I am starting to get a little concerned.

Sunday 26th July
My concern isn't being helped by our continued failure to bring in a goalkeeper of credible level to challenge Gerard Doherty for the number one jersey. Three more have knocked us back over the weekend, and the list of candidates for the role continues to get shorter and shorter.

The Northern Irish Trial Day will take place this week, and there are some decent Free Agent players kicking about still, but with no money to pay them, we will be onlookers only it would seem.

Monday 27th July
I am asked to name my Captain and Vice-Captain for the 2015/16 campaign today. With only one new face who would likely be considered in the conversation, that being veteran centre back Declan O'Hara, I elect to leave things as they are, with local lad Keith Steenson remaining Club Captain, and Irishman and midfielder Gavin Whelan his deputy.

Tuesday 28th July
As another trio of goalkeepers reject us, I hit upon a hare brained scheme to try and circumnavigate our inability to get a keeper signed, and potentially exploit a loophole in the rule book. It may work, or it may not, but right now, it is our best shot.

Tomorrow evening we play our penultimate Friendly of the schedule, but also our final one before the First Division season kicks off on Saturday. We travel for that match to face Killymoon Rangers, who only started their pre-season campaign last Friday evening, losing 1-0 to the Queens University Belfast side that we'll face on Saturday, giving this fixture an added twist. Their summer recruitment has been almost non-existent, bringing in only one player, a goalkeeper ironically, while losing a dozen from last years squad, including one of their better players in veteran striker Paul Baron, who has decided to try his luck across the Irish Sea in Wales with Port Talbot Town. They finished a comfortable mid table seventh last season, though they have dropped down a place each year since missing out on promotion to the First Division by a single point in 2011/12. And they might struggle to buck that trend if they can't hold onto their best remaining player through the rest of this Transfer Window, 20 year old Manchester born and former City trainee, Tony Vaughan, who is being linked with a return to England.

Wednesday 29th July

Pre-Season Friendly
Mid-Ulster Sports Arena, Cookstown
Killymoon Rangers v Coleraine
Attendance :-
83. Weather :- Dry, 27c.

The Mid-Ulster Sports Arena may sound a bit grand, but don't be fooled, it's a 2,000 capacity facility with no seating, and hosts a small club who are one of the favourites to be relegated from the Second Division this season. We're back to the 4-2-2-2 wide that we used for the majority of last season, as we try and give ourselves some kind of boost before we go into the new season on the weekend. Declan O'Hara and Andy Dickinson are paired at centre back, with John Robertson selected ahead of Keith Steenson to join Gavin Whelan in the centre of the park. Up front, it's Pat McIlroy and Stuart Shaw. The substitutes bench is trimmed down to only those likely to be involved in the First Team setup, meaning we go three short.

The first real attack with intent didn't come until the 11th minute, Tony Jones finding Chris Johnston with a throw in near the right corner of the box, and he swung a low pass across to the left corner, where Stewart Devine was all alone, having time to bring the ball under control, and send a low driven shot past Andy Magee and inside the near post to open the scoring. Chances were exchanged over the next ten minutes or so, Tony Vaughan sending a shot from range just over the bar, while at the other end, Stuart Shaw was played in between the centre backs, shooting as they closed him down, his shot hitting the angle of the goal frame on its way over. With ten minutes to play before the break, Vaughan won the ball down the Rangers right and got it to George Gamble. The midfielder laid it off to Dermot McVeigh, who twisted and turned while being harried by both Declan O'Hara and Andy Dickinson, and slammed a shot across goal and into the far corner to level the match back up. But before the break we had the lead back, Jones making an excellent run down the right before finding Johnston in the box. He slipped a pass to Shaw, who picked out Pat McIlroy in the six yard box, the striker stabbing the finish between the legs of the on rushing Magee to reinstate our lead.

We have our noses in front at the break, and make no changes, while Rangers make a handful of changes. What we needed was a nice steady start to the second half to settle ourselves down. What we got was newly introduced sub Gary Robinson swinging over a corner, which Gamble reached unmarked at the far post to sidefoot home from close range just seventy seconds after the restart. Within moments of being pegged back, we had two great chances to go back in front. First Johnston made a great run down the right, cutting the ball back from the byline to the near post, Shaw looking set for a tap in, but a pair of defenders threw themselves in front of the ball to block his finish. Then Gavin Whelan played McIlroy into the box, his shot on the turn was across the face of the goal and wide though. Midway through the half I make nine changes, every outfield player with the exception of Devine as we have no left back on the bench, a move instigated when Jones picked up a knock. His namesake Chris Jones made a great early impact down the right, his cross to the far post met by Andy McMillan, his header back across goal was just off target. With quarter of an hour to play, Gerry Nixon held the ball up and then took the long way around and took his shot, sending it over the bar. We won it back quickly from the goal kick though, and when Nixon got the ball outside the box again, this time he showed a deft touch, clipping a pass through to Ryan Twist, the left winger slotted the ball low past Magee to put us in front for a third time. Rangers made the rest of their changes as they attempted to get level once more, while we suffered an injury blow with just three minutes left on the clock, the only outfield player being asked to play the full ninety minutes, Devine, forced off with a knock. That's a blow. As was being pegged back for a third time with just a minute left on the clock, William Wilkinson with a superb cross from the left to the far post, Adam McGeown's downward header stopped by Gerard Doherty, but Robinson slammed home the loose ball from three yards out!

