IT was a return to winning ways once again for a very spirited and highly motivated Banbridge Town side who brushed aside the challenge from Amateur League side Abbey Villa at the latter’s Millisle ground to ensure that their name will be in the hat when the draw is made for Round 3 of this season’s Coca-Cola Intermediate Cup.
Abbey Villa, who were named Junior Team of the year in 2008, were the perfect hosts, even supplying mulled wine, mince pies, soup and stew to all spectators, a gesture well received by Town’s travelling support!
However the genial homesters were simply blown away by a thoroughly professional performance from Town.
Former Ards icon and Irish League Legend Billy Humphries, an interested spectator at Saturdays game, commented very favourably on the Banbridge display stating that they were an excellent team who played superb ground football despite the heavy and sticky underfoot conditions - praise indeed from one of the all time greats of Irish League Football.
It must also be remembered that it was Abbey Villa who shocked Town in an Irish Cup tie at Crystal Park back in 2008 with a late 3-2 victory that day, but a repeat never looked likely last Satuday in what was a high tempo game.
Town dictated matters from the onset and stretched the homesters all over the pitch with captain Barry Tumilty leading the charge with probing passes which he sprayed from every angle.
Town were ahead after 12 minutes after Chris Kingsberry skipped down the right and found Stephen O’Neill in the box. The young striker, who was named in place of the ill Stephen McArdle, was upended resulting in the referee pointing to the spot. Up stepped Chris McGrath to shoot low into the corner of the net.
Chris took on the responsibility as Town’s normal spot kick taker Mattie McCartan is on the injured list and could be out for approximately six weeks.
Villa’s big ‘keeper Don Munn was a busy man and in quick succession he thwarted Kingsberry and O’Neill as they peppered his goal with efforts. He was also lively to push out a fierce Paul Walsh drive.
It was 2-0 after 15 minutes when the latter crossed from the left for O’Neill to drift in and head past Munn for a goal he had been threatening from the kick-off.
There was no respite for the Amateur League side and two minutes later left back Simon Robb pushed forward and found Chris McGrath lurking 20 yards from goal and the midfield ace powered a trademark volley past a bemused Munn to put Town 3-0 ahead with only 17 minutes gone.
Abbey Villa could not cope with Town’s flowing football which was a joy to behold for the away support.
Just before the break Stuart Thompson raced forward and saw his effort fly just past the angle with Munn beaten.
It was a blistering first half display from Town who were in such command that ‘keeper Stephen Croft did not get a touch until the 26th minute - and that was a back-pass!
A regrouped Abbey Villa tried to get into the game but once again it was Town who controlled matters and stretched their lead even further after 47 minutes. Influencial Chris Kingsberry worked the ball to the industrious Conor Downey who turned and drilled his shot past the despairing Munn to make it 4-0.
At this stage manager Brian Adair emptied his bench, introducing Stephen Jones, Johnny Porter and Darren McGrath to give them game time. Valiant Villa fought courageously on but found Town’s central defensive duo Stephen Greene and Martin Buchanan too solid for them.
The substitutions naturally upset Town’s rhythm although they continued to dominate and indeed on the hour extended their lead. Simon Robb and Paul Walsh combined down the left and when the latter crossed Stephen O’Neill ghosted in front of ‘keeper Munn and glanced his second header of the afternoon to the net.
He went so close to grabbing his hat-trick soon after but on this occasion the big ‘keeper was equal to the task and saved well. A great result and Town can look forward to the next round draw with a degree of confidence.
TEAM: Stephen Croft, Stuart Thompson, Simon Robb, Martin Buchanan, Stephen Greene, Barry Tumilty, Chris Kingsberry, Chris McGrath, Conor Downey, Stephen O’Neill, Paul Walsh. Subs: Stephen Jones (for Tumilty), Johnny Porter (for Downey), Darren McGrath (for Walsh).
Next Saturday (December 22) Town have no fixture but on Saturday 29th December it is back to League action when high flying Armagh City will be visitors (kick-off 2pm).
There is an attractive fixture at Crystal Park on Thursday 27th December when The Mid-Ulster Premier Cup Final between Camlough Rovers and Tandragee Rovers (kick-off 1pm) will be played. This game will attract a large crowd and is well worth going along to see.
Banbridge Town Football Club members are reminded that the Christmas Party for members and guests will take place this Saturday December 22 in the Social Club commencing at 8pm. Food, soft drinks and music will be provided free of charge. So come early for what should be a great night! The Christmas Draw will take place on the night and members are requested to return all tickets to John McGuiness on or before Saturday.