A day for the keepers as Croft earns Town a draw with leaders
Former popular Town Boss Colin Malone brought his table-topping Lurgan Celtic side to Crystal Park on Saturday hoping to wreck revenge on his former team.
Banbridge Town have been the only team to defeat the Lurgan men in the league this season but after an entertaining 94 minutes, honours were shared in a match that will have brought more joy to Banbridge Town than their near neighbours.
Both sides wanted the points for different reasons - Town to try and gain a respectable mid-table position while Celtic wanted to stay clear of the hunting pack at the top of the table.
Banbridge Town were first out of the blocks and Ryan Evans saw a second minute drive from 20 yards sail past the upright. On six minutes a neat back heel from Birthday Boy Ally Wilson, celebrating his 30th, found Ryan Evans who drove across goal only for McVeigh to clear for the visitors.
Town were playing good football from the back but were finding it difficult to penetrate a solid Celtic rearguard in which Declan McVeigh and tough tackling Adam Rodgers, a former Town player, were to the fore. After 17 minutes, Haire brought Town keeper Stephen Croft to his knees with a strong drive.
The Banbridge custodian was to and give a masterly display between the posts throughout. On 25 minutes Celtic dangerman Fitzpatrick sprung clear inside the Town box and looked like opening the scoring until a brilliant double block firstly by Martin Buchanan and finally by the excellent Croft who tipped the effort over the bar put paid to the Celtic man’s attempt.
Up to that point, Fitzpatrick had been strangely quiet due in no small way to the brilliant marking of the experienced Glen Waddell.
Soon after a Ryan Evans cross was flicked into the danger zone by the head of Ally Wilson but once again McVeigh cleared the danger.
After 32 minutes, a long ball caught the Celtic defence cold but keeper McCorry beat Mark Teggart in a race for possession and the chance was gone.
Two minutes later, Chris Lavery embarked on a great cross-field run evading several Town tackles but was thwarted by a fine save from Croft.
The returning Stephen Jones had added an extra bite to Banbridge’s midfield and both he and Mattie McCartan were getting through a lot of hard work in this sector.
Just before the interval a dangerous in-swinging corner was blasted into the side-netting by Martin Buchanan as he raced in to the far post.
The league leaders started the second half in determined fashion and Chris Lavery flashed a left wing shot over and Aaron Haire headed wide from a 49th minute corner as they applied the early pressure.
Town, however, were not prepared to sit back and after 61 minutes should have taken the lead. Twice in succession Ryan Gourley was desperately unlucky with efforts that were headed off the line by Celtic defenders with keeper McCorry helpless. This followed good work down the right from Ryan Evans but was tough luck on the nippy Gourley.
Four minutes later, Banbridge were awarded a free 35 yards out and McCorry did well to push away Ally Wilson’s thunderous effort. At the other end, Croft saved smartly from a fierce ground shot from Haire and on 76 minutes as the table-toppers pushed forward Dale Malone got on the end of a fine move but flashed his effort wide.
Stephen Croft made a magnificent point blank stop after Adam Rodgers had got behind Town’s rearguard on 84 minutes. Celtic piled on the pressure inspired by the talented Josh Barton (ex. Aston Villa/Dungannon Swifts) who had been introduced by Colin Malone in the second half but could not penetrate a solid Banbridge defence in which keeper Croft and Waddell, both contenders for man-of-the-match, were outstanding.
In the end a terrific point earned for Town and one which should be a great confidence booster for the remainder of the season.
TOWN: Croft, Wilson, Greene, Buchanan, Waddell, Jones, Evans, MmcCartan, Wilson, Teggart, Gourley.
Subs: Dennison (Jones 86), Gray, Ferguson (Teggart 78), Downey (Evans 73), McConville.
LURGAN CELTIC: McCorry, McVeigh, Rodgers, Hutchinson, Cochrane, Rodgers, Haire, Malone, Fitzpatrick, Ryan, Lavery.
Subs: Lavery (Ryan 71), Rooney, McCarron, Barton (J Rodgers 56).
Referee: Alaistair Burns, Portadown.