Saturday’s top Ulster Premier clash between Belfast Harlequins and Instonians certainly lived up to its billing as the hosts came from 3-2 down to secure a dramatic 4-3 win with two goals in the last 10 minutes at Deramore, writes John Flack.
Quins got the breakthrough when Robin Quigley took a quick free and set up Luke McClelland who slapped the ball into the net.
Chris Barnes levelled matters with a trademark drag flick to level the score and then, at the other end, Chris Lemon sent a half-volley crashing off the post.
Inst immediately went on the offensive and when the ball fell to Barnes at the top of the D he turned and fired a low reverse past the onrushing Iain Kelly to make the score 2-1 at the break.
After the restart, Quins came out strongly and David Coates made it 2-2 with a powerful drag flick. Inst’s other winter signing, Dane Ward, then made it 3-2 to the visitors when he unleashed a fierce reverse into the roof of the net.
After Quins captain John Metcalfe made a fantastic goal line save to keep the deficit to one goal, Lemon forced a penalty stroke and McClelland made no mistake from the spot to level the game at 3-3.
With time running out, the hosts went on the offensive and won two corners, and from the second of these, Lemon made it 4-3.
As the clock continued to tick down Quins gave away another corner, but with Barnes sending in the shot, veteran goalkeeper Kelly made a crucial save.
This result, while damaging Inst’s title hopes, will keep alive Quins’ hopes of lifting the trophy or at least finishing in the top three.
Bangor remain in pole position after a 3-1 win in Newry, where the away side led 2-0 at the break after goals from Adam Watson and Ryan Burgess.
Newry pulled one back through Matty Russell but Simon Cox replied for Bangor to seal the deal.
In Saturday’s other games, Portadown piled more misery on struggling Raphoe with a 4-1 win at Edenvilla while South Antrim defeated Mossley 1-0.
Meanwhile, Ballymoney have moved three points clear at the top of the women’s Ulster Premier League table after goals from Sara Gardner, Jan Hamilton and Nikki Parke gave them a 3-0 win over Randalstown at the Antrim Forum.
Title favourites Queen’s, aiming for an eighth straight win, dropped their first points of the campaign when they were held to a scoreless draw by Rainey in Magherafelt.
However, the students have played three games fewer than Money and remain title favourites having been denied a win by Rainey keeper Erin Mulholland, who was in unbeatable form.
Elsewhere, champions Lurgan were 4-1 home winners over Banbridge and North Down defeated basement side Portadown 3-0 in the relegation battle in Comber.
That result, helped by two goals from Rachel Lucas, leaves North Down four points better off than their bottom of the table opponents.
Comber coach Peter Whyte said: “In most games this season, we have had spells where we have played good hockey but struggled to maintain it for the duration of the game. But we will, hopefully, use this win as a springboard for the remainder of the season.”
In Senior One, Lisnagarvey had double reason to celebrate as not only did they beat Victorians 3-0 but nearest rivals Ballymena were held 1-1 by Ballyclare.
Top scorer of the day was Jill Kennedy who hit a hat-trick in Priorians’ 5-0 win over Armagh as Ulster hockey’s ‘Derry girls’ stayed in promotion contention.
Ulster Premier League: Belfast Harlequins 4 (L McClelland 2, D Coates, C Lemon) Instonians 3 (C Barnes 2, D Ward); South Antrim 1 (W Phillips) Mossley 0; Newry Olympic 1 (M Russell) Bangor 3 (A Watson, R Burgess, S Cox); Portadown 4 (A Stevenson 3, J Brown) Raphoe 1 (T Orr).
Ulster Premier League: Lurgan 4 (J-A Wilson, C Stewart 2, S McClure) Banbridge 1 (P Haugh); North Down 3 (R Lucas 2, A Kimber) Portadown 0; Rainey 0 Queen’s 0; Randalstown 0 Ballymoney 3 (S Gardner, J Hamilton, N Parke);
Senior One: Ballyclare 1 (J Jones) Ballymena 1 (R Reynolds); Lisnagarvey 3 (R Houston, A Jebb, J Flynn) Victorians 0; Priorians 5 (J Kennedy 3, E Allen 2) Armagh 0; Raphoe 1 (E Harpur) Omagh 2 (A Buchanan, R Shortt)