Gritty and resolute Banbridge Town kick-started their season with a surprise but well earned 3-2 victory over a strong and experienced Lurgan Celtic side at Knockrammer Park on Saturday.
Ryan Watson’s men came from one behind to storm into a 3-1 lead at the break thanks to goals from Downey, Martin Buchanan and Ryan Gourley. Celtic got it back to 3-2 but, down to 10 men late on, couldn’t find an equaliser leaving Town with what had looked an unlikely win.
Things looked ominous early on after Celtic raced into a fifth minute lead when prolific goalscorer Fitzpatrick rose unchallenged to meet a Chris Lavery free kick and headed into the bottom corner well out of Stephen Croft’s reach.
It could well have been much worse for Town three minutes later when Fitzpatrick found himself through on goal once again after both Greene and Waddell had failed to intercept the pass.
This time, however, the normally lethal striker inexplicably shot wide with the goal at his mercy. This lucky break seemed to rouse Town out of their slumber and they began to take the game to the home side with the excellent Mark Teggart and Conor Downey leading by example.
It is heartening to see the senior pros stepping up to the mark, a great encouragement for the younger players in the squad. It was therefore appropriate then that it was Conor Downey who grabbed Banbridge’s equaliser after 24 minutes when he cut in from the right and, spotting Celtic keeper Gough off his line, he chipped brilliantly over his head and into the net.
Two minutes later it was that man Downey again involved in putting Town into the lead. On this occasion he raced past right back Johnny McAreavey, who unfortunately injured himself quite seriously in the race for possession, and crossed for the inrushing Martin Buchanan to side foot past the despairing Gough.
The fact that Buchanan was even on the pitch epitomises the spirt in this Town side as he was carrying an injury but insisted on playing because of the current crisis.
Banbridge were now on a roll and the home side were clearly shaken and after 40 minutes diminutive winger Ryan Gourley put Town in dreamland when he pounced on some hesitency from the home keeper to slip the ball to the net and put Banbridge 3-1 ahead.
The second half saw Celtic come out all guns blazing but Town kept their shape and always looked dangerous on the counter attack. Chris Lavery and Shane McCabe were very effective for the home side but Junior International Daniel Ryan got little change out of the tenacious Nathan Baird who improves with every outing for Town.
Celtic were given a lifeline after 70 minutes when a Michael Ferguson clearance bounced off substitute Dave Magee and left Stephen Croft helpless to reduce the arrears.
It was all hands to the station for Banbridge and in the 78th minute they had a let-off when Celtic’s main threat Chris Lavery had a fierce volley pushed onto the bar by Croft with Glen Waddell completing the clearance. The home side were reduced to 10 men after 85 minutes when Colin Rooney saw red for retaliation following a Teggart foul. Celtic’s last chance fell to Lavery in injury time but he struck the outside of the post.
Banbridge held out to record a memorable victory and take their first points of the season. Unfortunately, Town have no game for the next two Saturdays but maybe this will give them time to clear up at least some of the injuries.
Their next fixture is a league match away to Wakehurst on Saturday 6 September (kick-off 3pm)
BANBRIDGE TOWN: Stephen Croft, Michael Ferguson, Nathan Baird, Glen Waddell, Stephen Greene, Shannon Drainey, Ryan Gourley, Stephen Jones, Conor Downey, Mark Teggart, Martin Buchanan. Subs: David Gray (Drainey 71), Scott Martin, Gareth Orr, Paul McGrath.