BANBRIDGE Town’s Coca-Cola Intermediate cup Round 3 clash at Brantwood would have invoked many memories for older Town supporters who remember many close and physical clashes in the old B Division when the Belfast men were members prior to their sad decline into the Premier section of the Ballymena Provincial League.
However they showed on Saturday last, at their same home ground at Skegoniel Avenue, that they can still compete and gave Town’s large travelling support a lot of anxious moments before finally succumbing to Banbridge’s firepower in the final 10 minutes of this keenly contested cup tie.
It would be a touch unfair to say that Brantwood matched Town’s football but they certainly capitalised on the opportunities gifted to them by a very nervy Town defence.
Brian Adair introduced three new signings - Neil Alderdice, formerally of Loughgall and Portadown, and James Maguire, who has joined the club from Portadown in defence plus old favourite Timmy Grant returned from Newry City to lead the attack.
Town got an early shock when impressive winger Rafferty skinned Stuart Thompson before slotting past Stephen Croft after only three minutes.
Lack of communication was a problem in Banbridge’s new look defence all afternoon but this should improve as the players gel in the coming weeks.
Despite the early setback Banbridge took the game by the scruff of the neck led by Timmy Grant who chased and harried throughout looking like he had never been away. He was flanked by the eager Conor Downey and Stevie McArdle, the latter being very productive on the right flank.
McArdle’s low effort fizzed wide after 12 minutes and Paul Walsh’s exquisite free kick minutes later only need a touch but frustratingly went wide. Despite failing to convert you sensed that it was only a matter of time before Town carved their way back.
However football can be very cruel. After wasting a couple of corners Banbridge had ‘keeper Croft to thank for preventing Brantwood scoring again after 35 minutes when he went full length to push a goal bound effort out for a corner.
The homesters did rock Town again after 40 minutes when they raced into a 2 - 0 lead courtesy of their big number five who rose to head a corner out of Croft’s reach. This was another hammer blow and Town must correct this deficiency in that they are conceding too many goals from corner kicks and need some assurance and leadership at the heart of the defence.
They got a lifeline just before the interval when McArdle charged down the right and found the alert Grant in the box. The latter turned his marker but was upended as he was about to pull the trigger. Up stepped Chris McGrath to blast the resultant penalty into the top left hand corner to reduce the arrears.
At half-time Brian Adair made two changes which proved really significant and indeed turned the game in Town’s favour completely. Stephen O’Neill replaced Conor Downey and Stephen Jones came in for Martin Buchanan. Paul Walsh reverted to left back with James Maguire switching to partner Neil Alderdice in the heart of the defence.
The fightback gained momentum and it was 2-2 after 55 minutes when O’Neill scrambled home after the home defence had failed to clear some intense Banbridge pressure.
Brantwood came back fighting and Croft was tested on a few occasions. However on the hour Town went ahead for the first time thanks to the mercurial O’Neill again who danced round a defender after receiving a Chris Kingsberry pass and gave the home ‘keeper no chance.
A cracking Chris McGrath volley whizzed inches wide before yet again Town were rocked back on their heels with a Brantwood equaliser. Leading goalscorer Andrews was the man who brought the sides level again at 3-3.
However this Banbridge side is made of stern stuff and it was appropriate that it was Chris McGrath who put them 4-3 ahead after 80 minutes thanks to some clever work from Stevie McArdle who danced his way into the penalty area creating the space for the prowling McGrath.
This time Town held their lead to earn a deserved victory that sees them enter round four with the tie to be played on Saturday January 26.
They did miss the services of team captain Barry Tumilty (injured) in midfield and with Kingsberry and Walsh also struggling with slight niggles but things will get better when the aforementioned trio are 100% fit.
Brian Adair has also added Kevin Henry, Scott Ward and Willie Herron to his squad and they will be in contention for places very soon in what is now a very combative panel.
Next Saturday it’s back to league action when Banbridge Town will travel to PSNI (kick-off 2pm)
TEAM: Stephen Croft, Stuart Thompson, James Maguire, Neil Alderdice, Martin Buchanan, Chris McGrath, Stevie McArdle, Timmy Grant, Conor Downey, Chris Kingsberry, Paul Walsh. Subs: Stephen O’Neill (for Downey 45mins.), Stephen Jones (for Buchanan 45mins.), Simon Robb, Darren McGrath, Stephen Greene.