Belfast Harlequins took a giant step towards clinching the one automatic promotion position after a hard fought 2-1 win over Senior One rivals Lisnagarvey in Hillsborough on Saturday.
They now have taken over at the top of the table and also have the benefit of a game in hand while ‘Garvey have now dropped five points while ‘Quins are still able to boast a 100 per cent record.
The visitors just about deserved their narrow win as they dominated the second half for long periods but ‘Garvey will rue a host of missed chances in the opening 35 minutes.
Having said that ‘Quins did have their chances even in the first half and it took an incredible goal line clearance late on to deny them an equaliser.
Now it looks almost certain that ‘Garvey will have to beat either Portadown or Victorians in a play-off at the end of the season if they are to replace that team in the top flight next season.
Lisnagarvey took the lead after only eight minutes when Sarah Colgan hammered the ball into the net from the edge of the circle after picking up a pass from Eimear Fallen.
Shortly afterwards Lucy Geddes forced the game’s first penalty corner from which Jenny McAuley’s shot was deflected over the crossbar.
In the 13th minute Colgan had an opportunity to score a carbon copy of her first goal but her shot went narrowly wide of the far post as the visitors defence heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Then after being set up by Laura Murray the ‘Garvey striker sent in a skilful reverse-stick shot but, once again, the ball missed the target.
The impressive Murray then set up Tamilla Matchett as ‘Garvey continued to be in control but her effort flew narrowly over the bar.
Harlequins first clear cut chance didn’t arrive until the 19th minute when Zara Thom forced her way into the cirlce but home goalie Caroline Reid came to the rescue from a one-on-one situation.
Five minutes later Murray’s pass found it’s way to Jenna Flynn and her first time deflection flashed just past the post as ‘Garvey continued to look more threatening.
McAuley then created the chance for Thom to score an equaliser but Reid was again alert to the danger and the opportunity was missed.
Then from another penalty corner Ruth Millar shot towards the goal after playing a neat one-two but Reid’s agility prevented an equaliser.
The ‘Garvey keeper then again performed heroics to deny Millar at another set piece and from the one that followed Anne Christie made a terrific goal line clearance from Helen Dawson.
Then at the other end it was the turn of Ruth Kelly to take a shot off the line from Laura Johnston and as an incident-packed first half drew to a close Flynn went close to extending the home side’s lead.
A one goal lead is never comfortable and ‘Garvey were to discover that to their cost after the break as their opponents came out looking a much better side than they had been in the opening 35 minutes.
Thom shot over early on and then ‘Garvey had another opportunity to add to their tally when Fallen’s shot was well stopped by Jenny Foster in the visitors’ goal.
On 40 minutes the increasingly busy Reid palmed away a goal bound effort from Lucy Geddes before McAuley shot just wide.
Nine minutes later and with ‘Quins pressing for an equaliser they nearly got it as Jenna Watt was thwarted by another miraculous goal line clearance by Christie.
From a rare breakaway ‘Garvey had a chance from a penalty corner but it was wasted as Laura Montgomery shot tamely wide.
The equaliser that ‘Quins had been threatening to score came in the 59th minute when Amy Geddes swept the ball home at the far past after an assist from Millar.
With four minutes left Esther Irvine turned and shot narrowly wide but ‘Quins hadn’t long to wait for the winner as it came within 30 seconds as Millar converted a superbly rehearsed penalty corner to clinch a crucial victory.