Killymoon Rangers (1) 3 - Dermot McVeigh (36), George Gamble (47), Gary Robinson (89)
Coleraine (2) 3 - Stewart Devine (11), Pat McIlroy (44), Ryan Twist (76)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (inj - Aaron Smyth 67), Declan O'Hara (Robert Donaghy 67), Andy Dickinson (Robbie Fisk 67), Stewart Devine (inj - 87); John Robertson (Keith Steenson 67), Gavin Whelan © (Michael McCartney 67); Chris Johnston (Chris Jones 67), Matty Robson (Ryan Twist 67); Stuart Shaw (Andy McMillan 67), Pat McIlroy (Gerry Nixon 67).

Unused Substitutes :- None.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 56% - 44%. Man of the Match :- George Gamble (Killymoon Rangers).

Well, that was the end of a pretty miserable pre-season, where we haven't managed a win despite playing two sides we should have beaten fairly comfortably, and been well and truly hammered by a visiting League Two side. It's like we have forgotten how to defend. Or maybe we are just being too adventurous going forward.

And now we top it off with injuries to both our starting full backs just days before the season starts. Both will miss the First Division opener with Queens University this weekend, Stewart Devine may only miss that one though, as he has only suffered a dead leg. Tony Jones is a bit more serious though, he has damaged his elbow after landing awkwardly midway through the second half. At least we have a Senior replacement for him.

Friday 31st July
It's the eve of the new season, and almost half of the clubs in the basement Second Division are looking to make last minute additions to their squads, with offers to loan 17 year old Irish left wing prospect Scott Francis for the season. Four of their offers are accepted, with all offering to pay his £75 weekly wage in full, though all are told that we reserve the right to recall him if necessary.

The odds are released for the First Division Promotion Race, and the two relegated clubs are heavily fancied to go right back up, with rivals Ballymena United installed as the Even money favourites, followed by Distillery at 5/4. It's us as third favourites priced at 7/4, followed by Donegal Celtic at 5/2 and Carrick Rangers at 5/1. You can get odds of at least 16/1 on anybody else in the Division.

Where's my money going? Well, when asked that question in the pre-match press conference, I tell the assembled press that I like our chances. I might have needed as much convincing as anyone else however.

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Third favourites doesn't sound too bad, but you're right in that preseason has been a bit of a shocker. Fingers crossed the boys fire when it counts - you've more than earned a bit of success at this point! Enjoying this as ever Neil, keep up the good work.

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2015/16 Coleraine FC Pen Pictures (Stats from before save began in 2008/09 may be incomplete)
First Team Squad

Goalkeepers :-

Gerard Doherty (GK). 33 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Derry, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 13st 9lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £150 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 16/7/2012 from AFC Wimbledon (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 26. Goals Conceded - 33. Clean Sheets - 8.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 337 (87). Goals Conceded - 202 (106). Clean Sheets - 49 (25).
Not just our first choice, Gerard is at the moment our only choice! He made some great saves last season to help us up the table and earned a new one year deal. An unconvincing pre-season has left us trying to find some competition for him now though.
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Defenders :- 

Andy Dickinson (D RC, DM, M RC). 19 years old. English.
Born :- Rawmarsh, England. 5'11. 12st 8lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £160 per week. Value :- £0.
Joined Club :- 1/1/2015 from Penrhiwceiber Rangers (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 32. Goals - 4. Assists - 5.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 32 (14). Goals - 4 (0). Assists - 5 (0).
Brought in on a Free Transfer from lower League football in Wales, Andy helped shore up our defence as we moved up the First Division table. Now the 19 year old former Sheffield Wednesday youngster needs to step up to the next level for us.

Stewart Devine (D L, M C). 31 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Edinburgh, Scotland. 5'10. 9 st 8lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £60 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 6/1/2015 from Institute (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 24. Goals - 1. Assists - 1.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 307 (9). Goals - 18 (0). Assists - 23 (0).
One of the best arrivals of the January Transfer Window, and a player who provides excellent value for a £60 a week pay packet. Hugely experienced with time spent right across the UK and Ireland, and likely a very important player for us this season.

