A superb penalty save low to his left in injury-time from Abbeyleix goalkeeper Chris Doyle secured all three points for the Laois side after an incident packed game in Birr on Sunday morning.
CCFL Premier Division
Birr Town 0
Abbeyleix Athletic 1
A sweetly taken goal from Adrian Stynes just two minutes after half-time was the crucial score in a game where chances were at a premium as both sides defended stoutly throughout.
Both sides finished with 10 men with Birr substitute Stephen Byrne being shown a straight red on the hour mark for a late tackle and he was joined on the sidelines eight minutes later by Abbeyleix’ Daniel Coffey who was shown a second yellow card after he slid into a challenge.
Over the 90 minutes Abbeyleix probably just deserved the win as they created the better chances. Birr had the better of the play for much of the game and were the better side in possession but they lacked the cutting edge up front and rarely threatened the Abbeyleix goal.
It was a vital win for an understrength Abbeyleix who were short of a number of regular players due to injury and the absence of a number of younger players who were in action with the Abbeyleix-Ballypickas U-21 hurlers on Saturday.
The result moves them up the table away from the relegation battle and they still have games in hand to move further up the Premier Division table.
On a cold and damp morning Birr made the early running but they were restricted to shots from distance. Abbeyleix created the first chance of the game but Daniel Coffey’s powerful header from a corner was saved by Darren Browne.
Fourteen minutes into the game Birr came close to taking the lead in similar circumstances from a corner but Craig Shortt’s close range header was instinctively saved by Chris Doyle. The rebound fell to Adrian Brown but his shot was blocked.
Abbeyleix began to play their way into the game and came very close to taking the lead on the 20 minute mark. A long range shot from Niall Wallace was parried by Darren Brown in the Birr goal but the ‘keeper was quickly back on his feet and saved again from Stephen Hawkins who was looking to force home the rebound.
William Brien had the thankless job of playing a lone striker role for Abbeyleix but he chased down every ball and covered more ground than any player on the field. He came close to getting his reward before half-time when he latched onto a cross from Stephen Hawkins but his effort was deflected away by a Birr defender.
It remained scoreless at the break but during the interval the Abbeyleix management made a switch to the right side of their team moving Adrian Stynes from full-back up to play on the wing. It proved an inspired move as just two minutes after the restart he got on the end of a deep cross from Niall Wallace and he drilled the volley low to the back of the net.
On the hour mark Birr were reduced to 10 men when substitute Stephen Byrne, who had only been on the field for 10 minutes, was shown a straight red card for an incident after the ball was cleared.
Abbeyleix came close to doubling their lead soon after but Niall Wallace’s shot was well saved by Darren Brown.
Abbeyleix’ numerical advantage only lasted eight minutes as Ger Fennelly was sent off after receiving a second yellow card on 68 minutes.
Abbeyleix kept up the pressure when they were down to ten men and again came close to extending their lead when a dangerous cross in Stephen Hawkins was cut out just in time by Aaron Flanagan. With ten minutes remaining goal scorer Adrian Stynes almost turned provider but his cross was just out of the reach of substitute Brian Lawless.
In the final ten minutes Birr threw everything forward in search of an equaliser playing just three at the back. Abbeyleix defended well with the centre-half partnership of Neil Clooney and David Brennan very much to the fore.
However just when it looked as if Abbeyleix had seen the game out, Birr were awarded a penalty when Paul Egan was tripped by Neil Clooney.
With two minutes of injury-time already played, Michael McGrath stepped up to take the kick but his low effort to the left corner was brilliantly parried away by Chris Doyle. That proved to be the last chance of the game as Abbeyleix held on for a crucial win.
Birr: Darren Brown, David McEvoy, Adrian Flanagan, Adrian Brown, Barry Harding, Michael McGrath, Philip Lyons, Craig Pardy, Craig Shortt, Paul Egan, Justin Doyle. Subs: Stephen Byrne for Philip Lyons (53mins), Shane Pardy for Adrian Brown (81mins)
Abbeyleix: Chris Doyle, Adrian Stynes, Darren Whelan, Neil Clooney, David Brennan, Ger Fennelly, Eoin O’Brien, Daniel Coffey, Stephen Hawkins, Niall Wallace, William Brien. Subs: Brian Lawless for William Brien (70mins)