Irish Cup day when the Championship teams enter the fray is always one of the season highlights and on Saturday Banbridge Town had the ominious task of hosting Championship One title contenders Ards at Crystal Park.
Town entered this game as rank outsiders against a side who only a few days previously had put Premier League Champions Cliftonville to the pin of their collar before going out of the County Antrim Shield semi-final to a last gasp extra-time goal.
In the end, Town couldn’t cause an upset, goling down 4-1 at Crystal Park.
The home side welcomed back Stephen Greene, James Wilson and Mattie McCartan but lost full-back Nathan Baird to injury.
It was the visitors who burst out of the traps first and they soon had Banbridge under pressure. On just three minutes Colhoun fired across goal and wide of James McConvilles’s post as Ards showed their intent to go on all out attack before the home side had a chance to settle into the game.
Big midfield enforcer Cully sent Warwick scurrying down the right wing and when the latter sent a teasing ball into the area Town were stretched to the limit before clearing. Mark Teggart and Mattie McCartan fought hard to bring Banbridge a foothold in the game and seemed to be making inroads before they were dealt a blow after only 10 minutes with an Ards goal.
A free out on the left was floated into Town’s box and after a period of head tennis the ball fell to Ross Arthurs at the far post, where he took full advantage to blast high into the net.
Town’s first real effort came on 15 minutes when Conor Downey made a promising run down the right but his final shot was blocked as he reached the edge of the box.Centre forward Colhoun was proving a handful and after 22 minutes he raced behind Town’s rearguard to a clever lob before crashing into the side netting to the relief of the home side.
The home side were dealt a blow when Steve Jones had to retire with injury to be replaced by Glen Waddle. Banbridge
keeper James McConville was on the top of his game and safely held an angled drive from ex Town player Greg Hall as he joined the Ards attack on an overlap.
McConville went full length to get his hand to a Beggs effort on the half-hour when it seemed certain the Ards forward would score.
Ally Wilson was fighting hard as a target man up front for Town but he was often shackled by two or three markers and could make little headway.
Soon after, it was 2-0 to the visitors after a great three man move involving Faulkner, Beggs and Colhoun ended with the latter slotting home.
Pacy midfield ace Faulkner glided through a number of tackles soon after but McConville once again came to Town’s rescue with a fine stop. The Ards man is a gem of a midfielder and lorded this sector throughout.
Whatever Ryan Watson said to his charges at the break it certainly worked. It was a different Banbridge side and they began to take the game to Ards. They were now working harder and closing down the spaces much better.
Five minutes into the second period they got their reward when the hard working Mark Teggart worked his way into the Ards box and fired a drive which took a slight deflection but left Ards keeper Barnett helpless to reduce the arrears.
For the first time in the game Town were dominant and on 52 minutes Mattie McCartan’s chip from 22 yards was clawed away by the diving Barnett with an equaliser looking on.
However, the experienced Ardsmen rode the storm and after 58 minutes gave themselves breathing space with a goal of real quality. That man Faulkner raced down the right before crossing to the unmarked McMillan who curled a fantastic shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
This knocked the steam out of Banbridge although to their credit they fought hard and Ally Wilson went close with a free-kick on the edge of the box.
Cully was then unlucky to see his header from a corner come back off the bar. Ards sealed the game on 82 minutes with another score of the highest quality when Cully volleyed home from 18 yards.
Town can have no qualms as they were beaten by a much superior side but can take heart after a fine second half display.
BANBRIDGE TOWN: McConville, Ferguson, Wilson, Greene, Buchanan, Jones, Teggart, McCartan, Wilson, Downey, Dennison.
Subs: Gourley (McCartan 80), Stoddard, Watson (Downey 71), Waddell (Jones 22), Croft.
ARDS: Barnett, Hall, Beggs, Burns, Shannon, Faulkner, Arthurs, Cully, Warwick, Colhoun, McMillan.
Subs: Hislop, Dougan (Beggs 80), McAllister (Warwick 70), McAllister (McMillan 65).
Referee: Neil Robinson, Portadown.