Declan O'Hara (D C). 32 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Belfast, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 12st 1lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 2 years, £350 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2015 from Cliftonville (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 23. Goals - 2. Assists - 4.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 361 (16). Goals - 13 (0). Assists - 35 (0).
There isn't much the hugely experienced 32 year old left footed centre back hasn't won in Northern Ireland, including a Winners medal at this level last season with Cliftonville. Brought in on a big money contract in comparison to the majority of our squad, with the aim of taking our defence up a level.

Robbie Fisk (D C). 20 years old. English.
Born :- London, England. 6'2. 13st 5lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £160 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/1/2015 from Portstewart (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 15. Goals - 2. Assists - 1.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 15 (7). Goals - 2 (0). Assists - 1 (0).
Another brought in to help our defence in the Winter Window. The former Arsenal youngster joined from feeder club Portstewart, and did okay without quite finding a consistent level. Will be one of those concerned for his place after our summer strengthening of the rearguard.

Robert Donaghy (D C). 20 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 5'11. 13st. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £20 per week. Value :- £4,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2010 from Youth Intake.
Last Season :- League Matches - 20. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 22 (22). Goals - 1 (1). Assists - 2 (2).
Homegrown player who really broke into the First Team picture last season, though made several costly mistakes and played less after the arrival of reinforcements at the turn of the year. There's significant doubt into how much playing time he will get this season, though at £20 per week, there is no rush to move him on. Still adds value as a squad player here.

Aaron Smyth (D,WB R). 28 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Unknown. 5'9. 11st 11lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £190 per week. Value :- £2,000.
Joined Club :- 7/8/2014 from Lincoln City (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 7. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 172 (7). Goals - 5 (0). Assists - 13 (0).
An early season broken leg ruined Aaron's return to Ulster after some good seasons in England and Scotland for the former Cliftonville man. His frustration was compounded when he found newly arrived Tony Jones firmly in his way when he returned to fitness, and he is attracting interest from England that could yet see him make another summer move.

Tony Jones (D,WB R). 19 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Sauchie, Scotland. 6'0. 12st 10lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £200 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 9/12/2014 from Free Agent.
Last Season :- League Matches - 14. Goals - 1. Assists - 2.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 14 (14). Goals - 1 (1). Assists - 2 (2).
Arrived in December five months after being released by Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He was pitched into the first Senior matches of his career, and he wasn't found wanting. He has to be considered first choice, but an injury suffered in midweek against Killymoon will give Smyth a chance to shove his foot in the door.
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Midfielders/Wingers :-

Keith Steenson (D C, DM, M C). 19 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 6'0. 12st 6lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £20 per week. Value :- £12,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2011 from Youth Intake.
Last Season :- League Matches - 20. Goals - 1. Assists - 1.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 40 (40). Goals - 1 (1). Assists - 1 (1).
The Club Captain, hugely popular hometown lad, most valuable player in the squad, still a teenager, and still one of the lowest paid players at the club. Keith hit the 40 league appearance mark for the club he loves last season, but now has increased competition for a place, and despite a best season so far in his career, it may be that we still don't know which is his best position, and what kind of role he will have in the First Team this season.

Michael McCartney (D C, DM, M C). 25 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Unknown. 5'10. 12st 8 lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £350 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2015 from Brantwood (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 29. Goals - 8. Assists - 3.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 173 (0). Goals - 15 (0). Assists - 27 (0).
Was impressive in Brantwoods defeat against us in the Northern Irish Cup, and we kept an eye on him, money talking when it was clear he was ready to step up a few levels. We are taking a risk, this is the highest level he has played at, and he has become one of the top earners at the club. Looks keen to get his head down and work to crack the lineup.

John Robertson (DM, M C). 20 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Ayr, Scotland. 6'0. 12st 10lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £80 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 5/12/2014 from Free Agent.
Last Season :- League Matches - 13. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 41 (13). Goals - 2 (0). Assists - 1 (0).
Was a youngster at Somerset Park during my time with Ayr United, and I sent him on loan to Queen's Park, where he played his only First Team football up to being released last summer. I quickly signed him when I arrived here, and he shrugged off the casting as an industrial and strong midfielder, showing some lovely touches on the ball too. Loving his time at the club so far, and he is fast becoming a regular in the First Team.

Chris Jones (AM R). 19 years old. English.
Born :- Crosby, England. 5'8. 11st 2lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £190 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 8/7/2014 from Free Agent.
Last Season :- League Matches - 17. Goals - 3. Assists - 2.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 17 (17). Goals - 3 (3). Assists - 2 (2).
Fleet footed and skillful, Liverpool born and bred, Chris didn't make it with the club he loves. A trial with feeder club Portstewart brought him to the clubs attention, and he joined last summer. He didn't do too badly in his first season of Senior football, but he is most definitely over-paid, and the Winter Window arrival of Chris Johnston cut down his First Team opportunities.

