IF any of the Crystal Park faithful were left pondering the commitment of some of the Town’s players after their opening league defeat to Glebe Rangers then last Tuesday night’s performance against Queen’s University in the first round of the Irn-Bru League Cup certainly put their concerns to rest.
The cobwebs and rustiness of their opening game were gone and a regrouped Banbridge Town gave a great team performance in an absorbing cup tie.
Simon Robb returned to left back with Stephen Jones filling the other problematic right back role. Last season’s ‘keeper, Kieran Maguire, was preferred to Stephen Cairnduff and new signing Darren McGrath was available for the first time - and indeed gave a man-of-the-match display.
Mattie McCartan returned to his familiar midfield role where he is undoubtedly more potent.
Queen’s pressed early on through Mark Prenter and Johnny Maybin but found Town uncompromising as they were superbly marshalled by captain Stuart Thompson.
Banbridge’s first attempt on goal was from a low Chris McGrath drive which resulted in a fruitless corner. The latter, together with hard working Barry Tumilty and Mattie McCartan gave Town the edge and the homesters took a deserved 15th minute lead courtesy of Conor Downey - McCartan’s beautifully lofted pass found the head of the dexterous Downey who blasted to the top right hand corner of the net despite the attentions of Queen’s defender Matt McManus.
Hunting for an equaliser the visitors played some good football with Lavery and Maybin causing some discomfort for Town’s rearguard.
Darren McGrath was having an impressive debut working tirelessly down the left flank and tracking back to good effect.
Capitalising on Queen’s failure to retain possession Town’s Johnny Porter released Darren McGrath who, in turn, found his namesake Chris McGrath with the latter forcing Queen’s ‘keeper Duff into making a fantastic stop.
Cranking up the pressure towards the end of the half Simon Robb found Downey with a lovely ball - the striker turning brilliantly to force another fine save from the Queen’s custodian.
However the visitors failed to clear their lines properly and when Darren McGrath collected the ball 20 yards out he delicately floated a wonderful shot beyond the ‘keeper’s reach and into the top right hand corner of the net to give Town a 2-0 lead.
Hungry to get back into the game, Queen’s almost caught Town in a quick counter attack - Prenter and Maybin combining to send Lavery racing in on goal only for the alert Kieran Maguire to come quickly of his line and clear the danger.
Barry Tumilty saw yellow in his determination to gain possession early in the second half.
Queen’s were not out of the game by any means and Maguire had to be very alert to smother a Paul Prenter effort on 64 minutes.
Banbridge soaked up the pressure and showed some neat interplay between Downey, McCartan and McGrath themselves.
However, Queen’s were back in the game after 78 minutes when James Lavery struck an 18 yard free kick over Town’s wall and into the net of an upright giving Maguire no chance.
The visitors were buoyant after this goal and forced Town to defend in numbers with substitute Daniel Lulbert’s shot ricocheting out from a crowded six yard box near the end.
Extra time was not to be for Queen’s and Town stood firm for a thoroughly deserved 2-1 victory which sees them travel to Championship 1 side Institute on Monday, August 27, (kick-off 7.45pm) in round two.
Banbridge Town: Kieran Maguire, Stephen Jones, Simon Robb, Stuart Thompson, Daniel Johnson, Barry Tumilty, Mattie McCartan, Chris McGrath, Conor Downey, Johnny Porter, Darren McGrath. Subs: Martin Buchanan, Stevie McArdle (for Porter), Graeme Edgar, James Wilson, Stephen Cairnduff (GK).
Next Saturday (August 25) Town travel to Lurgan Celtic (kick-off 3pm) in Championship 2. This will be a big test for Town as the Lurgan men have turned in some eye catching performances already this season.