GOALS either side of half-time from Kyle Heslip and Alan Beck Rathfriland Rangers to maintain their title challenge in Division 1B.
After a crucial 1-0 win away to Dunmurry Y.M. on Thursday night, this was the second of three games in just six days for the Whites, and Saturday’s win made it six points from six so far.
Driving rain and strong winds swept across Iveagh Park, and the second-from bottom visitors, with the gale behind them in the first-half, had the best of the early play but couldn’t take advantage of their periods of pressure.
A curling free-kick from midfielder John McGahey cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and bounced down in front of the line, and Chris Reaney was next to go close for the Seasiders, shaving the outside of the post when the ball fell to him in a crowded penalty area from a corner.
Whites goalkeeper Shane Harrison was busy early stages, but was never really tested, and as the half went on, Rathfriland settled and began to press forward.
They began to manufacture openings, and Ryan Evans and Beck swung in threatening set-pieces, but Rathfriland’s luck didn’t seem to be in, with the ball always just evading the Whites’ attackers.
On 43 minutes, however, the deadlock was broken when Beck got to the byline and pulled the ball back into the six-yard box where Kyle Heslip was waiting, and he turned it into the corner, giving his side an important lead just before the break.
The second 45 started worryingly for Rathfriland, key centre-half Decky Allister staying down after a collision with Bangor captain Alan Thompson, but he was able to continue.
Rathfriland’s second goal came 10 minutes later, and was gifted to them by Bangor ‘keeper Stephen Crothers. His centre-back played a tame pass back to him, but he made a hash of clearing it upfield. The ball went no more than five yards forward, straight to Beck, and he applied the finish for a 2-0 advantage.
The Whites were looking comfortable, and with Fraser having one eye on Tuesday night’s trip to Saintfield United, Evans was substituted with Aaron Robb his replacement.
It didn’t take long for Robb to make an impression - his incisive through-ball released Heslip for a great chance to kill Bangor off, but his shot hit the side-netting.
Bangor never felt they were out of the game, and with 19 minutes remaining they nearly grabbed a goal to drag themselves back into it. Thompson found himself in space behind the last man, and had his shot saved by Harrison. The ball came back to him, though, and he set up McGahey with a glorious opportunity, but again Harrison made a stunning save to maintain his side’s two-goal lead.
And two minutes later, Bangor threatened again - right-back Ryan White saw his left-footed curler from the edge of the box sail just past the top corner with Harrison beaten.
There was controversy on 74 minutes, when referee Kieran McMahon spotted a coming-together between Bangor midfield man Craig Mayne and Rathfriland’s Scott Ward. McMahon harshly deemed Ward to have attempted a headbutt, and reached for red.
It made for a nervy final 15 minutes for the Whites, and with the numerical advantage, Bangor pushed forward, but despite all their possession, they couldn’t muster another notable chance, and Rathfriland’s solid back four held firm.
The win lifts Rathfriland into second, and Tuesday night’s game against Saintfield will present them with an opportunity to reach the top of the league.
Man of the match: Alan Beck (Rathfriland Rangers)
Rathfriland Rangers: Shane Harrison, Colum McComish, Decky Allister, Stevie Coulter, Neville Gibbons, Ryan Evans, Tim Sexton, Scott Ward, Ian Weir, Kyle Heslip, Alan Beck. Subs: Andrew Bell, Aaron Robb, Joe Toal.
Bangor Rangers: Stephen Crothers, Ryan White, Johnny Miller, Paul Magee, Matt Pollard, Colin Moore, Craig Mayne, John McGahey, Alan Thompson, Courtney Marsh, Chris Reaney. Subs: Colin Davidson, Stephen Willis, Gavin Martin.