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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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Wednesday 5th August
The first small step to getting the wage budget down is taken this morning, with Scott Francis moving on loan to Ballymoney United of the Second Division for the season, with them taking on his £75 per week wages for the duration as well. We do have an option to recall him if we need to. I'm looking forward to seeing what the 17 year old left winger can do given some regular First Team football.

Likely to be one of the next out of the door is Chris Jones. Twenty one clubs were in for the 19 year old right winger, but that is whittled down to half a dozen with offers to take him from clubs in Northern Ireland automatically rejected. That leaves him with four offers from across the water, including Huddersfield Town and Newport County, or the chance to move south, with Fanad United or Sporting Fingal. If he were leave, and Robbie Fisk and Aaron Smyth joined him, we would then be bang on the Wage Budget, though I'd still need a new goalkeeper and have Gambia International centre back Ryan Young due to join us September 1st.

Some more progress was made late on in the day, with over fifty clubs making offers to take Fisk. Twenty eight of them have their offers accepted, meaning Fisk has plenty of choice, and he'll likely be on his way from the club in the next few days.

Thursday 6th August
And there's the hatrick, with four of six offers for Aaron Smyth accepted, and we are well on the way to getting back to the Wage Budget number, though at the cost of some vital squad depth.

That's squad depth we could need down the line too, as after meeting with their representative, I have put a higher squad payout on the line if the players can earn us promotion. It might have been irresponsible with the clubs financial situation, but the difference is £1,200, and promotion would be worth much more than that to us in TV money, sponsors and ticket sales.

This evening we play a Friendly against Portstewart of the Second Division. We have a working relationship with the club just five miles up the road from us on the Northern Ulster coast, and we are obliged to play this one, though we are not obliged to play a full strength team. This is the last of a trio of Pre-Season Friendlies for them, winning their opening two at Seahaven against Killyleagh and Armagh City, and they will then start their season at home to Dergview this weekend. Richard Salisbury is on loan at the club, and has found the net in both of those pre-season tilts, though he won't be available to play against us today.

Seahaven, Portstewart
Portstewart v Coleraine
Attendance :-
166. Weather :- Breezy, Wet. 19c.

I planned to bring a well under strength squad for the short trip up the M2, but with the news that it will be nearly a fortnight before we play again, I've decided to start with a stronger side, and then bring in the younger players from the bench. After two League wins, a result isn't very important, but it would be nice to keep the momentum going. Ray Doran gets a quick chance to make amends, and he will be fresher than most after playing less than a half of football on Tuesday evening. Stewart Devine returns at left back and has a chance to get some match fitness, while Robert Donaghy starts at centre back with Andy Dickinson. There's a chance to impress for Keith Steenson, the Club Captain, who partners Gavin Whelan, with Chris Johnston and Matty Robson on the wings, and Pat McIlroy is up front with Gerry Nixon. The subs bench is almost entirely young players, with some added experience in the form of Declan O'Hara and John Robertson.

Portstewart had two chances in the opening ten minutes, Roy Moore's shot from range was well over the bar, while from a little closer in, Bryan Ure kept his effort down with a low curler which Gerard Doherty had to get down near his post to stop and hold onto. His next shot was higher, but Doherty was equal to that one too, tipping the ball over the bar. We came very close in the 20th minute, Gerry Nixon flicking the ball on and finding Pat McIlroy, who's shot from the corner of the box was inches wide of the far post as it curled away at the last second. Five minutes later, Nixon played provider again, his through ball sending Matty Robson into space on the left channel of the box. But with options aplenty, he was clearly caught in two minds, neither squaring for a team mate or shooting, and the ball went harmlessly through the six yard box and out for a goal kick. Nixon took a knock late in the half, as John Hunter sent over a cross from the left that Stewart Devine had to head to safety, while the half ended as it had started, with Moore sending a shot over the bar.

