BANBRIDGE Town, cock-a-hoop after their previous league victory over Portstewart, faced a stern task on Saturday last at Crystal Park when Knockbreda - who were so unlucky last season not to have gained promotion to Championship One)- were the visitors.
The Belfast side, paying their first ever visit to Banbridge, are current league leaders, not having conceded a single point to date this season.
Town were not helped by the fact that they had to go into the game minus regulars Robb, Wilson, Johnson and Jones for a variety of reasons.
They almost stole an early lead when Chris McGrath ghosted in to meet a left wing cross but the fiery midfielder headed into the side netting.
However it was the confident visitors prompted by McMenamin and Hislop who began to control things and they received a great boost in the 10th minute when they were awarded a penalty after Stuart Thompson had sent Finlay sprawling following a rash challenge. Town ‘keeper Kieran Maguire just failed to reach Wright’s spot kick and Knockbreda were 1-0 ahead.
Impressive full-back Johnston shot over after 15 minutes after a patient build up. The homesters were playing second fiddle all over the park and conceded a second soft goal after 19 minutes when Hislop had a simple tap in following a corner.
Town did try to get themselves back into the game and Barry Tumilty headed a Chris Kingsberry corner over after rising above the visiting rearguard.
The former had another shot blocked after 26 minutes.
Their pressure was shortlivid however and Knockbreda again assumed control with ex. Glenavon starlet Finlay screwing an effort wide after a good run from Williamson on 31 minutes. Town counter attacked and Kingsberry sent Mattie McCartan racing down the right but the marauding right back’s cross was too powerful and the danger was gone.
Conor Downey finished weakly after 34 mi nutes after one of the few good Town movements of the half.
Corey almost put Knockbreda out of sight with a great shot that whizzed inches wide after an excellent lay-off from Finlay. Paul Walsh had a dipping volley held by Cairnduff on 39 minutes and just before the break Stevie McArdle’s inviting cross was sent tamely over by Conor Downey - last season’s leading goalscorer is having a torrid time so far in his second season with Banbridge.
Town’s nightmare continued two minutes into the second half when the tall gangly McClean beat the advancing ‘keeper Maguire to a cross and headed over the stranded Town custodian to put his side into a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Banbridge’s central defenders seemed to go missing for this goal which ended the game as a contest. Stevie McArdle did not appear for the second half through injury and was replaced by Stephen O’Neill.
The latter had a real chance to pull a goal back for Town after 64 minutes but miskicked in front of goal after Downey picked him out after receiving a misplaced pass in the Knockbreda defence.
Young O’Neill went close again in the 71st minute when he forced Cairnduff to save with his feet after a fine effort.
The goal of the game came on 77 minutes when Joe Finlay swivelled on the edge of the box and sent a scorcher into the corner of Town’s net with Maguire completely helpless.
A thoroughly professional performance from Knockbreda but for Town its back to basics and a lot of soul searching before next Saturday’s (September 22) visit to Annagh Utd in the Bob Radcliffe Cup (kick-off 2.30pm)
On the following Saturday (September 29) Queens University will be visitors to Crystal Park in Championship 2 (kick-off 3pm)
TEAMS: Banbridge Town: Kieran Maguire, Mattie McCartan, Paul Walsh, Stuart Thompson, Martin Buchanan, Barry Tumilty, Stephen McArdle, Chris McGrath, Conor Downey, Chris Kingsberry, Darren McGrath, SUBS: Stephen O’Neill (for McArdle 45mins.), Johnny Porter, Graeme Edgar, Adam McBurney, Stephen Croft (GK).
Knockbreda: Paul Cairnduff, Daniel Hanna, Matthew Johnston, Michael McClean, Jim McMenamin, Eddie Williamson, Gareth Corey, Stephen Hislop, Joe Finlay, James Wright, Paul Young, SUBS: Stephen Curley (for Corey 68mins.), Colm Carson (for Johnston 83mins.), Kevin O’Neill (for Wright 80mins.), Connor Corey, Paul Mateer.
REFEREE: Stephen Wallace, L’Derry.