Banbridge Fours took on South Antrim Threes in what was to be a relegation decider at Havelock and came out on trop, winning a thriller 5-3.
The match sat on a knife edge with Banbridge two points adrift of South Antrim. If South won the match then the 4Fours would have to win the last two remaining games of the Junior Three League campaign. If Banbridge won then the three points would enable them to leap frog South Antrim, who had already played all of their league fixtures, bar this one. Every player knew the importance of this game.
The Banbridge team included Luke Roleston in goal; Dylan Cowan, Andrew Bennington, Roger Martin and Lee Groves in defence; Ben McConnell, Craig Campbell, Robbie Scott and Joe McKnight in midfield; Nathan Liggett and Mark Campbell in attack. The substitutes included Matthew Young, Matthew Graham, Niall Burns, Jordan Oliver and Nigel Jackson.
The Banbridge umpire was Dave Morrison.
Bann looked strongest from the outset and quickly started to apply pressure to South Antrim, however it was the opposition who made the breakthrough. They attacked quickly down the left hand side of the pitch and won a free outside of the D. This free was taken quickly by the team captain who ran into the D and fired a low shot past Luke.
Bann did create plenty of chances with Robbie Scott hitting the upright and other shots being fired narrowly wide of goal. With one minute to go in the first half Banbridge were awarded a stroke. A South Antrim player stopped the ball crossing the goal line with his foot. Robbie Scott coolly slotted the stroke to the keeper’s left and the half finished finely balanced at 1-1. Could Banbridge push on for the vital victory?
The second half belonged to Banbridge who dictated the game. Jordan Oliver came into central midfield and showed some excellent ability. Nathan Liggett scored an early goal in the half, his second in two games, following some good work from Mark Campbell.
Mark then started to cut through the defence at will and with a lightning fast break he drew the South Antrim defenders wide and slipped the ball central for Niall Burns to lash into the goal, 3-1. Niall Burns then proceeded to almost score a world class goal from a bouncing ball passed into the D from Jordan Oliver.
Banbridge won a short corner which Dylan Cowan dragged into the D and fired past the goalkeeper.
Matthew Young made his mark by coolly finishing a Joe McKnight deflected shot. Not being satisfied with this, Matthew just missed the goal with an excellent reverse shot.
South suddenly applied more and more pressure on the Bann defence with difficult aerials and fast counter-attacks. They scored two goals with low driving shots from the left of the D to make it 5:3. Could Banbridge hold their nerve and see out the game?
Of course. Roger Martin and Andrew Bennington showed great leadership and maturity at the back to deal with the growing pressure. They easily passed the ball to Dylan Cowan and Lee Groves who then drove forward to relieve the pressure.
As a result of this game, Banbridge Fours have achieved guaranteed safety in Junior Three and also won their first match of the season.