Gavin Whelan (AM RC). 31 years old. Irish.
Born :- Dublin, Republic of Ireland. 5'10. 11st 9lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £180 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2014 from Glebe Rangers (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 25. Goals - 5. Assists - 4.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 359 (58). Goals - 38 (8). Assists - 42 (11).
Arrived last summer for a second spell at The Showgrounds after a year with Glebe Rangers. The Vice-Captain, and one of the oldest and most experienced players in the squad, but the stats suggest Gavin is just hitting his prime. Remarkably consistent, he is coming off the best season average rating of his career, and will certainly remain an important part of our squad.

Chris Johnston (AM R, ST). 20 years old. Northern Irish (Under-19 International).
Born :- Ballymena, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 13st 5lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £180 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/1/2015 from Wakehurst (£1,000).
Last Season :- League Matches - 22. Goals - 9. Assists - 5.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 62 (14). Goals - 29 (3). Assists - 6 (2).
Brought in from Wakehurst where he was prolific in front of goal, but has been utilised in our weaker right wing area. Very capable of popping up with a goal, or creating one with his pace and skill. Will be looked to as someone to provide service for the strikers.

Matty Robson (AM L). 30 years old. English.
Born :- Durham, England. 5'9. 11st 0lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £275 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 7/8/2013 from Shrewsbury Town (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 26. Goals - 2. Assists - 7.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 292 (47). Goals - 24 (4). Assists - 22 (7).
The first choice winger on the opposite side, Matty needs to show he's worth his salary, while also trying to keep new signing Ryan Twist out of the side. The former Hartlepool Town and Shrewsbury Town man recorded a career high seven assists in the League last season, but now needs to add a few goals to his output.

Ryan Twist (AM L). 27 years old. English.
Born :- Leamington Spa, England. 5'10. 11st 0lbs. Left Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £130 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2015 from Ballymoney United (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 19. Goals - 1. Assists - 11.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 88 (0). Goals - 7 (0). Assists - 22 (0).
Caught the eye last season with by far the best campaign of his career, despite missing several chunks of it with injuries. He's been brought in to give Robson a fight for his place, though he is known to be somewhat injury prone. He is the best crosser in the squad though, and if he can regularly pick out his strikers, he might not be so easy to keep out of the side.
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Strikers :-

Gerry Nixon (AM R, ST). 20 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Crossgates, Scotland. 6'2. 14st 9lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £120 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 5/12/2014 from Free Agent.
Last Season :- League Matches - 12. Goals - 4. Assists - 3.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 44 (12). Goals - 18 (4). Assists - 5 (3).
One of my first signings after arriving at The Showgrounds, and he made an immediate impact, providing goals and assists at a time we were struggling to hit the net. He is a nightmare for defenders with his size and strength, and more of the same would be great this season.

Andy McMillan (ST). 18 years old. Northern Irish.
Born :- Coleraine, Northern Ireland. 6'3. 14st 2lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £0 per week. Value :- £1,000.
Joined Club :- 15/6/2012 from Youth Intake.
Last Season :- League Matches - 2. Goals - 0. Assists - 0.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 4 (4). Goals - 0 (0). Assists - 0 (0).
The latest product of the Coleraine youth system to start pushing for a First Team place. He has appeared twice in each of the last two seasons, and is capable of causing similar problems to Nixon. That pre-season goal at home to Chesterfield could be a huge boost, and he is one to keep an eye on this season, the last year of his Youth contract.

Pat McIlroy (ST). 20 years old. Northern Irish (7 Under-21 Caps / 2 Goals).
Born :- Belfast, Northern Ireland. 6'2. 13st 7lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 2 years, £200 per week. Value :- £3,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2015 from Glentoran (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 18. Goals - 3. Assists - 0.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 28 (0). Goals - 5 (0). Assists - 0 (0).
The young striker has been brought in to try and fire the goals to take us to promotion. Cracking the Glentoran lineup is no easy feat, and he was fairly regular in their side last season. At this level, I'd expect him to find the net regularly and be amongst the leading scorers in the Division. Just like Nixon and McMillan, his sheer size makes him a handful to mark. He's also a current Northern Irish Under-21 International.

Stuart Shaw (ST). 22 years old. Scottish.
Born :- Longside, Scotland. 5'10. 11st 2lbs. Right Footed.
Contract :- 1 year, £100 per week. Value :- £6,000.
Joined Club :- 1/7/2013 from Caersws (Free Transfer).
Last Season :- League Matches - 23. Goals - 8. Assists - 5.
Career (Coleraine) :- League Matches - 64 (53). Goals - 17 (16). Assists - 5 (5).
Last seasons top scorer, matching his tally from the season before despite playing 25% less games, and also adding five assists for good measure. The former Aberdeen youth prospect provides great value for his £100 per week salary, and is the odd one out amongst our striker options, smaller and faster. The perfect foil for a big striker.
-------------------------

