ALTHOUGH missing the injured Chris McGrath and Stevie McArdle maximum points from their last two league outings had given Banbridge Town fresh impetus and a growing confidence as they faced in-form Steele & Sons Cup semi-finalists Ballyclare Comrades at Crystal Park on Saturday last.
However it was the visitors who came out of the traps first and they had the ball in Town’s net after only two minutes through Adam Gray but had the effort ruled out for offside.
Town were living dangerously at this stage and when Agnew got in behind Danny Johnson soon after it took a good stop from Michael McAllister to prevent the Comrades from going ahead. Banbridge rode the storm and in a quick attack Stephen O’Neill and Chris Kingsberry combined only for the latter’s final ball to be intercepted and cleared.
Ricky Higgins (what a servant he has been to the Comrades) saw a real thunderbolt brilliantly palmed away by McAllister on 14 minutes as Ballyclare upped the pace.
It was no surprise when the visitors took the lead on 25 minutes through Ross Early who blasted home in a crowded goalmouth. It was no more than Ballyclare deserved!
Town showed their renown fighting spirit when Kingsberry sent Stuart Thompson charging down the right but his cross was met with a weak O’Neill header and the chance was gone.
Young O’Neill almost made amends seconds later when he outfoxed the visitors defence to drive a great shot just the wrong side of the post with the ‘keeper beaten.
Play then raced to the other end and McAllister held a Magowan effort after 29 minutes. The Town custodian saved again from Higgins after 35 minutes and was at this stage clearly the busier of the two keepers.
On 41 minutes and slightly against the run of play Town were level. Barry Tumilty was the architect of this goal when he burst through from the middle of the park and his exquisite lob was glanced past ‘keeper Paddy Flood by the inrushing Johnny Porter.
This was the boost Town needed and they were a different team in the second half with Tumilty, McCartan, Kingsberry and Walsh taking control in midfield and feeding the frontmen with a lot more good ball.
They took the lead in the 52nd minute when Ballyclare ‘keeperFlood took the head staggers and pushed Town’s big Centre back Johnson in the back with Referee Creaney pointing to the spot. Up stepped Mattie McCartan to send Flood the wrong way and Town were 2-1 ahead.
Amazingly they were awarded a second penalty after 65 minutes when Stephen O’Neill was poleaxed when in possesion in the area and once again it was that man mcCartan who stepped up to blast to the net to send Town 3-1 ahead. It was an amazing turnaround to the game!
Darren McGrath replaced the injured Paul Walsh at this stage with Conor Downey coming on soon after in Johnny Porter’s position. Ballyclare were not giving up and with Ricky Higgins and Kyle Agnew always dangerous the homesters were not home and hosed just yet.
Conor Downey came close to putting the issue beyond doubt on 80 minutes when he raced in from the left to fire just the wrong side of the post with a 20 yard volley. Flood saved at the feet of O’Neill soon after but Town were rocked back on their feet after 87 minutes when Magowan hit a great free kick over the Town wall and past McAllister to reduce the arrears.
However despite a lot of pressure time ran out for Ballyclare and Town held out for a terrific 3 - 2 victory.
And so Banbridge Town’s improvement continues and they are at last giving their Supporters hope for the future with a brand of football that certainly is easy on the eye.
Next Saturday Town travel to Belfast to meet Sports & Leisure Swifts in another league encounter. There’s no reason they should not return to Banbridge with another three valuable league points.
Banbridge Town: Michael McAllister, Stuart Thompson, Simon Robb, Stephen Greene, Danny Johnson, Barry Tumilty, Stephen O;Neill, Mattie McCartan, Johnny Porter, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Darren McGrath (for Walsh 62mins.), Conor Downey (for Porter 74mins.), Stephen Jones (for Tumilty 78 mins.), James Wilson.
Ballyclare Comrades: Paddy Flood, Craig Reid, Chris Monteith, Aaron Montgomery, Andrew Doyle, Gerard McClea, Ross Early, Simon Magowan, Kyle Agnew, Ricky Higgins, Adam Gray. Subs: Paul Harbinson, Darren Doherty (for Reid 52mins.),Steven McDowell(for McClea 75mins.), Eddie Hill (for Gray 60 mins.), Warren McAllister. Referee: Simon Creaney, N’Ards.