NOSTALGIA filled the air at Crystal Park on Saturday last as Queen’s University were the visitors to Banbridge Town in a first league fixture since both teams were involved in the old B Division, as it was known then.
The Students tended to struggle in those days in a league which was next to the Irish League Premier Division but nowadays they are a strong and competitive side in Championship 2. Indeed at this time last season Queen’s were league leaders and right in contention up until the last month or so.
It was Town, buoyant after their Bob Radcliffe Cup victory the previous week, who started the brighter and the lively Stevie McArdle raced through to shoot over after only a minute’s play.
Shortly after the ever dangerous Paul Walsh delivered the first of many terrific crosses, forcing Queens’ Paul Prenter to clear his lines as Chris Kingsberry and Conor Downey lurked in the box ready to pounce.
There was a lot of impressive midfield play from both sides but a distinct lack of finishing up front. Town forced a left wing corner after 15 minutes and when the ball broke Barry Tumilty sent a 30 yard scorcher just off target with Queen’s ‘keeper Duff struggling to get across.
The visitors were not sitting back and it took a superb parry from Michael McAllister after 18 minutes to prevent Mark Prenter, fed by Donnelly, from putting them in front.
Two minutes later Conor Downey turned superbly to send a great shot across goal and inches wide.
Town were struck a blow after 21 minutes when Paul Prenter picked up the rebound following a great Chris McGrath block to rifle a magnificent 15 yard drive well out of McAllister’s reach and send Queens into a 1-0 lead.
Conor Downey had a free kick held by Duff in the 26th minute and Stevie McArdle saw a thunderbolt effort diverted for a fruitless corner soon after.
Banbridge pressurised the visitors in search of the equaliser forcing numerous corners but the overworked Queen’s defence held firm.
Stevie McArdle was unlucky not to score after 35 minutes with a jinking run that took him past a couple of defenders only to see Duff produce a fine full length save.
Town upped the tempo after the break and Conor Downey had a shot blocked with Paul Walsh finding the side netting soon into the half.
Indeed throughout the second half Town had at least 70% of the play and played some enthralling ground football until they got within reach of the visitors goal where everything came to an abrupt end.
Chris McGrath, a tenacious little battler, saw a goal-bound effort blocked by a last ditch tackle after 56 minutes and again Paul Walsh tested Duff with a rasping drive in the 62nd minute.
However credit must be given to a well organised Queen’s defensive strategy and they were ecstatic three minutes later when, after soaking up all the pressure Banbridge could throw at them, they conjured a move down their left and their attacking centre half McManus got his head to an inviting centre and glanced his effort past a helpless McAllister to put the Students 2-0 ahead and in dreamland.
Town sent strikers Stephen O’Neill and Darren McGrath in to replace Conor Downey and James Wilson as the went 3-3-4 in an effort to pull the game out of the fire.
However it was not to be although Stevie McArdle, played in by Chris Kingsberry, had a shot stopped by the consistent Duff and Darren McGrath saw a ground shot also saved by the Queen’s custodian.
The final score was hard on Ryan Watson’s charges as they controlled the game for long stretches and played some heart-warming football but the name of this game is goals; there was a distinct lack of quality finishing and simply no end product to their fine build up play - this will have to be rectified sooner rather than later otherwise Town will find that their season has ended much earlier than they had anticipated.
This Saturday (October 6) Banbridge Town travel to Stangmore Park, Dungannon to play Dungannon Swifts Reserves in the Bob Radcliffe Cup quarter final (kick-off 2.30pm).
Its back to league action on the following Saturday when Moyola Park visit Crystal Park (kick-off 3pm)
Banbridge Town: Michael McAllister, Mattie McCartan, James Wilson, Stuart Thompson, Martin Buchanan, Barry Tumilty, Stevie McArdle, Chris McGrath, Conor Downey, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Darren McGrath(for Wilson 75mins.), Graeme Edgar, Daniel Johnson, Stephen O’Neill(for Downey 70mins).
Queens University: Gerard Duff, David Tumilty, Phil Prenter, Robbie Budden, Matt McManus, Paul Prenter, Daniel Culbert, Paul McDonald, James Lavery, Mark Prenter, Paddy Donnelly. Subs: Ryan Murphy(for Culbert 59mins.), Kevin Hagan, Eamon Black(fpr Budden 77mins.), Stuart Harper, James McConville (GK).
Referee: Mervyn Smyth, Dundonald.