Notable Reserve/Youth Players :-

Trevor Smyth (GK) 19 years old - 6'2, Northern Irish
Ray Doran (D R) 21 years old - 6'0, English
Michael Downey (DM, M C) 18 years old - 5'7, Northern Irish
Nigel Buchanan (DM, M C) 18 years old - 6'0, Northern Irish
Gary Campbell (M C) 17 years old - 5'9, Northern Irish
Greg White (M C) 18 years old - 5'10, Northern Irish
James Nicholl (AM L) 18 years old - 5'9, Northern Irish
Matthew Dornan (AM LC, ST) 20 years old - 6'4, Northern Irish
Richard Salisbury (ST) 19 years old - 5'9, Welsh (Under-19 International) - On Loan at Portstewart
Robbie Allen (ST) 19 years old - 6'3, Northern Irish
-------------------------

Shane McAree (GK) 17 years old - 5'11, Northern Irish
Liam McDonnell (D R) 16 years old - 6'0, Northern Irish
Timmy Curran (D RL) 16 years old - 5'9, Northern Irish
Robbie Walsh (D RC, DM, M RC) 17 years old - 5'9, Northern Irish
Jason Campbell (D L) 16 years old - 6'0, Northern Irish
Gary Donnelly (D C) 17 years old - 6'3, Northern Irish
Glenn Harbinson (D C) 16 years old - 6'4, Northern Irish
Jeff Houston (D C) 16 years old - 5'11, Northern Irish
Lee Mooney (D,WB L) 16 years old - 5'10, Northern Irish
Matt Young (DM, M C) 17 years old - 5'11, Northern Irish
Colin Canning (AM R) 16 years old - 6'0, Northern Irish
Scott Francis (AM LC) 17 years old - 5'10, Irish
Stuart Wilson (AM L) 17 years old - 5'10, Northern Irish
Joseph Nixon (AM C, ST) 17 years old - 6'1, Northern Irish
Darren Doyle (ST) 16 years old - 6'4, Northern Irish
Martin Friars (ST) 16 years old - 6'0, Northern Irish
-------------------------

Staff :-

Chairman - Hugh Wade - Northern Irish
Manager - Neil Hoskins - 37 years old - Welsh
Assistant Manager - Geoff Ferris - 52 years old - Northern Irish
First Team Coach - Aaron Forgrave - 54 years old - Northern Irish
Youth Coach - Neil McLean - 37 years old - Northern Irish
Physiotherapist - Alan Millar - 31 years old - Northern Irish
Scout - John Weir - 45 years old - Northern Irish
-------------------------

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Neil Hoskins.
37 years old. Welsh. Uncapped.
Reputation :- National. Contract :- Full Time, 2 years, £220 per week.
Previous Experience :- Sunday League Footballer.

Managerial Statistics.
Club/Player Loyalty :- 6. Domestic Players Bias :- 19. Financial Control :- 8.
Hands On Approach :- 7. Squad Discipline :- 16. Tactical Consistency :- 17.

Season Expectations :-
Achieve A Respectable Position In The First Division.
Transfer Budget :- £0. Wage Budget :- £2,897 per week. Currently Spending :- £3,533 per week.
-------------------------

Coleraine FC.
Founded :- 1927. Nickname :- The Bannsiders. Status :- Semi-Professional. Reputation :- National. Value :- £325,000.
Chairman Status :- Enjoying life at the club. Finances :- Okay (-£260,000).
Club Colours :- Home - Blue and White Stripes. Away - Yellow, with Blue Trim.
Club Legends :- Pat McAllister, Paul Gaston, Marty Quinn. Club Icons :- None. Favoured Personnel :- Stuart Shaw.
Fierce Rivals :- Ballymena United, Limavady United. Other Rivals :- Institute, Coleraine Crusaders.
Honours :-  *Northern Ireland Premier Division Winners - 1974. 
                     *Northern Ireland First Division Winners - 1996,2012.
                     *Northern Ireland Cup Winners - 1965,1972,1975,1977,2003
                     *Northern Ireland League Cup Winners - 1954,1969,1988
                     *Northern Ireland Intermediate Cup Winners - 2013
Last Season :- 5th in Northern Irish First Division.

Coleraine Showgrounds, Coleraine, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Capacity :- 6,500 (1,000 seats). Condition :- Average. Surface :- Grass. Surface Condition :- Very Good.
Adequate Corporate Facilities, Fairly Basic Training Facilities, Basic Youth Facilities and Youth Academy.
-------------------------

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4 hours ago, EvilDave said:

Third favourites doesn't sound too bad, but you're right in that preseason has been a bit of a shocker. Fingers crossed the boys fire when it counts - you've more than earned a bit of success at this point! Enjoying this as ever Neil, keep up the good work.

Very hard to get a read on how this First Division may play out this season, with plenty of clubs losing players and not replacing them. We also have our financial issues to be aware of, which seem now to be more of a focus for the Board. I'd like to think we will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

I've had no success of any note since leaving Lurgan Celtic, unless you include keeping Lokomotiv Minsk and Maidstone United from the drop. Would be nice to turn the corner this season and build my reputation back up. Good to have you along as always ED, and I hope you're well.