Nixon came off at the break, replaced by Andy McMillan, while Devine also came off as he returned from injury, with Jason Campbell coming on in his place. The poor finishing from the first half continued into the second half though, Warren Smith and Robson swapping chances that were both sent well over the bar. Robson took a more direct approach from a corner as the hour approached, his inswinging effort coming back off the near post. Just after the hour mark I made a few more changes, Ray Doran, Keith Steenson, Gavin Whelan and Chris Johnston all coming off, and replaced by mostly younger players, Robbie Walsh, John Robertson, Greg White and Colin Canning. And midway through the half, it helped produce the best chance we had created so far. Walsh fed Roberton, who slipped it on to McIlroy. The striker found Canning on the right, and he used some neat footwork to find a way between two blue shirted Portstewart players, and then one more challenger, before sending a diagonal pass into the box for McMillan, his low shot across goal stopped by keeper Chad McEwan. But moments later, we were behind, caught out at the back as Ure sent a through ball between our centre backs, and half time sub Johnny Watson was alert, chasing through, taking a touch, and guiding his low shot beyond Doherty's dive and just inside the far post to open the scoring. We attempted to hit back, McIlroy collecting the ball inside the box from a Robson throw in, shooting on the turn after rolling his marker, but only hitting the side netting. I emptied the bench, replacing the remaining players who had been on since the start, Doherty, Robert Donaghy, Andy Dickinson, Robson and McIlroy. They were replaced by Trevor Smyth, Declan O'Hara, Glenn Harbinson, James Nicholl and Darren Doyle. But we wouldn't manage to find an equaliser, or even a good opportunity to find one.

Portstewart (0) 1 - Johnny Watson (71)
Coleraine (0) 0
Gerard Doherty (Trevor Smyth 77); Ray Doran (Robbie Walsh 63), Robert Donaghy (Declan O'Hara 77), Andy Dickinson (Glenn Harbinson 77), Stewart Devine (Jason Campbell 45); Keith Steenson © (John Robertson 63), Gavin Whelan (Greg White 63); Chris Johnston (Colin Canning 63), Matty Robson (James Nicholl 77); Gerry Nixon (inj - Andy McMillan 45), Pat McIlroy (Darren Doyle 77).
Unused Substitutes :- Matthew Dornan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Bryan Ure (Portstewart).

That wasn't a terrible outing, and with some better finishing, we could have come away with a win. Despite conceding the goal once the substitutions were being made, some of the youngsters showed up well, and with our squad depth likely to be tested during the season, some of them could yet be called upon yet.

It won't just be players leaving that will test that squad depth, injuries will also play their part. Gerry Nixon's injury was a little worse that first feared, the Scottish striker will join compatriot Stuart Shaw on the sidelines for a while after suffering a groin strain. It will likely keep him out until early to mid September.

Our fixture plans have just changed, which means an even longer gap between games. We were scheduled to face Wakehurst on Tuesday 18th August, but that game has now been pushed back to Wednesday 2nd September, due to Wakehurst now having a fixture with Queens University in the Antrim Cup First Round. So it's now Saturday 22nd August before we are scheduled to play again, a home match with Carrick Rangers.

Monday 10th August
Gerard Doherty had a stranglehold on the position as goalkeeper in the First Division Team of the Week last season, and he has claimed it again in the first team naming of the new campaign. Irish midfielder Gavin Whelan joins him in the selection.

Outgoing news, and two deals are completed today. Robbie Fisk and Chris Jones will both head back across the Irish Sea, and home to England. Centre back Fisk has signed for Barrow of the Blue Square Premier League, taking a pay rise for the move as well. 19 year old right winger Chris Jones will play at a higher level, as he has signed for Coca-Cola League One side Huddersfield Town. Not surprisingly, he has also taken a pay rise, more than trebling his salary. With Aaron Smyth expected to leave in the next few days, I'll have got the club back down to bang on the ceiling of the wage budget. That should, I hope, mean that the Board will allow the signing of Gambia International centre back Ryan Young to go through at the start of September.

Tuesday 11th August
The draw has been made for the First Round of the Northern Irish League Cup, the first of three domestic Cups that we are scheduled to be involved in this season. It's all First Division teams in this stage, and the draw is middle of the road for us, as we face Police Service of Northern Ireland. It's a two legged tie, with the First Leg away from home at Newforge Lane in Belfast, with the return in Coleraine the following Tuesday 1st September. That means two more match rearrangements, with the League match away to Wakehurst moved from the date of the Second Leg back to Saturday 5th September, and the home match with Donegal Celtic moved from Wednesday 9th September back to Friday 18th September.

