BANBRIDGE Town dug themselves into a hole when they conceded two soft goals either side of the half on their travels at Wakehurst.
However, they then showed character and determination to earn a share of the spoils with late goals from Stevie McArdle and Stevie Jones – the equaliser coming after Danny Johnnson’s straight card left them a man light for the final 15 minutes of the game.
Following the Town’s impressive midweek Irn Bru win over Queen’s University, manager Ronnie Haughey was forced into making two changes to the line-up to replace the injured Matty McCartan and Darren McGrath who succumbed to a bout of sickness on the eve of the game.
Former Town player Paul Walsh, who returned to the club from Rathfriland in midweek, replaced McGrath on the left flank, while McArdle began the game on the right.
Although a Ballymena outfit, Wakehurst are currently ground-sharing with Moyola at Castledawson and the lively 3G pitch there in truth was not conducive to the Town’s crisp passing game on a day when the sun was at its hottest for some time.
However, of the two teams the Town played any football on view and the rejuvenated Walsh nearly put them ahead when he hit the bar with a fine effort after cutting in from a foray over to the right wing.
But, as happened too often last season, Banbridge displayed their soft underbelly for conceding goals when a free from 10 yards inside the Town’s half was not dealt with properly and Moyola’s Gregg prospered to put his side in front against the run of play.
Frustration was evident throughout the ranks of the Town team at this reversal and they very quickly set about looking for an equaliser that seemed to have been secured on two occasions, firstly when centre-forward Conor Downey conjured up a piece of magic with a fantastic overhead kick that the home keeper somehow kept out with the ball destined for the top right hand corner, and then minutes later when his strike partner Johnny Porter saw his goal-bound header cleared off the line from a well delivered Walsh corner.
Porter also scooped a right foot shot over the bar when he could have perhaps done better after Jones had worked his way into the box down the right hand side to pull a decent ball back into his path.
Despite being behind there was no panic displayed in the Town changing room at half time with the same 11 men being urged to keep their faith in the passing game and up the tempo to a level that would keep Wakehurst suitably troubled.
With Walsh again starting the half brightly, and Chris McGrath coming more into the game in midfield it only looked a matter of time before a deserved equaliser would come their way.
However, when the second goal of the game did come, unfortunately it went to the opposition – gifted it has to be said by the Town’s normally reliable young keeper Keiran Maguire who failed to claim a cross that should have been his, instead allowing the Wakehurst striker to get a head to the ball.
By this stage of the game there was still 20 minutes to play and the first substitution by the Town saw James Wilson slot in a right back with Jones pushed ahead of him and McArdle going up top to replace Porter in attack.
Within minutes of the switch reward came the way of Banbridge when Walsh left the Wakehurst right back for dead before drilling a super ball across the front of goal where McArdle was waiting to gleefully tap home.
Wakehurst were well on the back foot by now, but just when the Town were getting up a head of steam centre-half Johnnson tried to retrieve the ball after a poor touch only to show he studs when making the tackle and referee Dessie Loughry produced a quick-fire red card.
Obvious character was going to be needed by Banbridge if they were going to get anything out of this game following this turn of events, and to their credit Haughey’s side stood up to be counted.
Indeed it may well be that the number of times the Town were knocked down last season only to pick themselves up for the next battle has stood them in good stead for this very situation, because despite being down a man they continued to carry the fight to Wakehurst and were rewarded for their endeavours when Jones, who had switched to the left hand side of the park,chased down Stuart Thompson’s long pass to nick the ball past the right hand side of the outrushing home keeper for a deserved equaliser.
And, while a draw with five minutes now left on the clock was as good a moral victory as one could achieve, the 10 men of Banbridge could have deservedly won the game had Conor Downey’s volley from just inside the box not have gone narrowly over the bar or Barry Tumilty back post header from a late corner not gone agonisily the wrong side of the post.
However, following their opening day defeat to Glebe Rangers, the Town’s campaign is now up and running and attention now turns to this Saturday’s visit to Lurgan Celtic.
BANBRIDGE TOWN: Kieran Maguire, Stevie Jones, Simon Robb, Stuart Thompson, Danny Johnnson, Chris McGrath, Stevie McArdle, Barry Tumilty, Conor Downey, Johnny Porter, Paul Walsh. Subs: James Wilson, Martin Buchanan, Graeme Edgar, Adam McBurney, Stephen Cairnduff.
- ON Monday August 27 Town travel to Drumahoe to play Championship 1 side Institute in the Irn-Bru League Cup Round 2 (K.O. 7.45 p.m.)