Rathfriland Rangers were back in league action on Saturday but came on the wrong end of a thrilling 5-4 scoreline at home to Crumlin Utd.
Despite being ahead by three goals with 30 minutes on the clock, Rangers contrived to throw the game away. The visitors somehow managed to claw their way back after a penalty on the hour made it 4-2 and gave United the belief they needed to go on and collect the valuable three points.
Rangers went 1-0 up in the second minute when a long ball from the left was expertly hit first time on the volley into the bottom corner by Johnny Kernaghan.
A great start by the home side was made even better when they doubled their lead with Kernaghan this time supplier with a great pacey cross from a corner kick which new signing James Costello powered past the sprawling Crumlin goalkeeper.
The visitors then pulled a goal back when they broke away to score with a well worked goal making it 2-1 with only 15 minutes on the clock.
Another Rathfriland corner by Murphy from the left allowed the ball to fall to Stevie McArdle on the edge of the box who blasted a great strike in off the underside of the crossbar with the keeper having no chance. Rathfriland continued to press with the Crumlin goalkeeper having to come to his side’s rescue on more than one occasion from Darren McGrath and Andrew Stewart to keep the score at bay until half-time.
On the restart, Rathfriland continued to pressurise and were rewarded for their tenacity when a break down the left allowed Johnny Kernaghan to close in on goal and after his first attempt failed, he improvised brilliantly to cleverly back heel the ball into the net to make it 4-1.
At this stage it appeared to be game over for the visitors but a clumsy challenge on the number nine resulted in the referee pointing to the spot. The taker sent Maguire in the Rathfriland goal the wrong way to make it 4 - 2.
This appeared to give Crumlin more belief and as the weather worsened so did Rangers’ afternoon when Maguire failed to keep hold of the ball in the slippy conditions and although Philip Maine blocked the initial shot, a follow up was forced into the net to leave the score at 4-3.
Crumlin’s brilliant number 10 then equalised to make it 4-4 when he turned just outside the 18 yard box and unleashed an explosive shot which hit the roof of the net with great venom, a quite brilliant goal. With five minutes remaining, the game wasn’t finished with more drama and it wasn’t to the good of Rathfriland.
Crumlin hit the foot of the post and then amazingly the underside of the crossbar but the follow up period of play saw the visitors hit the back of the net with an eight yard shot to make it 5-4, sending their players and management team into raptures.
This was a great game for the neutral but not for Rathfriland who having gone three goals clear with half an hour remaining will be left kicking themselves at not seeing the game out.
Both teams are potential contenders for the league title and are hard to separate in terms of the statistics of the league table. This game probably confirmed that.
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Maguire, Sheaghy, Bird, Maine, Hutchinson (C), Stewart, Kernaghan, McArdle, McGrath, Costello, Murphy.
Subs: Gilmore, Stewart, Hillen.