Saturday 15th August
Our Under-18's have kicked off their Group 1 campaign this lunchtime, with a 1-1 draw at the Newry Showgrounds against Newry City. We took the lead in the 7th minute, with a goal from Youth Intake striker Martin Friars. There was an equaliser midway through the second half from left back Simon Goodall.

Tony Jones is back in training after recovering from the arm injury he suffered in pre-season. The 20 year Scot will be our first choice at right back, and brings another attacking dimension to our game. He'll have to wait a little bit longer to get amongst the action though, as Saturday's match against Carrick Rangers in the League is off, as they are now playing an Antrim Trophy match instead. With that match now scheduled for Wednesday 23rd September, our next game is now ten days away against Lisburn Distillery, who we'll travel to face on Tuesday 25th August. Assuming that goes ahead, it will be three weeks between competitive matches by then.

Sunday 16th August
News from the ticket office, and it isn't good news. The fans have not reacted well to a second consecutive season in the second tier, and have voted by not putting their hands in their pockets. And I don't necessarily blame them either. We have lost 15% of our season ticket take up from last season, dropping from 128 down to just 108 sold.

Monday 17th August
28 year old Northern Irish right back Aaron Smyth becomes the last of the trio that I decided to move on to make his move. It's a return to England for a second spell for Smyth, who will join Coca-Cola League Two side Lincoln City. Like the two who left before him, he has also secured himself a pay rise as well. Moving the trio's wages out of the door has immediately relieved the pressure on myself from the Boardroom, with the status right away changing to them being satisfied with the job I'm doing.

The timing is very interesting, as I'm named as a potential contender for a job in Europe, where the club have sacked their Caretaker Manager over the summer after they narrowly avoided relegation last season. It's a country I'm interested in going to, and a club that has some potential. I'm interested. Not to be this time though, as by the end of the day they had selected their new man in charge.

Friday 21st August
17 year old right winger Colin Canning has signed a three year Part Time Contract today to replace his Youth Contract. The six footer who made his Senior League debut last season, won't pick up a weekly wage, but will be paid an appearance fee should he make First Team appearances. That's not beyond possibility either after Chris Jones' departure. I would like to see him take a step forward though now he has his new deal.

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Saturday 22nd August 2015
At The Showgrounds this lunchtime, our Under-18's battered Ards youngsters 4-1. The damage was mostly done by our defenders, with centre back Paul McMaster putting us in front, only for Roy McKee to equalise two minutes later. Right back Robbie Walsh had us back in front before the break, setup by Masters knock down from a free kick, David McLoughlin put the ball into his own net, and Masters rounded it off with a second.

The First Team squads away match with Wakehurst has been pushed back by a month, with the hosts now playing in the Antrim Trophy on September 5th, with a new date of Wednesday 7th October pencilled in.

Monday 24th August
We finally return to competitive action tomorrow evening, as we travel into Lisburn to face one of the promotion favourites, Lisburn Distillery, at their New Grosvenor Stadium. They were relegated last season, finishing bottom of the Premier Division by fifteen points. That relegation cost them several of their players, and they still have several who would like to move on before next weeks Transfer Deadline. They're narrow favourites for the points, but the bookies anticipate a close match.

Tuesday 25th August

Northern Irish First Division
New Grosvenor Stadium, Lisburn
Lisburn Distillery v Coleraine
Attendance :-
185. Weather :- Strong Winds, 21c.

This should be a very tough early season test for us, and we will likely have a much better idea of where we sit amongst the favourites. The starting lineup sees half a dozen changes from the side that won against Bangor in our last competitive match three weeks ago. Both full backs are changed, with Tony Jones and Stewart Devine replacing Ray Doran and Jason Campbell. There is a change in the midfield, with Gavin Whelan replacing Michael McCartney, while Matty Robson replaces Ryan Twist on the left wing, despite the latter netting the winner at Clandeboye Park. Both the strikers that started that day are injured, Stuart Shaw and Gerry Nixon replaced by Pat McIlroy and Andy McMillan. There is a distinct lack of depth on the bench, with Matthew Dornan summoned up from the Reserves as an attacking option amongst the substitutes.

