Former Amateur League kingpins Newington YC, famed for their historic Irish Cup victory over mighty Glentoran a few seasons ago, made their first ever visit to Crystal Park on Saturday and suffered their first defeat at the ground, Banbridge winning 2-1.
Having recorded a 2-0 win over Town at Seaview earlier in the season, the fifth placed North Belfast men were in bullish mood and confident of completing the double over struggling Banbridge.
Welcoming back Dee McParland, Town boss Ryan Watson assured supporters that the home side would end their rut of hard luck stories sooner rather than later and they did it with a great second half performance which was equal to any of their terrific early season displays.
It would be hard to pick a Town man of the match because there were super displays from keeper Stephen Cairnduff, who produced two magnificent saves at crucial moments, Stephen Greene at the back, Damian McParland in midfield and Johnny Kernoghan up front.
It was also good to see Conor Downey back to his best in a brilliant second half display that saw him cover every blade of grass and round it all off by scoring the winning goal.
Playing with the aid of a strong wind, Newington were soon in the driving seat, creating the early chances. McGovern wshotwide on 12 minutes after a good move involving Manning and ex-Crusaders man Gilgunn. He went close with a header from 10 yards after getting on the end of a Neal Quinn free.
Banbridge were fighting to stop the Newington momentum and Mark Teggart was first on target with a long range effort from way out on the right but keeper Smyth held comfortably. Minutes later, it looked as if Newington would take the lead when Rafferty bore down on goal but a great covering tackle from Nathan Baird, who makes a welcome habit of this, stopped the striker in his tracks.
Stephen Greene bravely got his body in the way of a Quinn thunderbolt on 27 minutes but, two minutes later, Town were rocked when the referee awarded a penalty against Greene. Up stepped Rafferty to blast pass Cairnduff and put the visitors ahead.
On the half-hour it took two magnificent bits of defending to prevent Town from going further behind. The impressive Walsh skipped past Nathan Baird and fired a rocket which seemed destined for the onion bag. However ‘keeper Cairnduff had other ideas and bent backwards to claw the ball from under the bar with the alert James Wilson hooking clear of the danger area.
This was to be a turning point and Town were becoming more confident. None more so than diminutive winger Johnny Kernoghan who roused the home support with an equaliser out of the blue after 34 minutes.
Gathering the ball some 35 yards from goal and with the Newington defence expecting him to pass to a colleague, he smashed a volley into the corner of the net past an offguard Smyth in the visitors goal.
It was just the boost Town needed and although Burns went close for Newington on 41 minutes after good build up work from Walsh and Quinn, it was Town who went in at half-time happier at 1-1.
With their new-found confidence and playing with the aid of the strong wind Banbridge began for the first time to take the game to Newington and when Downey and Kernoghan combined on 53 minutes the latter rode a tackle and fired across an open net but unfortunately for Town no-one was on hand to finish.
It was nip and tuck as the game wore on and it became obvious the next goal could well decide the contest.
Walsh slipped past two Town players in a dangerous Newington raid but once again Nathan Baird came to the rescue with a timely tackle.
On 61 minutes, a scintillating Conor Downey run which was all of 60 yards stretched the visitors rearguard. Ryan Watson had switched wingers Teggart and Kernoghan and this move was beginning to pay dividends, plus the ever increasing influence of McParland in midfield was turning this entertaining game in Town’s favour.
Their fightback was complete when after 70 minutes they took a 2-1 lead. Mark Teggart began the move and sent Johnny Kernoghan racing behind the visitor’s defence with an angled pass. The latter did really well to pick out the unmarked Conor Downey who shot past Smyth for his first goal two and a half months.
This was more like the Downey of old and that augers well for himself and Town for the remainder of the season.
However, it was a nervy last 20 minutes for the home side as Newington threw everything at them. Sub McKeating headed wide after beating the Town defence to a right wing cross and Stephen Cairnduff was Town’s hero on 82 with a flying save to turn a goalbound header over the bar.
Newington had another chance to equalise just before full-time when they were awarded a free on the edge of the box but their effort was charged down and cleared by a determined Town rearguard in which substitute Michael Ferguson fitted in perfectly.
It was certainly three welcome points and a boost for Watson’s depleted squad as they go into the latter stages of the season.
TOWN: Stephen Cairnduff, James Wilson, Nathan Baird, Stephen Greene, Glen Waddell, Martin Buchanan, Mark Teggart, Damian McParland, Gary Boyle, Conor Downey, Johnny Kernoghan. Subs: Michael Ferguson (Baird 65), Dominic Donnelly (Boyle 84), Gareth Orr, Dylan Martin.
NEWINGTOWN YC: Dean Smyth, Dee Manning, Conal Burns, James McMenamin, Sean Adams, Sean Walsh, Neal Quinn, Peter Gilgunn, Kevin McGovern, Gary Rafferty, Cormac Brannigan. Subs: Chris McFaul (Brannigan 45), Tiernan McKeating (Quinn 70), Sean Bagnall (McGovern 70), Thomas Duffy.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).