Willow Park spring surprise as they trump title aspirants

CCFL UNDER 17 PREMIER DIVISION

WILLOW PARK 3 PORTLAOISE 2

The Combined Counties Football league resumed after the Winter break and Willow Park under 17s celebrated a return to action with a good win. Second placed Portlaoise were the visitors to DPD Park in the Premier Division last Saturday afternoon but returned home empty handed.

Willow had been struggling to get a consistent run of results together but upset the odds on this occasion by winning by the odd goal in five. Colm Holohan's team raced into a three goal lead but were hanging on at the finish as the Laois outfit staged a comeback that almost yielded a dividend. Goalkeeper Eric Rogers came to the rescue in the final minute making a great save to ensure the three points stayed at home.

Having been well beaten in the previous meeting, few gave underdogs Willow any chance of causing an upset, but the hosts were well on top in the opening half. The first goal was crucial and Glen Byrne gave Willow a confident start with a quarter of an hour played. It was a spectacular effort as the number eleven found the net with an overhead kick.

The lead was doubled midway through the half. James Flanagan was on target this time as Portlaoise struggled to react. It got even better moments later as goal number three arrived for the home team. Bryan Hughes found the net to leave Willow seemingly well in command as half time approached.

However, the visitors were not throwing in the towel just yet in their pursuit of table toppers Emo Celtic who were idle. A goal just before the break had them back in contention. Willow were waiting for half time to arrive but a momentary lapse allowed the Laois team a way back into the game.

With just two minutes left in the half, James White was allowed waltz through the home defence and finished neatly to the net. It was a bad time to concede and Willow now faced into a nervous 45 minutes when play resumed after the break.

There was little between the sides when action resumed. The visitors were still a threat however and had cut the deficit to the bare minimum midway through the half. A corner kick had the home defence struggling as White collected his second goal of the game.

Having surrendered leads already this season, it looked like Willow were about to cave in again. A further corner kept up the Portlaoise pressure as Rogers then denied Gavin Skehan. Willow responded with Hughes firing a free kick over the bar.

The outcome was still in doubt as full time approached. The danger looked to have cleared when Willow dealt with another away corner. The drama was not over just yet though as the comeback could easily have been completed with almost the last kick of the contest. Emanuel Ebebe shot from long range but Rogers reacted well to make the save and ensure Willow got their new year campaign off to a winning one.

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