We took early control of the midfield, and showed some nice slick passing from the outset. Keith Steenson placed a through ball perfectly for Andy McMillan in the 5th minute, the striker attempting to slide his shot under the dive of Michael McDermott, but the keeper made a smart stop to keep him out. And McMillan would have no chance to make amends for that miss, as he was forced off with injury in the 13th minute, replaced by Michael McCartney, in a change that meant Gavin Whelan moving to right wing, and Chris Johnston moving up front. At the other end, Liam Shepherd cut back inside Declan O'Hara to hit a shot from the edge of the box on the quarter of an hour mark, but blazed the ball over the bar. Skipper of the home side Neal Gawley was starting to find some room down the Distillery left, and a neat one-two with George Beckett got him into space in the box, but he sent his shot wide. The pair taking the shots would both try again before the break, Shepherd from point blank range, Gerard Doherty off his line quickly and spreading himself to leave nothing to shoot at and make the stop, before Gawley tried to catch him out with a free kick from out wide on the right, aiming for the near top corner when everyone expected a cross, but his effort was too high. Goalless at the break.

We were well in the game without being on top, and I was hoping that we could continue in that manner at the very least in the second half. Unfortunately, Distillery had other ideas. Lee John and Michael Leary ganged up on Stewart Devine to rob him of possession, and they got the ball to Dean Rodgers. The striker moved infield to drag a few defenders with him, then sent the ball left, where Gawley was in acres of space. He shaped to shoot across goal, and then slammed his shot low and inside Doherty's near post to put the home side in front. With their defence untroubled on the whole so far, Distillery gave it almost 20 minutes, and then started to make some changes to move into a more defensive mindset. They were still adjusting when Matty Robson pinged the ball into the box from the left, picking out the feet of Pat McIlroy. The striker managed to turn, and was shaping to shoot at goal when Brian George barreled into him and conceded a penalty. Full back Tony Jones stepped up, and he blasted the equaliser low into the bottom corner! Robson was replaced by Ryan Twist shortly after as we looked to go in for the kill, but it was Distillery who pushed forward, substitutes James Cairnduff and Peter Carlisle linking up, but the latters cross from the left was overhit, and the ball rolled harmlessly out for a throw in. I hope we can stay for a few drinks after the game, they do make booze here after all.

Lisburn Distillery (0) 1 - Neal Gawley (57)
Coleraine (0) 1 - Tony Jones (75 pen)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Declan O'Hara, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson ©, Gavin Whelan; Chris Johnston, Matty Robson (Ryan Twist 77); Andy McMillan (inj - Michael McCartney 13), Pat McIlroy.

Unused Substitutes :- Robert Donaghy, John Robertson, Matthew Dornan.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 45% - 55%. Man of the Match :- Neal Gawley (Lisburn Distillery).

An early season point on the road against one of the promotion contenders who were relegated last season, we'll absolutely take it after winning our opening two. We are knocked off the top by Annagh United after their home win over Armagh City, though we do have a game in hand on last seasons Second Division Champions. In good news, Andy McMillan's injury was nothing more than an impact knock, and he will be fine for the next assignment on the weekend, when we switch into Cup football mode.

Wednesday 26th August
Speaking of Cup football, our Under-18's jump into action tonight in the Under-18's Cup. Once more, they are home to Ards, and once more centre back Paul McMaster finds the net. That was as good as it got for our youngsters though, as Andy Gilmore quickly equalised, and Jackie McKillip blasted home an early second half penalty. That's our kids Cup adventure over in double quick time.

Friday 28th August
Lets hope the Senior side can make a better job of their Cup task, as we prepare for the First Leg of the League Cup tie in Belfast against the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We're the favourites for the tie, and if we can grab an away goal at Newforge Lane, we should set ourselves up nicely for the Second Leg back at The Showgrounds next week.

