BANBRIDGE Town were dealt a severe blow prior to kick-off when leading goal-scorer Stevie McArdle was ruled out with a dislocated toe and this compounded by the unavailable Stephen O’Neill, suspended midfield general Barry Tumilty and long term injured Simon Robb gave Manager Ryan Watson quite a few unwanted headaches.
However for an hour of this game Town looked like a side with no problems whatsoever and give an exhibition of fast attacking football easing into a two goal lead and looking odds on to secure a comfortable three points.
Amazingly however they switched off and allowed visitors Moyola Park to get a foothold in the game with the latter grabbing two goals, despite ending the game with nine men, to share the points much to the disappointment of the Town’s faithful support.
There was a scrappy start to the game with little early goalmouth action. Stuart Thompson was called upon to head clear from a dangerous free kick on 13 minutes and soon after Conor Downey went into the Referee’s notebook for a late tackle on a Moyola defender - sheer exuberance on the part of the frustrated striker.
Paul Walsh was continuing his dangerous probing down the left and from one of many tantalising crosses Chris Kingsberry produced a find acrobatic effort that sailed just wide.
Visiting ‘keeper Maguire was extremely lucky on 25 minutes when Johnny Porter, in for the injured McArdle, rose above the defence and crashed his header millimetres wide with the ‘keeper stranded.
It was all Town at this stage and when Conor Downey cut in from the left past several defenders a goal looked certain but Maguire did well to get down to block the No.9’s shot.
Paul Walsh had another defence splitting run after 28 minutes but lobbed just wide. Three minutes later Darren McGrath, in for the suspended Tumilty, was outmuscled in a one to one situation with the last defender as he closed in on goal.
The breakthrough had to come and come it did on 34 minutes when after Kingsberry’s agility saw him upended just outside the box captain Stuart Thompson, for the second week in succession, fired his side in front with a great finish into the corner of the net. It was no more than Town deserved.
A confident Town were now playing some fine football and soon after Mattie McCartan finished a great five man move by crossing into the box where Johnny Porter sent a cracking effort past the post.
Town extended their lead on 45 minutes, ironically again from a central defender. Martin Buchanan opened his Town account when he got on the end of a Paul Walsh 35 yard free kick to head home and make it 2 - 0 to Town as the half time whistle sounded.
On the restart Moyola’s Clarke sounded a word of warning to Banbridge when he raced in and fired just over when well placed.
On 52 minutes Town thought they had sealed victory when after Chris McGrath’s shot struck a post Conor Downey finished the rebound to the net only to have it ruled out by the referee for offside.
Still Town attacked and a brilliant Downey take and swivel shot produced an equally brilliant save from Moyola’s Maguire after 56 minutes.
On 66 minutes Moyola were thrown a lifeline when after fine work down their left Clarke finished well at the back post to reduce the arrears. It was a time for cool heads in Banbridge’s midfield and defence but sadly those type of players were missing on Saturday and panic set in to turn what had been an impressive display into one of disarray and sadly lacking in leadership.
However they still made chances with Kingsberry forcing Maguire to produce a full length save from a volley and Walsh finding the side netting after skinning the Moyola No.3. Town looked likely to survive and secure full points with six minutes remaining when out of nothing the visitors conjured up an equaliser.
Midfielder Hasson fired a thunderbolt from all of 40 yards which Michael McAllister pushed over the bar for a corner and with Town’s rearguard at sixes and sevens full back Lucas stole in to steer the ball past McAllister to level matters.
Town suddenly awakened and pushed everyone forward in search of the winner and it was Moyola’s turn to panic with both McFadden (86mins.) and Pattison (88mins.) receiving red cards for fouls, both having been booked earlier.
It must be stressed though that this was not an over physical or dirty game by any standard.
Mattie McCartan raced through to find Chris McGrath free just outside the box but on this occasion Chris’s first touch let him down and the chance was gone.
A Banbridge corner was headed over by Porter as time ran out and so in the end Town must look at this game as two points lost as opposed to one gained! Next Saturday Town make the trip to Cookstown to play Killymoon Rangers in a league fixture, kick-off 3pm while on Saturday 27th October P.S.N.I. will be visitors to Crystal Park again in a league fixture, kick-off 3pm.
TEAMS: Banbridge Town: Michael McAllister, Mattie McCartan, James Wilson, Stuart Thompson, Martin Buchanan, Darren McGrath, Johnny Porter, Chris McGrath, Conor Downey, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Graeme Edgar, Danny Johnson, Stephen Jones (for Downey 80mins.)
Moyola Park: Gareth Maguire, Steven Kelly, Robert Lucas, Steven McQuillan, Conal Kilpatrick, Mervyn Pattison, Paul Clarke, Michael McClean, Steven Kenning, Curtis Hasson, Kyle Colgan. Subs: Daniel McFadden (for McClean 54mins.), Stephen Doey, William Spiers.
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)