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On 16/09/2020 at 20:12, tenthreeleader said:

As always, a strong effort from the Mod. Well done, sir and good luck this season!

Cheers 10-3, appreciate that. Good to see you back around, and looking forward to catching up with your new story.

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Saturday 1st August 2015
The new season starts today, and we're looking to get ourselves off to a flyer at home to Queens University Belfast. We're nailed on favourites with the bookies, and I'm hoping we can put that poor pre-season behind us this afternoon. QUB had a more successful pre-season than us, winning two of their three matches, including a win at Killymoon, where we only managed a draw.

QUB have signed absolutely no one this summer, while losing several players from last seasons squad that finished ninth. Homegrown keeper Stuart Reid has moved across to England to sign for Redditch, while forward Mark Scott is giving it a second try in England, signing for Havant & Waterlooville. Another homegrown player, full John Mackle has also moved across the Irish Sea, signing for AFC Hornchurch. To be honest, it doesn't leave them with too much quality. They do have Glenn Walsh at centre back, a player who I moved into the First Team during my time with Lurgan Celtic, and is now moving into his fourth season with QUB. Their chronic lack of height at the back is helped out by former Southampton youngster Ryan Tafazolli, who stands at 6'5. Further up the park, 24 year old former Hamilton Academical youngster Liam Fagan was one of their best performers last season, and they'll be relieved he is still at Newforge Lane. They'll be hoping that he can renew his partnership with Jordan Hughes, a former youngster at Portsmouth who has been capped at Under-21 level for Northern Ireland, and enjoyed the best season of his career so far last campaign.

Northern Irish First Division
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Queens University Belfast
Attendance :-
240. Weather :- Dry, 17c.

I've decided a little caution is necessary, so our attacking style is curbed a bit, with a slow and methodical approach requested, and with more responsibility to the defensive side of the game too. With Tony Jones and Stewart Devine both missing, Aaron Smyth is selected at right back, while on the opposite side there is a Senior Debut for Youth Intake lad Jason Campbell. In the middle of the back four, there is a second time around Coleraine debut for Declan O'Hara, who is joined by Andy Dickinson. Wearing the Captain's armband in midfield is Gavin Whelan, with John Robertson joining him, while there is also a club debut up front for Pat McIlroy, who partners Stuart Shaw. We have no keeper on the bench, where there are two more potential debutants for us in Michael McCartney and Ryan Twist.

It would take ten minutes for an attack of note, before Gavin Whelan won the ball in midfield, and played it forward to Pat McIlroy. The debutant striker played it square to strike partner Stuart Shaw, but his effort was just too high for his aimed target of the top right corner. At the other end moments later, Liam Fagan latched onto Michael Todd's huge clearance down the park, but he also couldn't hit the target. The wait for a shot on target continued, Whelan's corner delivery coming back to him, but he pulled his ambitious looking shot well wide of the near post. The next corner worked much better in the 27th minute, Matty Robson sending it over from the other side, and he picked out a mismatch at the near post, Fagan doing a poor job of marking Andy Dickinson, and his glanced and downward header found its way through the crowd and into the net, his first goal for the club. A lead was great news for our chances of opening the season on a winning note, and those chances improved further just over five minutes later. John Robertson ruined a short throw routine from QUB, and got the ball to Pat McIlroy. Young full back Jim Kelly took out his frustration on the new signing, and brought him down with a crude and badly timed two footed tackle that earned him a well deserved straight red card. That would give us the confidence and space to control the game, though we only created one more chance before the break, Whelan finding McIlroy, the striker using his strength to roll his marker, but blasting his shot high over the bar.

With the game well under control, I made a change at the break, Robertson lacking match fitness and replaced by Keith Steenson during the interval. But once the action got underway, we were too keen to let QUB have the ball and only force them back when they moved towards our penalty box. That caused a concern when just after the hour mark, their sub Graham McLaughlin twisted past Senior debutant Jason Campbell and sent an inswinger right under our cross bar. Both Ian Quinn and Stephen Calderwood tried to get underneath it, but Gerard Doherty stood strong, getting up above them both and punching the ball clear of danger. I made another change with just under 20 minutes to play, and it was a club debut for Michael McCartney, as he replaced Whelan. A short while later, Campbell got the ball down the left, and he played a through ball into the box, where Robson collected it and rounded Todd, only to see Ryan Tafazolli clear the ball off the line and behind for a corner. I made my final change in the last ten minutes, with Robson replaced and Ryan Twist becoming the fifth debutant of the day for us. With their man disadvantage, QUB were unable to get a shot on target, and we kick off the campaign with a win.

