TWO inspired substitutions by Ryan Watson in the final 19 minutes of this extremely hard fought league clash proved to be the catalyst for an amazing climax as Town came from a goal down to grab all three points and send their ecstatic supporters into dreamland after recent disappointments.
They just about deserved the spoils but the true grit they showed when adversity seemed to be raising its ugly head once again was the most pleasing aspect of this performance and shows that this team has potential if it can become more consistent in the future.
After last weeks debacle Watson showed courage and a streak of ruthlessness when he made four changes to the starting lineout. In came Danny Johnson and the returning Stephen Greene to form a new centre-back partnership in an attempt to curb the strength and pace of the PSNI strike force. Paul Walsh and James Wilson (both fit again) also came in.
The suspended duo of Barry Tumilty and Simon Robb were unavailable while the injured Stevie McArdle continues his rehabilitation.
The visitors started very strongly and James Wilson had to be alert as early as the first minute to head a dangerous cross for a corner after his ‘keeper was left floundering.
The Police, with Peter Steele showing a lot of pace on the right, threw everything at Town and the early signs were ominous for the homesters as they were forced to defend drastically.
Chris Kingsberry did give them some respite after 12 minutes when he cut in and fired a strong ground shot forcing ‘keeper Keith Wilson to save full length.
However it was P.S.N.I were still in the ascendancy and Graeme Arthur floated a 20 yard free kick narrowly wide in the 19th minute.
It was no surprise when the visitors took the lead one minute later with a tremendous goal. A loose ball 30 yards from Town’s goal was seized upon by Noel Anderson and his volley had goal written all over it from the moment it left the big midfielders boot to end in the roof of the net giving Michael McAllister no chance.
Town responed positively and Paul Walsh was unlucky not to equalise with a drive across goal which shaved a post before going wide. The same player saw a long range volley dip just over after 32 minutes.
Town were stringing together some good football and soon after Kingsberry skipped past a few challenges before setting Conor Downey up in front of goal - however he was quickly closed down before he could get a shot on target.
A deserved equaliser came on 43 minutes following a sublime piece of football. Chris McGrath found Paul Walsh with a long pass out on the left and the latter showed his astute footballing brain with a brilliantly weighted pass to the inrushing Conor Downey who steered his finish out of the ‘keeper’s reach to make it 1-1. A goal in succesive weeks for Downey, his barren spell seems behind him now.
Another fine Walsh cross saw a Johnny Porter drive parried by the ‘keeper and cleared under intense pressure.
The visitors began the second half on the offensive and the impressive Steele outpaced James Wilson but was thwarted by the advancing Michael McAllister.
After 57 minutes it was that man Steele again who was causing problems for Town when he got in behind Danny Johnston and fired just wide.
It was no surprise then that when PSNI took a 59th minute lead it would be Steele who would give it to them when he intercepted an intended backpass from Stephen Greene to blast past McAllister to put the visitors 2-1 ahead. Would this setback rattle Town?
Definitely not was the answer from this determined if slightly inexperienced outfit. They should have equalised in the 65th minute when Porter rose well to meet yet another terrific Walsh cross only to direct his point blank header over with the goal at his mercy.
Three minutes later Mattie McCartan brushed aside three tackles to race into the box before unleasing a thunderous effort which ‘keeper Wilson did really well to finger tip away for a corner. This was a pure reflex save that prevented a certain equaliser.
On 71 minutes Johnny Porter saw a great snapshot from 20 yards go inches past the post. This proved to be Porter’s last action of the game as he was replaced by substitute Stephen O’Neill one minute later.
Conor Downey came periliously close to his second goal of the match after 78 minutes when he latched on to a cross ball 10 yards out and was so unlucky to see his lob scrap the crossbar with the ‘keeper beaten.
PSNI went seeking a decisive third goal and McAllister made a fine save at the feet of Graeme Arthur in the 85th minute. Town had introduced second substitute Darren McGrath at this stage in place of James Wilson and going with only three at the back as they went all out in search of an equaliser.
McGrath was only on the pitch seven minutes when he sent the crowd into raptures with a 91st minute equaliser after rifling home a Paul Walsh corner after a goalmouth scramble.
It didnt end there either because three minutes into injury time (yes after 93 minutes) Town’s other hero sub. Stephen O’Neill completed a dream and scarcely believable finish to the game when he latched on to a defensive lapse some 40 yards from goal and raced through leaving several defenders in his wake to blast to the roof of the net and give Banbridge a morale boosting 3 - 2 victory.
Banbridge Town: Michael McAllister, Stuart Thompson, James Wilson, Stephen Greene, Danny Johnson, Chris McGrath, Johnny Porter, Mattie McCartan, Conor Downey, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Stephen Jones, Martin Buchanan, Darren McGrath (for Wilson 83mins.), Stephen O’Neill (for Porter 71mins.), Stephen Croft (GK).
P.S.N.I.: Keith Wilson, Graeme Philson, Philip May, Scott McCrory, Gavin McKnight, Mark Picking, Mark Hadden, Greame Arthur, Peter Steele, Lukaz Adamczyk. Subs: Matthew Holden (for May 60mins.), Robbie Knox(for Anderson 70mins.), Peter Mackie, Ross Hunter.
Referee: Cecil Floyd (Comber).