Rathfriland Rangers chalked up a massive 2-0 win in a tough, bruising encounter away to league leaders Abbey Villa on Saturday, with James Costello netting on his debut.
The trip to Millisle is the Whites’ longest distance to travel for a league fixture this season and they made sure the journey was worth it, with Costello’s strike and a goal by Darren McGrath earning a fully-deserved three points.
But the game was marred by a serious shoulder injury sustained by Rangers midfielder Conor Macken several minutes from the end, which forced the referee to draw an early conclusion to the game.
The home side had lost only one of their opening seven games going into the weekend’s match, but after a good recent run of results stretching back well over a month, John Kernaghan’s men were brimming with confidence.
However, within two minutes Villa went inches away from taking the lead, Ryan Munn’s strike taking a deflection before cannoning back off the crossbar.
Usually a striker, Costello was deployed in a midfield role by Rangers manager Kernaghan but he wasn’t shy when it came to getting forward and 24 minutes in he showed his class with the opener.
Philip Main spotted his run in behind the Villa defence and slipped a pass through, which Costello finished emphatically, stroking it first-time right into the top corner.
And McDermott had an even better opportunity just before the break when the diminutive winger rounded the keeper before Brian Bird made a goal-saving tackle.
Villa began the second-half much like they did in the first - on the front foot but again without an end product - and Rathfriland struck on the counter attack on 55 minutes.
McGrath left full-back Gareth Sloan in his wake with a dizzying turn before curling the ball past the dive of Villa keeper Jon Munn to round off a moment of real ingenuity from the Whites frontman.
Villa didn’t deserve to be down by two goals and only two stunning saves from Maguire prevented them from reducing the deficit. First, he blocked an effort from six yards by Adam Arthurs, before getting fingertips to Gavin Munn’s shot to tip it over the top.
The game was halted shortly before the 90 when Macken collided with an opponent inside the Rangers’ box. Officials from both clubs and the referee agreed to call it to an end so Macken could receive medical attention, with paramedics arriving a short time afterwards.
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Maguire, Sheekey, McCourt, Hutchinson, Bird, Kernaghan, Macken, Costello, Tumilty, Main, McGrath. Subs: Lawless, Murphy.