Coleraine (1) 1 - Andy Dickinson (27)
Queens University Belfast (0) 0
Gerard Doherty; Aaron Smyth, Declan O'Hara, Andy Dickinson, Jason Campbell; John Robertson (Keith Steenson 45), Gavin Whelan © (Michael McCartney 71); Chris Johnston, Matty Robson (Ryan Twist 83); Stuart Shaw, Pat McIlroy.
Unused Substitutes :- Robbie Fisk, Gerry Nixon.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 53% - 47%. Man of the Match :- Andy Dickinson (Coleraine).

That's more like it! Okay, granted, it is much easier to look secure in defence when you're playing ten men for almost an hour, but lets not let little details spoil the opening day of the season. We'll need a larger pool of examples before we can claim to have turned the corner from the horror show that was pre-season. As Saturday afternoons go, that was pretty comfortable. Far more comfortable than my meeting in the Boardroom later in the evening......

I was called up to meet with the Board about two hours after the game, once my press commitments and meet and greet with sponsors and such like were done. I was surprised to hear that they believed I could be doing a better job, though I was less surprised when they elaborated. They don't believe I've done enough to try and reduce the wage bill, and with the club losing nearly another £25,000 in July, taking the total debt up over the £260,000 mark, their patience seems to have snapped at this point. It is worth pointing out that the club were not far short of £200,000 in debt when I arrived eight months ago to the day.

The suits in the upstairs room then go on to contradict themselves by then stating they're very happy with the signing of Chris Johnston. We can't have it all ways though, and right now I've got to get the wage bill down, or I won't be here long enough to worry about whether I can meet the Boards season goals.

Sunday 2nd August
I spend my Sunday morning at The Showgrounds with my backroom team, and in front of us we have the contracts of every player in the First Team Squad. We don't have superb depth, so I want to limit the number of players that I move on to get us back down somewhere near the Wage Budget. There's no point moving out players who earn very little, and it would be smart to target the areas where we have some sort of depth.

After deliberating far longer than the judges drag out X-Factor at their houses, we have three names that we will look to move on. One will be fine with the news, the other two, maybe less so.

Monday 3rd August
At training this morning, the three players are informed that they are being Transfer Listed. As predicted, Aaron Smyth has no issues with that decision at all. That isn't quite the case for English pair Robbie Fisk and Chris Jones. The centre back and right winger may change their minds when they realise they're going to have plenty of options for new clubs. That said, the way things are going today, it doesn't look like we'll be able to get transfer fees for any of the trio, and will have to settle for getting their salaries off our books.

Only one of the three will be considered for the 65 mile trip south tomorrow evening, as we travel to take on newly promoted Bangor at Clandeboye Park. They started their season with a 1-0 defeat away to Police Service of Northern Ireland, and while they have performed quite a squad overhaul since being promoted as last seasons Second Division Runner's-Up, there doesn't appear to be a big uptick in the quality.

Tuesday 4th August

Northern Irish First Division
Clandeboye Park, Bangor
Bangor v Coleraine
Attendance :-
211. Weather :- Breezy, 27c.

A beautiful evening at the end of a scorching day on Northern Irelands east coast, with a nice breeze coming in from the Irish Sea. Neither Aaron Smyth or Chris Jones made the trip 75 minutes South East, as I shuffled the deck slightly from Saturday's win. Stewart Devine is still out, so Jason Campbell continues his quick exposure to Senior Football at left back. Tony Jones is also out, and with Aaron Smyth appearing to be on his way out, twenty one year old former Bristol City right back Ray Doran is summoned from the Reserves, he played just once in the League last season after I brought him in. The midfield pair are changed, with Keith Steenson and Michael McCartney replacing John Robertson and Gavin Whelan, while Ryan Twist replaces Matty Robson on the left wing. Up front, Gerry Nixon replaces Pat McIlroy today. Robbie Fisk, another of the trio potentially leaving the club soon, is included amongst the substitutes.

It was an ultra slow start to the game, with only one chance of any note in the opening quarter of an hour, Marvin Hyam's free kick from the right touchline was centred and found the head of Mark Treanor, but his effort from 15 yards out never threatened the target. Ray Doran picked up a booking shortly after, but aside from a couple of corners, it was drawing towards the half time interval by the time a nice bit of short passing set the overlapping right back Eddie Nixon into acres of space down the wing, but his cross was just too close to Gerard Doherty, who clutched the ball as Tony Stewart moved into position looking for a header. Meanwhile, our right back wouldn't get a chance to overlap down the right, as before the break, he was back in the changing rooms. Tommy McMillan's throw found Stewart on the edge of the box, and the striker touched the ball away before Doran came in with his mistimed tackle, sending the striker to the floor, while the ref sent him off for an early shower. At least it was judged to be outside the penalty box, not that it made any difference. Hyam sent over the free kick again, this time from the left, and as it swung in towards goal, Sean Daley got enough on his header to divert it away from Doherty and inside the near post to put Bangor in front in first half injury time.

