BANBRIDGE Firsts were back in action against Cookstown after a lengthy break.
Banbridge had a severely depleted squad, with Peter Brown and Bruce McCandless away with the Irish senior team in India, whilst there were also several injuries to Matthew Bell, Scott Caruth and Josh Moffett.
With under seven games to go in the season this was a crucial game for the Lurgan Road men, who were looking to consolidate their position at the top of the table.
Cookstown started the better, controlling both possession and territory in the opening stages of the game. Bann’s defence held strong with some great tackles from both Forbes brothers. Both Bann and Cookstown were creating chances but were unable to provide a clinical finish.
Banbridge got the break-through half way into the first half with a terrific counter-attacking goal, Cookstown had a short corner that was well saved from Gareth Lennox, the ball broke kindly for Banbridge and allowed them to go forward with great pace through Phillip Brown who then fed Stevie Dowds in the circle. Stevie produced a brilliant pass, to pick out Dane Ward who applied the finishing touch to a great move.
This settled Banbridge and they soon took control of the game. Owen Magee and Hugh McShane playing particularly well in the middle of the park, allowing Bann to attack with real danger.
However, Cookstown continued to look dangerous, and were unlucky not to be level after a crash ball played across the Bann goal was not finished by their forwards.
Banbridge had chances of their own as well, Stevie Dowds just shooting wide from a short corner. Cookstown were soon level, after a sustained period of pressure, a Cookstown player tapped in at the back post to make it 1-1 after a brilliant reverse stick cross.
Bann struck back from the pass back, Stevie Dowds played a wonderful aerial over the top of Cookstown’s defence where Dane Ward doubled his tally after beating the keeper and slotting into the empty net. Bann went into half time leading 2-1.
Banbridge came out strongly in the second half playing with a great tempo, pressing high up the pitch and retaining much of the possession. Both Drew Carlisle and Phillip Brown continued to make important tackles across the pitch making sure that Bann maintained their lead.
Colin Dowds picked up a green card for a poor tackle, Cookstown however could not take advantage as the Bann defence kept them at bay. Bann extended their lead, after a great effort from the Bann forwards who were full of running all day.
Stevie Dowds applied the finishing touch as his reverse stick shot was too hot for the Cookstown keeper to handle, to make it 3-1.
Cookstown were not beaten however and continued to press, drawing some fantastic saves from ex-Cookstown player, Gareth Lennox.
A moment of madness from a Cookstown player saw his initial green card, upgraded to a yellow, then after pushing the umpire to a red. The ‘Town had to play the remainder of the game with ten players.
Bann piled on the pressure, forcing the oppositions back line into several mistakes and were unfortunate not to extend their lead further. Fraser Mills came close with a reverse effort, whilst Stevie Dowds was unlucky no one was on the end of his cross that whistled past the back post.
Cookstown played on the break with 10 men but it was too little too late, they got a somewhat consolation goal after the final whistle after a short corner was touched in at the back post.
The game finished Banbridge 3 Cookstown 2, a fantastic result for the Lurgan Road men with a small squad managed to maintain their healthy lead at the top of the table. Next week the firsts travel to Annadale to move one step closer to the league title.