Top four finish in doubt following away defeat for Rathfriland

Larne Tech OB 3

Rathfriland Rangers 1

Rathfriland Rangers fell to defeat in their final away game of the season against Larne Tech Old Boys, a result which leaves a top-four finish now looking unlikely for the Whites.

On a glorious summery Saturday afternoon, the game had a distinct end-of-season feel and with Rathfriland missing some key players they were on the back foot from the beginning against a fast, physical and formidable side which had taken three points from their visit to Iveagh Park earlier in the season.

But despite this, it was Rathfriland who looked comfortably the better side in the opening exchanges and they took the lead on the 35 minutes through Johnny Gibson, whose close-range header was saved but the ball rebounded back to him and he slammed it in at the near post.

But crucially, what was perhaps the game’s turning point came with just seconds remaining before the break. Larne Tech broke down the left and Rathfriland’s defensive line held back, giving the attackers too much space and the ball was scrambled in to shift the momentum towards the home side.

Within five minutes of the restart, the usually-lethal finisher Darren McGrath met a glorious cross from Kieran Maguire but sent his effort wide.

The equaliser and that missed opportunity were two blows from which the Whites did not recover, and within five minutes of the restart, Larne Tech had doubled their lead. Tech added a third when their powerful striker slotted a low shot in with half-an-hour remaining.

Rathfriland did continue to probe and they fought to salvage something from the game, and both Alan Beck and Thomas Lockhart had stinging long-range efforts parried over the bar by the Tech ‘keeper, but Rathfriland’s luck and energy for the season was running out.

The defeat was a disappointing one for Rathfriland as it now means their hopes of securing a strong top-four finish are all-but-over.

But the Whites can have a crucial say in the NAFL Division 1A title race in their final game against west Belfast club Immaculata, which will be played at Iveagh Park within the next two weeks.