What a difference a few days make in football. On the weekend, we were a goal up and with a man advantage at the break against QUB. Now here we are in the exact opposite dilemma ourselves, but unlike QUB, I do make changes. Young left back Jason Campbell is sacrificed, as centre back Robbie Fisk, potentially soon to be headed for the exit at The Showgrounds, comes on in his place as we switch to three at the back, unwilling to lose our shape further up the park with the knowledge that we need at least one goal in this second half. I also make a change up front at the same time, Pat McIlroy replacing Gerry Nixon. That second change didn't work out though, as McIlroy would have to come off injured just ten minutes after his introduction. That caused another shift around, Gavin Whelan coming on to play right wing, with Chris Johnston moving up front to partner Stuart Shaw. Slowly however, we started to drag ourselves back into the game a little, Michael McCartney missing the top corner by inches with a long range free kick that he curled over the defensive wall. Stewart did likewise at the other end, before Shaw got even closer still, his shot hitting the bar on it's way over as we continued to search for an equaliser. Bangor were also still getting chances though, and Carl Carter seemed to take an age to get the ball under control on the edge of the box, but when he did, Doherty had to push his shot over the cross bar. Then with fifteen minutes to go, came a crucial breakthrough goal. Andy Dickinson's hoof up the park was chased down by Whelan, the Irish midfielder refusing to give up, catching the ball right near the corner flag and sending over a deep cross, that was watched all the way by Ryan Twist, and he had pulled off the shoulder of the last defender as the ball cleared his head, and ignored the narrow angle to steer home a half volley. His first goal for the club, and a vital equaliser. In more ways one than too, as Bangor suddenly retreated back into their shells despite the man advantage. Declan O'Hara smashed a left footed free kick just the wrong side of the post and into the side netting with ten minutes to play, but Bangor's over cautious approach would cost them dearly yet. McCartney and Keith Steenson battled to win the ball on halfway, and gave it to Fisk. The centre back sprayed the ball beautifully across the park and out to the right, where Whelan brought it down on the corner of the box, and then sent it diagonally across goal and between the centre backs, where Shaw caught it on the volley, sending it into the turf and looping back up to beat a stranded Ryan Brown and give us an a lead that looked unlikely at half time. The drama wasn't quite over yet either. Four minutes injury time became seven after a lengthy stoppage that saw Bangor go down to ten men when Tommy McMillan suffered a late injury. And that seven would later become ten, Doherty claiming the ball from a cross and thumping it down the park to send Shaw between the centre backs. As he attempted to turn on the speed, Marty Walsh and Adam Smith crudely sandwiched the Scotsman, who needed treatment for several minutes before being helped to the tunnel, as we were reduced to nine men, and Walsh picked up a booking. But we would not be denied a second win to start the new season.

Bangor (1) 1 - Sean Daley (45+2)
Coleraine (0) 2 - Ryan Twist (75), Stuart Shaw (86)
Gerard Doherty; Ray Doran, Declan O'Hara, Andy Dickinson, Jason Campbell (Robbie Fisk 45); Keith Steenson ©, Michael McCartney; Chris Johnston, Ryan Twist; Gerry Nixon (Pat McIlroy 45 (inj - Gavin Whelan 55)), Stuart Shaw (inj - 90+6).

Unused Substitutes :- John Robertson, Matty Robson.
Bookings :- Ray Doran 19. Sent Off :- Ray Doran 45+2
Possession :- 52% - 48%. Man of the Match :- Gavin Whelan (Coleraine).

We've got to be happy with that! I'd have absolutely taken a draw at half time, but the game changed when we got the equaliser, and Bangor went far too defensive in their attempt to earn a first point of the season. Much gratitude to Gavin Whelan too, who came on and played in a position that he hasn't really be utilised in for some time, and created two goals with pinpoint crosses. We take a very early two point lead at the top of the First Division, the only side to win both of their opening games as we now head into a two week break.

I was less impressed by Ray Doran. The 21 year old full back had a great chance to put a foot in the door for First Team action with Aaron Smyth set to leave, and instead he blew it by picking up two bookings and putting us in a hole. I fined him a weeks wages for his indiscipline, £100. He goes straight to complain to the skipper, Keith Steenson, and word quickly spreads around the squad that he has been fined. It did little for the atmosphere on the bus ride home, with several players taking his side, including some who weren't even on the bus and part of the squad for this match. Stewart Devine, Declan O'Hara, Aaron Smyth, Matty Robson, Ryan Twist and Stuart Shaw all took the side of the Keynsham born right back. It's not a majority by any means, but it's significant enough in numbers to now cause a dressing room rift.

That was all I needed, especially when I get the news later on that the sandwich tackle on Shaw has caused fractured ribs, and the striker who is crucial to our plans is now ruled out for between two and three months. Terrific!

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