BANBRIDGE Rangers Swifts took a huge step towards promotion on Saturday when they defeated fellow title rivals Tullyvallen 5-3 at Newtownhamilton High School.
Tullyvallen went into the game level on points with the Gers but with a game in hand with both teams vying for second place in the league meaning it was a must win for Rangers Thirds.
On a very wet afternoon on a very poor surface Rangers couldn’t play their usual footballing game and struggled to control the bounce of the ball. This caused particular problems for the defence on four minutes when they were unable to clear a routine through ball with the Tullyvallen striker going through with keeper Johnston and was upended for an early penalty which was put into the top corner.
Banbridge Rangers responded with an equaliser on ten minutes when a free kick near the corner flag was drilled in across the goal line by Aaron Chambers and diverted past the keeper by one of the host of bodies.
Within twenty seconds Banbridge Rangers found themselves in the lead when their centre half saw the ball bobble over his foot from the pass back from the restart and Neil Wilson ran onto the through ball and slotted past the keeper for goal number twenty two of the season.
Tullyvallen then managed to blast home an equaliser to tie the game at 2-2 after the half hour mark after Rangers were caught in midfield trying to pass and move on the bumpy surface.
Midfielder Ryan Ferry restored Rangers lead two minutes before the break with a superb shot from the edge of the box with his right foot into the far top corner. At half time the instructions were to play territory football and keep the ball in the opposing half by all means necessary instead of trying to control and pass and therefore limit the mistakes.
After both sides went close with free kicks from range it was the away side who grabbed the next goal on fifty five minutes when Aaron Chambers was fouled inside the area and got up to dispatch the resultant penalty himself to give the Gers a 4-2 lead.
Tullyvallen pressed for a way back into the game and went closest through Chris Chambers who curled his shot just wide off the post when free one on one against Johnston.
The Co Armagh men brough the game back to 4-3 with twenty minutes to go when Peter Dean failed to control a through ball and the pressing midfielder went through on goal and finished well to bring tension back into the game.
Within minutes however Banbridge Rangers restored their two goal advantage when Robbie Baird powered through the midfield after some neat footwork by Chambers and drove his shot into the bottom corner from twenty five yards out to seal the important win for the Swifts.
With Tullyvallen still to host top placed Coalisland and with the superior goal difference it now leaves Rangers Swifts almost sure off promotion if they can win all three off their remaining games starting with their last home game of the season this Saturday at home to Lurgan Thistle Reserves.