Saturday 29th August

Northern Irish League Cup, First Round, First Leg
Newforge Lane, Belfast
Police Service of Northern Ireland v Coleraine
Attendance :-
186. Weather :- Breezy, 22c.

We are unchanged in both starting lineup and matchday squad for our first trip into the Capital this season, and with PSNI going with only Ross Rooney up front, we were quickly able to control the ball, get it moved around with our short passing, and set about picking a way into their penalty box. Andy McMillan held the ball up and threaded it through to the overlapping Matty Robson, the wingers shot was right at keeper Gordon O'Brien though. Declan O'Hara picked up a slightly harsh booking as we headed towards the 20 minute mark, before Joe Porter unleashed a long shot at goal that didn't unduly trouble Gerard Doherty. As the half wore on, Rooney was becoming more and more isolated up front, though we were not able to break them down too often. Rooney did get possession on the left of the box just before the break, but by the time he got the ball on his right foot and decided to shoot, he was surrounded by three defenders and couldn't get a shot through. Still goalless at half time.

The early moments of the second half showed little change to the dynamic of the game, Rooney resorting to shooting from almost 40 yards out, a dipping effort that wasn't dipping enough. He got closer five minutes later, moving short to collect the ball from a throw in, and then playing a one-two before sending in another shot that beat Doherty, only to see it crash back off the cross bar. With the hour mark approaching though, we finally found a way through the PSNI defence, Stewart Devine and Keith Steenson doing the set up work down the left, the latter finding Robson just outside the left corner of the box. Pat McIlroy was unmarked at the far post, and clearly O'Brien was expecting the cross, and Robson caught him out, sending a low and skidding shot inside the near post before the keeper could get back across goal! That was the away goal we were after, and with quarter of an hour to play, I make my changes, Steenson, Gavin Whelan and McMillan all coming off, John Robertson, Michael McCartney and Matthew Dornan coming on. Predictably, we would then suffer an injury as we went into the last ten minutes, Chris Johnston limping out of a tackle and unable to continue. Even with only ten men, we still almost added a second, Robson waving everyone into the six yard box as he prepared to hit in a corner, and then sent the pass to the edge of the box, McCartney walking onto the ball and sending a curling shot through the crowd and inches wide of the goal frame.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (0) 0
Coleraine (0) 1
Matty Robson (59)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones, Andy Dickinson, Declan O'Hara, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson © (John Robertson 74), Gavin Whelan (Michael McCartney 74); Chris Johnston (inj - 81), Matty Robson; Andy McMillan (Matthew Dornan 74), Pat McIlroy.

Unused Substitutes :- Robert Donaghy, Ryan Twist.
Bookings :- Declan O'Hara 17
Possession :- 41% - 59%. Man of the Match :- Matty Robson (Coleraine).

A second goal at the end would have made our job in midweek in the Second Leg much easier of course, but with the home leg to come and a goal advantage, we're in the box seat. And with the news that Gerry Nixon is now fit to resume training, we also have a bit more squad depth available to us as well. There is also the Transfer Deadline Day on Monday as well, where we will have our last chance to complete any business.

Our Senior side were not the only winners today too, as our Under-18's went into Portadown and beat them 3-1 at Shamrock Park. Full back Jason Campbell and forward Joseph Nixon put us two up with less than a quarter of an hour on the clock. Nigel Spence pulled one back with a few minutes to play, but as Portadown poured forward to search for an equaliser, we caught them on the break, and Martin Friars wrapped up the points. Our youngsters are top of Group 1.

Sunday 30th August
Seven loan offers are sent today as we attempt to get a head start on our Transfer Deadline moves. But by the end of the day, five of the players have said no despite being the green light by their clubs.

There is at least some good news, with Pat McIlroy called up to represent Northern Ireland Under-21's in their double header of UEFA European Under-21 Championship Qualifiers in the International Window that starts this coming week. Despite failing to find the net so far this season, he'll be hoping to feature against Bosnia & Herzegovina at the Maze National Stadium in Lisburn, and against Denmark in Farum

Monday 31st August
We are preparing for the Second Leg of the League Cup tie with Police Service of Northern Ireland tomorrow evening. The two remaining players we have loan offers out for have both rejected the move, which means I may as well pack up for the day now with no other incomings or outgoings expected.

