Rathfriland Rangers got back to winning ways and secured their passage to round three of the Irish Cup with a convincing victory over Dunloy at Iveagh Park on Saturday.
Goals by Conor Macken, Johnny Kernaghan and Noel Lawless paved the way forward for the Whites, and while this may not have been the most eye-catching display so far this season, it was one of the most efficient.
Rathfriland manager John Kernaghan reshuffled his pack for the tie, moving Stephen McArdle in to central midfield and Philip Main back up front, while Aidan Sheekey returned to the starting line-up at full-back after a back injury and Cathal Tumilty began on the wing.
And right from the off, Rangers took the game by the scruff of the neck. Barely five minutes had gone when Darren McGrath rounded Dunloy ‘keeper Sean Doherty and got a shot in from a tight angle only for Duane Scott to slide across and clear off the line.
Moments later, McArdle forced a superb save from Doherty, and from the resulting corner the ball fell to Tumilty who shuffled to make space for a shot from just inside the area and watched as it cannoned back off the upright.
But Rathfriland didn’t have to wait long for their opener when on the quarter-hour Macken rose unchallenged in the box to meet a cross and planted a powerful downward header at goal. Doherty should have stopped the ball as he didn’t have far to move for it, but instead he fumbled it over the line to hand the Whites the advantage.
And it wasn’t long until Rathfriland had the ball in the net again, this time from Main’s header into the far corner, but he was adjudged offside and the goal didn’t stand.
A second goal felt like it was just around the corner, and Kernaghan saw a rocket shot from 22 yards take a deflection which diverted it onto the crossbar, while Doherty did well to firstly push Stephen Hutchinson’s free-kick around the post and then tip Macken’s backheeled effort from a corner over the top.
Dunloy had something of a toothless look about them and didn’t manage to venture into the Rangers’ final third often, but on one rare occasion at the end of the first-half when they did split the defence John McFerran thought he had equalised, but his effort was also ruled out for offside.
The second-half was largely forgettable but it was bookended by two moments of individual brilliance which gave Rathfriland their second and third goals.
Within five minutes of the restart, the Whites were awarded a free-kick just to the right of the Dunloy area and dead-ball specialist Kernaghan whipped it over the wall and into the near side of the net to add to his tally of spectacular goals this season.
Two minutes from the end Dunloy’s Conor Reid received a second yellow card for dissent, after his first had been dished out earlier in the half for unsporting behaviour, and having been reduced to 10 men, Dunloy knew they were beaten.
That shouldn’t take anything away from Noel Lawless, whose wonderful shot from just outside the box rifled past Doherty to finish the last move of the match and seal win.
It was another good win for Rathfriland, easily outplaying their Co Antrim opponents, and the back-four once again were solid and quick to snuff out any danger that came their way. The Rangers’ progression in Northern Ireland’s main cup competition was well-deserved.
And with James Costello finally set to make his debut against Abbey Villa in league action this weekend, the Whites are most certainly on the up.
Man of the match: Conor Macken (Rathfriland Rangers).
RATHFRILAND: Maguire, Sheekey, McCourt, Hutchinson, Bird, Kernaghan, McArdle, Macken, Tumilty, Main, McGrath. Subs: Gilmore, Lawless, Murphy.