by Philip Dunwoody
Chelsea cruised to a 2-0 victory against Aston Villa this weekend, apparently delivering a superb, dominant performance and leaving no doubt that they are serious title contenders again this year. But it was only 2-0. Not as much as it could have been. If you really want to show people what you’re all about, the best teams will leave you in no doubt with one glance at the score-line.
Thus it was that Renwick proved themselves on Wednesday to be a superior team to Chelsea, as well as Church of Ireland, by defeating their Elmwood neighbours 11-3 at Ozone. In a highly enjoyable season opener, the all-RP starting XI took the game to their familiar rivals and dominated possession and created plenty of chances. Had we taken them all it could well have been a bigger score-line than the infamous Bloomfield encounter.
After much speculation as to who would be available for the first game of the season, Renwick ended up fielding a very experienced team, well balanced and with plenty of goal scorers on the pitch. Jonny McCollum started in nets as expected, with Robert and Steve McCollum reunited at centre back. Renwick new boy Andy Morrison made his debut at right back, with Gavin Blackwell on the other side. Pete Loughridge made himself available on Tuesday, and started in centre midfield with Andy McKelvey, both of whom had been doubts before the game last week. Phil took up his usual position on the right wing, with another new player, Allen McCluggage, on the left. Mark McCavery and Conor Hyndman were paired together again, this time upfront. Richard McKelvey, Steelo, Andy Lynch and Andy Johnston (the latter two arriving at half time) were on the bench.
It didn’t take long for Renwick to start threatening the Anglican defence, and our first chance came when Mark put pressure on their centre backs, who tried to pass it back to their keeper. He spilt it and almost let Phil in for a shot at an empty net, but a defender got a block in and it went for a corner. We then had four corners in quick succession, with Steve going close from a header from one, before Conor reacted first to the ball in a congested penalty area, and got us off the mark with a good finish. We literally bombarded the Church of Ireland after this: Mark and Conor were both working hard upfront, holding up the ball and bringing Allen and Phil into the attacks. The wide men got lots of time and space and put in plenty of crosses, some of which resulted in extremely near misses. The strikers had runs and shots at goal themselves, Mark striking next with a good finish after some more pressure had forced an error at the back, before adding a second with a brilliant chip into the far corner, with the keeper again in the wrong place. He got another before setting up Allen for his first ever Renwick goal, the winger cutting in from the right and slotting it in well, having switched wings with Phil. Our attacks perhaps did come at the expense of cover for the defence, and at 3-0 the Anglicans got one back when we simply didn’t get close enough all over the pitch and conceded a sloppy goal. Similarly lax team defending gave them a second goal, 4-2, before Allen had scored his goal to make it 5-2 at half time. Despite conceding two, our defence was playing superbly; Steve and Robert showed their experience with solid performances at the back, and Andy Morrison was physical and well positioned to deal with any threat at right back. Jonny McCollum also had a sound performance in goal, dealing with anything that came his way very confidently and kicking well. Pete and Andy kept us organised and protected the defence well with typically physical and hard working performances, and also set up plenty of our attacks by playing it to the wings or to the strikers’ feet.
We made lots of changes at half time, looking to try out our new players. AJ and Steelo went upfront, having scored so many goals between them two years ago, and Richard McKelvey came on at right back. Mark dropped to centre back and Conor to left wing, with Allen, Gav and Andy Mo making way. AJ took a while to find his touch, but having gone close on three occasions he finally got off the mark with a good goal into the bottom corner, before adding three more during the half. Injury forced Richard off early, and Allen came on again at right back in his place. Birthday boy Steelo couldn’t quite find a finish, not for lack of trying though! As the half wore on we lost our shape somewhat, and probably resembled more of a 4-2-4! Mark scored a fourth at some point, and Conor scored again from a corner: Phil had been aiming for the net, rather ambitiously, but it went beyond it and AJ headed back across goal, where Conor met it on the volley for a good finish. Everyone tried to get in on the act after a while; Andy McKelvey and Phil both went close, AJ and Steelo continued to benefit from Phil and Conor’s crosses, but Pete went closest with a rasping shot that smacked against the post and went out for a throw. With Church of Ireland well beaten in the second half we had chances galore, and in between their mistakes we did string some great passing moves together and managed some nice football, which was encouraging for our first outing of the season. Andy Lynch made a cameo appearance late on at left back, but didn’t manage a goal! Church of Ireland pulled one back at 9-2, but to say it was a mere consolation would be an understatement. Eventually Andrew Gardener, he of Matthew Curry leg-breaking fame, blew the final whistle, and we went off thoroughly satisfied with the day’s work.
On the pitch beside us Union Theological College went down 4-3 to the team everyone loves to hate, Derryvolgie. They still have plenty of their best players playing though, and they will provide a much bigger test for us next week, when we will have to defend much better as a team and keep our shape more than we did today. Nonetheless, a great start to the season, and more of the same next week. Thanks to Rosemary and the other fans for the pictures and to Steelo for refereeing first half. A big shout also to Andy Lytle – glad we gave you plenty of goals to watch, and we hope it felt great to skip class yourself for a change!
Team (4-42, in theory): J. McCollum – A. Morrison (R. McKelvey), R. McCollum, S. McCollum, G. Blackwell (S. Steele) – P. Dunwoody, P. Loughridge, A. McKelvey, A. McCluggage (A. Johnston) – M. McCavery, C. Hyndman