The speculation in the press is that I might be packing up for good in Coleraine though, with more rumours that I could soon be leaving the club to take a job elsewhere.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tuesday 1st September 2015
The Transfer Window slams closed, and we were involved in no further business. The Board have allowed our already agreed deal to sign Ryan Young to go through though, and the Gambian International centre back is in the country and available to play tonight if we choose to select him. He isn't match fit, and he will be quickly leaving the country again this week, as he is included in the Gambia Senior Squad for their 2016 African Cup of Nations Qualifying fixture, which is being held in Banjul, his hometown, against Mauritania, and which they'll be red hot favourites for. If selected to play, Young will win his second International Cap. The 6'2 eighteen year old is also the holder of a British passport, and has signed for us on a Free Transfer from Ports Authority FC, but has never played a Senior club match. That hasn't stopped the fans being very excited about his arrival.

I might not quite be done in building my squad for the rest of the year yet either. The Window may be closed, but we can still sign Free Agents, and I'm going to see if the Board will also allow the signing of a goalkeeper on a cheap contract to provide us some competition and cover for Gerard Doherty, who has got over his poor Pre-Season and instead carried over last seasons form.

Annagh United are the early pacesetters in the First Division, albeit they have played one more game than us and are a point ahead. But there's no denying what a great job Keith Wilkinson has done for the Second Division Champions in preparing them for life in the second tier, and he is the deserving winner of the August Manager of the Month Award, with myself the Runner-Up and Gavin Arthur of Police Service of Northern Ireland in third. Arthur's side are our opponents this evening at The Showgrounds.

Northern Irish League Cup, First Round, Second Leg
The Showgrounds, Coleraine
Coleraine v Police Service of Northern Ireland (Coleraine lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Attendance :-
209. Weather :- Breezy, 24c.

Some small changes only from the team that won in Belfast on the weekend. Chris Johnston is dropped to the bench today after coming off late with an injury in the First Leg, and as a result Gavin Whelan moves to the right wing, and Michael McCartney starts in midfield. On the bench, Robert Donaghy and Matthew Dornan are left out, with new arrival Ryan Young brought in for a potential debut, and Gerry Nixon is also recalled to the matchday squad after returning from injury.

A dream start, with Matty Robson curling over a sixth minute corner, and Declan O'Hara getting on the end of it at the edge of the six yard box, and forcing the ball home from close range, his first goal for the club, and we quickly double our aggregate lead! Unfortunately, PSNI were level almost as quickly, Stephen McAllister's short throw on the right found Ross Rooney, and he picked out Joe Porter near the corner of the penalty box, his first time rising and curling shot beat Gerard Doherty and found the net after crashing off the underside of the cross bar. Our visitors were now on the front foot, and trying to force themselves level in the tie. James Forsythe had a shot blocked, while Murray Gamble's run and cross down the left needed to be headed clear by O'Hara with Rooney waiting to knock it in. Rooney did connect with the next one though, sending his header just wide of the target, before Andy Carmichael hit the bar with a first time shot that had Doherty beat. We attempted to get ourselves back on the front foot, and with a role reversal from our early goal, O'Hara sending a cross field pass from centre back to pick out Robson on the left corner of the box, the winger bringing the ball down and sending in a shot, Gordon O'Brien turning his effort over. Before the break, Robson was played in again, this time by Pat McIlroy, but his attempt to push it inside the near post was wide.

