Goals early and late in the game gave Johnny Glynn's Airtricity First Division side a hard earned narrow win over non league Donegal side Cockhill Celtic in the opening round of the EA Sports Cup at Fahy's Field on Saturday afternoon.
The home side came into the opening competitive game of the 2013 campaign without a number of players due to suspensions and injuries as new signings Joe Woods, Gary Curran and Brendan Lavelle all made their home debuts.
Mervue got off to a perfect start on five minutes as Marc Ludden's excellent delivery from the left picked out Lavelle. He headed straight at Cockhill keeper Gavin Cullen from close range but Tom King was on hand to sweep the loose ball home.
You would have expected the home side to go on and dominate the game but not so as the Donegal side gave as good as they got and, for long periods of the second half in particular, looked the more likely side to progress.
In a forgettable opening half, after the goal, Lavelle did force an excellent save from Cullen on 33 minutes but the striker looked isolated for a lot of the game on his own up front against a physically imposing Cockhill defence.
King had a second goal disallowed two minutes before the break when he ran onto a Lavelle through ball and slotted past an advancing Cullen but that effort was ruled out with an offside flag.
The visitors came out in the second period and really came to life as they forced the game, creating four good chances before finally levelling matters. Two minutes after the break Connor Gleeson denied Garbhan Friel with an excellent stop, while Conor Keddy also saw the big keeper push his close range header over the crossbar at the expense of a corner on 51 minutes.
Winger Keddy did well down the right and his dangerous ball across the face of goals couldn’t be turned home at the back post by Mark Moran on 55 minutes. One of eight second half corners for the visitors then saw Moran deliver a low ball to Malachy McDermott whose first time shot curled just wide of the mark on 63 minutes.
Three minutes later and the Ulster Senior league side were level as centre half Johnny Havlin powerfully headed a Jimmy Bradley free-kick into the top corner giving Gleeson no chance. Gleeson came to his side’s rescue again two minutes later tipping another well struck Bradley effort around the post for a corner.
The home side finally registered a second half effort when Gary Curran’s ball over the fullback released Marc Ludden into the box but Cullen advanced and save with his feet after 72 minutes.
Just as it looked as we were heading for extra time Mervue struck for the winner as Cockhill failed to clear following a corner. Curran slipped the ball through for Lavelle who showed real composure rounding Cullen and rolling the ball into the empty net from a tight angle.
The non league side did have a great chance to level again in the 91st minute after Bradley fed the ball to McDermott just inside the box but he saw his shot whistle past Gleeson’s post for the final chance of the game.
Mervue United: Connor Gleeson; Joe Woods, Mike McSweeney, Martin Conneely (Mike Elwood 49), Kenny Farrell; Tom King, Gary Curran, Gary Kelly, Marc Ludden; Alex Lee (Dillon Murphy 60), Brendan Lavelle.
Subs not used: Ross Kenny, Oscar Sibanda, Adrian Gronin (GK)
Booked: Joe Woods (86)
Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen: Ciaran McLoughlin (Gerry Gill 84), Oisin McColgan, Johnny Havlin, Jimmy Bradley; Conor Keddy, Malachy McDermott, Liam O’Donnell, Mark Moran; Gerard McLaughlin (Aidan O’Donnell 84), Garbhan Friel.
Subs not used: Greg Bradley, Derek Doherty, Christy McLaughlin, William O’Connor, Paddy Quigley.
Referee: Trevor Conlon.