After two impressive performances in the opening games, Down took on Riseisha HS in their final qualifier at Castlerock, knowing a win could potentially catapult them into the SuperCupNI semi-finals.
With the slope in their path it took only two minutes for Riseisha to indicate they were out to spoil the party, with Dalzell having to be alert to save a powerful shot from distance.
Playing with the speed and tidiness that has become associated with Japanese football, Down were finding it difficult to carve out any openings of their own in the initial exchanges, however it was evident that Manager Bailie had drilled his chosen formation well into his players.
The first opportunity for Down fell to Archer, who almost capitalised after a short corner move went wrong, however his effort went wide of the right hand post.
A free kick on the right hand side of the box from McVeigh was to follow, with Burns raising highest to meet it. Despite the best efforts of the Riseisha keeper to keep the ball in front of him, the Referee adjusted it had crossed the line, sending a large cheer around the sidelines.
Not to be disheartened the Japanese side went straight on the attack, with a superbly executed tackle from Cowan coming to his team’s rescue as an equalizer seemed inevitable.
The impressive back four of Down continued to hold their shape as the game progressed, with Rieisha being reduced to shots from distance that never looked like troubling Dalzell.
Few in the surrounding area could be in no doubt from Manager Bailie’s half time talk that he wanted more from his players, with Doyle almost given his side the dream start in the second period, but his shot from the right was well saved.
Sensing the opportunity to get back into the game Riseisha began stepping up the tempo, which almost paid off on 15 minutes, only to see the Assistant Referee rule against a goal due to an off-side.
In a rare attack Murray powered down the left hand touchline, beat his marker and placed the ball in the net, only to have his celebrations cut short when it was Down’s turn to have a score notched off, due to an earlier off-side in the play.
As the clock showed 10 mins to the end, McVeigh and Murray exchanged passes on the left hand side of the Rieisha box, before the former accelerated into the box and aimed the ball towards the back post. Despite the frantic efforts to clear, Magee was the first to react as the ball fell kindly to him, leaving the substitute to make no mistake as he blasted into the net to double his side’s lead.
Demonstrating why a team can be at their most dangerous when they concede, Rieisha drove straight back up the pitch, with Dalzell coming to the rescue with his feet.
There was nothing the young stopper could do a few minutes later as the final whistle approached, with the goal of the game coming from Rieisha, as the ball flew into the top right hand corner of the net.
With hearts in mouths as the seconds ticked down, Bailie’s boys remained firm in defence, seeing out the game and recording another victory in this year’s competition.
As the celebrations died down news filtered through that Right to Dream had secured top spot in the group, however that was not enough to dampen the spirts amongst the immensely talented squad of players.
Team: Dalzell, McKevitt, Cowan, Burns, Archer, McDerby, Doyle, McVeigh, Barbour, Keenan, Gitrap
Subs: Morgan, Kearney, Murray, Bickerstaff, Ouldhamalt, Magee, Pauley