We were pushed into a change at the break, right back Tony Jones coming off with his lack of match fitness, and Andy Dickinson moving into his position, with new signing Ryan Young coming on for not just his Coleraine debut, but his Senior Club debut. That reshuffle may have caused some early confusion in our defence, Gamble stepping infield and sending a low diagonal cross into the box which was just too far in front of O'Hara for him to reach, and Rooney nipped in and buried his low shot! Now PSNI are in front by virtue of having two away goals to our one. We needed to get ourselves back in front in the tie as quickly as possible, and did so eleven minutes later. Another corner, this time from the other side which Gavin Whelan sent over, O'Hara battling with Brian Magee to meet the ball, and while they did that, Robson nipped in front of the pair and guided his header into the bottom corner! McAllister's free kick attempt to get PSNI right back in front was high and wide of the top corner he aimed for, and we pushed ourselves further ahead midway through the second half, Keith Steenson playing Robson into acres of space down the left, and his curling cross found Whelan pulling away from the shoulder of his marker at the far post, and he sidefooted home from eight yards out. Rooney missed a quick chance to get PSNI back on terms for the night when he got between our centre backs but sent his shot over the bar. I made my second change moments later, with Andy McMillan replaced by Gerry Nixon, a change that paid dividends moments later. Steenson danced through their defence, and then slipped a pass into the path of Nixon, who sent his low shot past O'Brien and inside the near post to make it 4-2 on the night, and a three goal advantage overall. That finally seemed to put a terminal dent in our visitors ambitions, and I made my final change late on, Michael McCartney coming off, Whelan moving into midfield, and Chris Johnston coming on to finish the match on the right wing. We could, and should, have added another late on, with the set piece nearly delivering again, Whelan's corner finding the head of Nixon, but the Scottish striker couldn't get his downward header on target. Not that it mattered tonight.

Coleraine (1) 4 - Declan O'Hara (6), Matty Robson (58), Gavin Whelan (67), Gerry Nixon (76)
Police Service of Northern Ireland (1) 2 - Joe Porter (12), Ross Rooney (47)
(Coleraine win 5-2 on aggregate)
Gerard Doherty; Tony Jones (Ryan Young 45), Declan O'Hara, Andy Dickinson, Stewart Devine; Keith Steenson, Michael McCartney (Chris Johnston 81); Gavin Whelan, Matty Robson; Andy McMillan (Gerry Nixon 71), Pat McIlroy.
Unused Substitutes :- John Robertson, Ryan Twist.
Bookings :- None
Possession :- 55% - 45%. Man of the Match :- Matty Robson (Coleraine).

No doubt about Man of the Match in that one, Matty Robson scored a vital goal and added a pair of assists to go with it as well. The English left winger now has two goals and three assists in just four matches in all competitions, a fabulous start to the campaign as he looks to see off the challenge of new signing Ryan Twist for his place in the side.

Wednesday 2nd September
The draw is quickly made for the Second Round of the Northern Irish League Cup, which is made up entirely of clubs at our First Division level. We are paired with Carrick Rangers, who we will entertain in the First Leg at The Showgrounds a fortnight on Saturday, with the return the following Wednesday night at Taylor's Avenue. That means our home League game with Donegal Celtic, which was scheduled for the date of the First Leg, has been pushed back a week, while the we were already due to face Carrick, albeit at home, on the date of the Second Leg. That game has now been pushed back to mid-October. Either way, it's now ten days before we play again.

Friday 4th September
Pat McIlroy won his 8th cap for Northern Ireland Under-21's this evening, as he started in Lisburn at the Maze National Stadium against Bosnia & Herzegovina in the home sides second Qualifier in Group 2 of the UEFA 2017 European Under-21 Championships, having lost in Greece in the summer. And they lost again tonight, Neil Miskelly of Accrington Stanley equalising quickly after Dragan Muksumic had put the visitors ahead. McIlroy was substituted just after the hour following a pretty average outing. The young Northern Irish side looked set to earn a point, but with four minutes remaining Nedzad Karic slotted home the winner in front of a crowd of almost 8,000.

Saturday 5th September
At a wet and windy Showgrounds this lunchtime, right winger Colin Canning curled home a 53rd minute winner for our Under-18's as they hosted Donegal Celtic in their Group 1 match. Our youngsters did have to hold on in the final twenty minutes or so, as centre midfielder Gary Campbell was shown a second yellow card in the 71st minute. The win keeps the three point lead at the top of the table, as their unbeaten start to the League season continues.

The Senior sides League match with the Donegal Celtic side, which has already been rescheduled once this week, is now moved again, pushed back to the 21st October with Celtic now hosting Crusaders in the Antrim Cup three weeks today.

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