BANBRIDGE Rangers became League Champions on Saturday to cement another significant milestone into the history books of the club.
A Chris Chambers penalty with six minutes to go secured all three points and a 3-2 win against AFC Craigavon who had cancelled out two Colin Cousins goals in the first half of the game.
The party was well and truly started with Banbridge Rangers champions sounding out around the streets of the town on Saturday night.
Banbridge Rangers had come agonisingly close to promotion the last two seasons but this year there was no stopping a rampant Gers side who secured promotion with five games remaining under the stewardship of Dan Thornton.
This could prove to be an historic week for the seven year old club who will be looking to complete a league and cup double when they take on Ballymacash Rangers in the Alan Wilson Cup final replay on Saturday morning at Crystal Park.
On Saturday Banbridge Rangers knew that a return off one point from their last two league games would secure the title but were determined to put it out off sight before the Cup Final replay and opened the scoring after only four minutes when Colin Cousins was on hand to tap in a Jason Gourley low cross from the byline after working a quick corner with Neil Clydesdale.
On 10 minutes however AFC Craigavon equalised when a long ball over the top caused hesitancy in the Rangers back line and the striker ran on to the ball and scored from an acute angle with a very composed finish.
On 15 minutes Rangers midfielder Richard McMinn turned well inside the box but his low shot from ten yards out was well saved by the Craigavon keeper who then saw Colin Cousins head just over the bar.
Jason Gourley had the next opportunity to regain the lead midway through the half when he was slipped clear of the last defender by the enigmatic Clydesdale but his shot was smothered by the keeper.
On the half hour mark striker Gourley turned provider from the left hand flank crossing to the back post for Cousins to nod down and past the Craigavon keeper to give the Gers a 2-1 lead.
Colin Cousins’ goal scoring exploits on Saturday should have proved to be a good omen as he was on the score sheet in both off the league winning games in Banbridge Rangers previous two title wins in 2007 and 2011.
A goalmouth scramble saw Rangers get pegged back on level terms with only minutes to the half time interval with AFC Craigavon gifted a goal through some unusual tentative play at the back. Craigavon’s Lakeview Park was also the setting for one of Banbridge Rangers most disappointing results in recent years when they needed a win in the last game of the 2009/10 season to go up but ended up drawing 1-1 but there was now 45 minutes to put that result to bed once and for all and win for the first time on the bogey ground.
AFC Craigavon defended well in the second half limiting Banbridge Rangers chances and had a good spell of pressure for ten minutes when a succession of corners were cleared by William Frazer and Chris Chambers to the relief of the Blue and White Army who had turned up to cheer on their team.
As the game wore on Dan Thornton introduced Peter Dean and Ryan Weir onto the wings to try and unlock AFC from wide areas but the closest Rangers came to a goal was a Chris Chambers thunderbolt direct free kick which rattled the crossbar but the remarkable thing was that the free kick was inside his own half.
With six minutes to go Neil Clydesdale looked certain to score when he picked up a cross on the six yard line after it cleared the last defenders head with the tricky midfielder choosing to check inside for the shot but was brought down for a penalty. Deadball specialist Chris Chambers had the league title to win from 12 yards and did so with confidence curling the ball into the top corner to the delight of the travelling support.
Several minutes later the champagne bottles were cracked open and the party started for Banbridge Rangers, the champions!