Dungannon Swifts 0 Coleraine 0
It may have been the weekend which football fans look forward to more than most, but surely few will remember this drab game for long.
The new Irish League season got off to an uninspiring start at Stangmore Park as Dungannon Swifts and Coleraine drew a blank in a desperately disappointing curtain-raiser.
After all the waiting and expectation, this was quite a let-down.
Both sides have lost some of their top creative talent this summer and that undoubtedly contributed to a game which was low on chances and lacking in attacking quality.
Indeed the main talking points came in stoppage time – first Howard Beverland was sent off for a professional foul and then a Coleraine penalty appeal for handball was rejected.
Already this is shaping up to be Dungannon’s toughest season in the top division.
While there was effort and commitment aplenty, they lacked a penetrative edge in the final third, hitting the target just once over the 90 minutes.
That will be a concern for manager Dixie Robinson, who must somehow find a way to compensate for the loss of striker Timmy Adamson in the coming weeks.
There were positives for Dungannon too, however.
Goalkeeper Niall Morgan kept a clean sheet to cap an impressive display, while Stefan Lavery also showed glimpses of his potential with a hugely encouraging performance.
Their back line also impressed, with Adam McMinn and Dermot McCaffrey forming a solid partnership in central defence, while Terry Fitzpatrick bossed the midfield.
It was also a positive start against a Coleraine side who have invested heavily to offset the loss of influential midfielders Darren Boyce and Stephen Carson.
Among their recruits is ex-Linfield striker Curtis Allen, who had the best chance of the opening half.
It came in the 25th minute when the ball dropped perfectly for the striker, but Morgan saved with his legs before McMinn cleared the danger.
Earlier the ‘keeper had comfortably collected a 30-yard effort from Darren McCauley, while he watched as David Scullion almost converted a Stephen Lowry corner.
Coleraine ‘keeper Michael Doherty wasn’t tested in the opening half, with Dungannon’s best effort coming from Terry Fitzpatrick whose long-range drive was deflected wide.
Early in the second half a defensive mix-up between Doherty and Damien McNulty almost gifted Michael Ward a goal but he was quickly closed down by David Ogilby.
Then Morgan came to Swifts’ rescue again, shutting out Stephen Parkhouse’s effort at the back post following a penetrating cross from former Swifts midfielder Ryan McIlmoyle.
With an hour gone Coleraine attempted to improve their attacking options by introducing Shane Jennings and former QPR striker Leon Knight.
Dungannon also brought on PJ Lavery, which gave them fresh impetus.
After namesake Stefan’s angled drive had been blocked by the ‘keeper, PJ Lavery tried to convert with a header but was thwarted by Beverland on the line.
Minutes later Shea McGerrigan picked out Craig McClean on the overlap, but the left back shot into the side-netting.
Both sides pushed for the points as the clock ticked down.
Jennings headed a cross from Knight against the upright, while a rasping 25-yard strike from PJ Lavery was deflected just wide.
The main talking points came right at the end.
First Stefan Lavery was fouled on the edge of the box by Beverland, resulting in the young Coleraine defender being shown a straight red card. McCaffrey fired over from the resulting free-kick.
Then in the final seconds Knight was convinced he should have had a penalty when his shot struck McCaffrey’s arm. Crucially, though, the referee disagreed.
DGN SWIFTS: Morgan, O’Neill, McClean, McMinn, Fitzpatrick, Funston (PJ Lavery, 62), McCaffrey, S Lavery, Topley, Ward, Murphy (McGerrigan, 73)
Subs not used: Donnelly, Montgomery, A Forker
COLERAINE: Doherty, Beverland, McNulty, Ogilby, Scullion, Lowry, Allen, Parkhouse (Knight, 59), McIlmoyle (Jennings, 59), Canning, McCauley
Subs not used: Tommons, Spratt, Clarke
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)