Costello strikes to lift Rangers off the bottom

James Costello netted twice to give Rathfriland a much-needed win on Saturday. IN BL WK 3514-504.
James Costello netted twice to give Rathfriland a much-needed win on Saturday. IN BL WK 3514-504.

A James Costello brace gave Rathfriland Rangers a second consecutive league victory for only the second time this season and lifted them off the foot of the table.

Second-placed Lisburn Rangers were firm favourites going into the clash at Iveagh Park, and while the visitors went ahead in the second period, the fighting spirit that new manager Clifford Sterritt has instilled in his side came through and they did more than enough to deserve the three points.

Just last month, the Whites had suffered a humiliating 6-0 away defeat at the hands of Saturday’s high-flying opponents, but from the off they were immediately more competitive and their defence - strengthened by the addition of new signing Chris Havern - was difficult to break down.

Equally, however, the Lisburn backline was rock solid and the 3-5-2 formation Rathfriland had deployed was proving unable to conjure up any worthwhile opportunities in front of goal.

The only chance of note in the first-half fell to the visitors, but Shane Harrison made a remarkable point-blank save to keep his side on level terms.

Sterritt had seen enough in the opening exchanges for him toshuffle his pack at the break. Midfielder Mickey Green was replaced by new signing Decky Carville as the Whites switched to a 4-4-2.

But within 10 minutes of the restart, Lisburn went ahead. The ball broke loose following a tackle in midfield and the visitors moved play to the left wing with pace, before the winger delivered a pinpoint cross which was headed in at the back post.

Whereas a Rathfriland side face with a similar situation would have allowed heads to drop two months ago, this rejuvenated outfit under Sterritt has started to show a battling spirit. Five minutes after falling behind, they had a leveller.

Ross Black, another of Sterritt’s additions making his debut in a white shirt, collected possession in the final third before threading a ball through for Costello who turned back inside on to his left foot and curled his finish inside far post.

And the turnaround was completed on 70 minutes, with the hugely impressive Carville the architect. He beat three players on the left-hand-side with his trickery before flicking the ball back to Costello inside the area who acrobatically finished an awkward bouncing ball into the far right corner.

And Carville almost capped his debut with a goal of his own when he broke through for a one-on-one with the Lisburn keeper five minutes from the finish, but he failed to round him and snaffle the chance.

As the clocked ticked towards 90, the visitors threw themselves forward and Harrsion was required to be alert in making a couple of good saves to keep the Whites’ lead intact, and as Lisburn bombarded the box with a series of corners, his presence, along with that of defenders Havern and Larkin, proved vital as the points were kept safe.

To have beaten two of the league’s most-fancied sides in the space of a week demonsrates the distance Rathfriland have come in such a short space of time, and the standard has been set now for a big push towards securing safety, starting this weekend with a tricky away encounter with Dundonald.