There is always something magical about Irish Cup Round Five Day, when the Premiership sides enter the arena.
While it would be highly unlikely that either Ballymoney Utd or Banbridge Town would go on to win this coveted Trophy, it nevertheless brought a welcome respite from the dog eat dog weekly pressures of their Championship Two campaigns.
However, the 1-0 result meant that Banbridge’s goal drought continues. They have now scored only once in their last four games.
On a bumpy Riada Stadium pitch, a scrappy opening period sprung into life after nine minutes when home keeper Bryan Moore produced a great stop down to his right from Conor Downey, who had been played through by fellow striker Gary Boyle. Moore went on to produce a man-of-the-match performance, which played a big part in sending his side into the hat for a lucrative and eagerly awaited Sixth Round clash with mighty Crusaders at Seaview.
He thwarted Downey again seconds later when he got his hands to a shot which seemed destined for the top corner. It was all Town at this stage and full back Declan McGarry cleared another effort off his own goal-line after Boyle had again set up the hard-working Downey.
After 14 minutes, a long Michael Ferguson throw found the head of Banbridge’s veteran midfielder Damian McParland but yet again Moore was Ballymoney’s hero. Two minutes later came the miss of the match when Gary Boyle headed wide after finding himself unmarked in front of goal following a Downey corner.
It was 24 minutes before Ballymoney created their first real chance when Eoin Gillan’s fine 20 yard volley was pushed out for a corner by Town keeper Stephen Cairnduff.
The goal which was to decide the game came totally against the run of play after 35 minutes when the home side punished Town for all their missed opportunities to go ahead. It all started with some indecision from Town’s central defender Glen Waddell who was caught in possession and as a result, a needless corner was conceded. From that set-piece, Conleth McCaughan found himself free at the back post and planted a header past Cairnduff to put the home side into a 1-0 lead. Banbridge came out fighting again in the second half and on 46 minutes, a Downey corner was attacked by the in-rushing Stephen Greene but his bullet-like header sailed over the crossbar.
After 65 minutes, Town Manager Ryan Watson signalled his intent when he replaced both full-backs Michael Ferguson and Nathan Baird bringing on Neil Watson and Martin Buchanan. Seven minutes later, he went for broke when leading goal-scorer Steven O’Neill made his long-awaited return from the sidelines, coming on in place of Mark Teggart. That meant Town were going three at the back in an effort to pull the game out of the fire!
However, it was Town’s keeper Cairnduff who had to keep his side in contention when he came off his line to block a couple of dangerous crosses as the home side tried to put the result beyond doubt.
Banbridge threw everything at the Maine men in the last 10 minutes but the closest they came to equalising was a long range Stephen Greene effort which flashed over and with it went Town’s hopes of progression into the hat fgor the sixth-round draw.
They will have to regroup quickly to keep in league contention and have that opportunity this Saturday when they travel to Moyola Park (Kick-Off 2pm)
BALLYMONEY UNITED: Bryan Moore, Paul Keane, Declan McGarry, Jamie McFerran, Hugh Og Boyle, Eoin Gillan, Lee McClelland, Stephen Dooey, Gerald Gillan, Diarmaid Larkin, Conleth McCaughan. Substitutes: Mark Dempsey, Denver Johnson, Francis McKenna, Daniel Wallace, Daniel Brown.
BANBRIDGE TOWN: Stephen Cairnduff, Michael Ferguson, Nathan Baird, Stephen Greene, Glen Waddell, Damian McParland, Mark Teggart, Mattie McCartan, Gary Boyle, Conor Downey, Johnny Kernoghan. Substitutes: Martin Buchanan, Stephen Jones, Steven O’Neill, Neil Watson, Keith McVittie. Referee: S. Wallace.