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SOCCER: Historic play-off required to finally separate Avenue and Newmarket

Premier Division
Avenue United 3 2 Newmarket Celtic

A 17th game will be required this Saturday to finally decide the destination of the Premier Division after holders Avenue United secured a dramatic 3-2 victory over leaders Newmarket Celtic in resplendent sunshine in Roslevan on Wednesday evening, writes Eoin Brennan.

With the FAI Junior Cup champions leading by three points in the table ahead of this final round showdown, nothing but an Avenue victory was sufficient to extend the title race. And that seemed a mere formality as the home side stormed into the contest with a sixth minute solo goal from Nnabuike Nneji bolstered by a further brace from the excellent Elias Kunz to soar 3-0 clear by the 33rd minute.

With a depleted Newmarket appearing ragged and warweary, Avenue might have capitalised further while down the other end a glorious back post opportunity for Jack Kelly cleared the crossbar while an injury-time Stephen Kelly scrambled effort managed to ricochet off the post.

Carving a response, Newmarket brought on the cavalry for the second period as playmaker David McCarthy, Gearoid O’Brien and Eoin Kelly were spring from the bench while inspirational centre forward Darragh Leahy was also introduced as an already anxious final quarter intensified.

To their credit, the visitors answered the call to arms as only two minutes into the new half, a David McCarthy corner was headed to the left corner of the net by Stephen Kelly.
Avenue responded but would be left frustrated as Mark Roche had two efforts repelled while Mossy Hehir’s header was finished over the line by Kunz only to see his hat-trick ruled out for offside.

Eoin Hayes had Newmarket best chance when a long Shane Cusack clearance over the top of the Avenue defence was agonisingly flicked off the post and across the line. With time not on their side, Newmarket were handed a lifeline in the 77th minute when a high challenge by Nnabuike Nneji on Stephen kelly resulted in a penalty that Harvey Cullinan duly dispatched to the bottom right corner of the net at 3-2.

Only needing a draw to cement the title, Newmarket upped the ante for the remainder but it wasn’t until the death that they carved out two clearcut chances for Eoin Kelly and Gearoid O’Brien whose headers were both comfortably caught by goalkeeper Luke Woodrow.
It means that the sides will lock horns once more on Saturday, most likely in Frank Healy Park, in what will be a winner-takes-all showdown for this year’s coveted Premier Division honours.

Avenue United: Luke Woodrow; Cullen McCabe, Jamie Roche, Dylan Casey, Conor Hehir; Mark Roche (Philip Talty, 85), Eoghan Thynne, Nnabuike Nneji, Mossy Hehir: Ronan Kerin (Stephen Jordan, 81), Elias Kunz

Newmarket Celtic: Shane Cusack, Eunan Doherty, Harvey Cullinan, Stephen Kelly (David Lennon, 86), Conor McDaid (Eoin Kelly, HT); Ronny McCormack (David McCarthy, HT), Cathal Hayes (Gearoid O’Brien, HT), Jack Kelly, Kevin Harnett (Darragh Leahy, 79), Aaron Rudd; Eoin Hayes

Referee: Trevor White

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