Rathfriland Swifts Reserves did the double over Gilford Crusaders Reserves in their final game of the season on Saturday, stretching their winning run to six games with a 2-1 victory.
In the opening exchanges the Swifts Reserves looked more likely to gain the advantage.
As Rathfriland pushed for the opener, the back-line of Johnston, O’Neill, Fraiser and Mark held firm to any counter that Gilford held.
The first chance of the game fell to Martin, who snatched his effort just wide of the near post. Soon after a header from Keown from a Mark cross went narrowly over the bar.
Keown was unfortunate to be ruled offside moments later after converting a Power cross with a clever header.
Gilford did break through the resilient defence of Rathfriland and drew a smart save from Monaghan in goal, the resulting corner was powerfully headed over the bar. From the goal-kick, midfield won possession, Power fed Keown the ball and his neat lay-off was emphatically struck home by Martin to give the Swifts Reserves the lead.
Five minutes later Keown was rewarded for applying pressure on the home goal-keeper, the attempted clearance deflected off Keown’s best asset and trickled over the goal-line. The score-line at half-time 2-0 to the visitors, and they were good value for it.
Rathfriland started the second half with the aim of putting Gilford to the sword. They used the wings of Rooney and Ward to great effect, the latter unlucky not to covert from a great passing move. Ward was caught in two minds and his tame effort didn’t match the good approach play.
As Rathfriland pushed for a third, they began to leave gaps in midfield, exposing the back-line and Gilford’s pace up top began to bear some fruit. Monaghan was quick off his line to sweep away several attacks but a good save with his feet saw the ball fall on the edge of the area, allowing a neat finish from Gilford to make it 2-1.
The introduction of the lively Ryan Williamson and a midfield shuffle saw Rathfriland take control of the game again.
The young substitute was unlucky not to get on the score-sheet, having made a great run into the box but firing over from 10 yards. Gordon Johnston’s quick-thinking was nearly rewarded with a spectacular goal. The dead bounce from the 3G surface killed a speculative effort from 50 yards, allowing the Gilford keeper to collect just before the ball crossed the line.
The game ended with the score-line at 2-1 and the Swifts Reserves ended their 2013/14 campaign with six straight league wins.
In what was their first season in Reserve Division Three, the Swifts Reserves will look back and regret indifferent form pre-Christmas. Positives can be taken from a strong cup run in the O’Hara Cup and an encouraging finish to the league campaign.
The final weeks of the season have demonstrated that with competition for places and a strong team spirit, the quality is apparent and, with hard work, results will follow.