Crunch time as Larne face Tobermore

Larne's Scott Irvine keeps possession in 1-1 Irish Cup draw with Lurgan Celtic. The two sides will meet again at Inver Park in the replay on Tuesday evening.
Larne's Scott Irvine keeps possession in 1-1 Irish Cup draw with Lurgan Celtic. The two sides will meet again at Inver Park in the replay on Tuesday evening.

The carrot of another winnable game against Knockbreda for a place in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup might seem enough to make Graham McConnell view Tuesday night’s replay against Lurgan Celtic as a huge game for his team, but the Larne manager doesn’t rate it anywhere near as important as the league match which comes before then.

“Saturday’s game against Tobermore United is a massive match for us, perhaps even the biggest of our entire season,” said McConnell. “The three points available are of such importance, it’s nearly impossible to quantify.

“It should be a great game as well because it features two teams who have both come on immeasurably since the last time we met in a thrilling 4-4 draw up at their place.

“We are unbeaten in the six or seven games since and so are Tobermore, a team which seems to score lots of goals. But it’s equally noticeable that the teams they play against also appear to get goals in every outing.

“Tobermore don’t seem to have many changes in their line-up from week to week, and that’s a sign of a team which is settled and consistent. They are playing with confidence and we know we can expect a tough game.

“But we are playing with belief and I have every confidence, even though losing Paul Maguire to injury was a blow on Saturday.

“He came off after 20 minutes with a broken bone in his foot and will be out for five or six weeks. He’s a big loss because, not only is he a great player, but he is also a great professional in the dressing room.

“On the other hand, Brian McClean, who sustained a calf injury a few weeks ago in a friendly match against Wellington Rec, is well improved and could be available for selection.

“In addition, I can’t say anything as far as revealing their identities, but we could have three more players on our books by the weekend – two of them being released by a Premier League team and the other an experienced player with a Championship One club,” added McConnell, who says they were well worth a second bite of the Irish Cup fifth round cherry.

“I suppose the fact we scored in the last minute might suggest we got out of jail, but I think anyone watching would agree we would have been unfortunate had we lost the game. They were better in the first half, but we were more dominant in the second.

“Okay, Christopher Keenan did make a magnificent save to prevent us falling two goals behind, but we also can point to the fact that both Darren McNamee and Niall McAllister hit the crossbar.

“As for the penalty kick awarded for a handball offence, I really didn’t see it clearly because it happened in the top right-hand corner of the box. But I didn’t see many arguing with the decision, so I have no complaints about that.

“I am delighted the replay will be back at Inver Park on Tuesday night. It’s an obvious advantage, not least because they will have to travel at a time when traffic can be very heavy and that will also be another little thing we don’t have to worry about.

“But, I won’t start to think very seriously about that match until after the Tobermore game. With both of us trying to steer well clear of the relegation zone, it’s a huge occasion and we will be determined to get the result we need to start our progression up the league table.”

Meanwhile, McConnell has revealed that he has made goalkeeper Nathan Morley-Hillen available to other clubs.

Report by Kevin Hughes