BANBRIDGE Rangers produced one of the performances of the second round in this seasons JJB Irish Cup when they knocked out an in form Rosario YC from the Premier Division of the Amateur League at Ulidia Playing Fields on Saturday.
The Banbridge side is the sole representatives from the Mid Ulster Football League who remain in the Irish Cup and are becoming accustomed to the role of flag bearers for their league. In last years Intermediate Cup Rangers managed to navigate their way to the Quarter Final stage after seeing off several Championship sides before succumbing to eventual winners Carrick Rangers.
Both teams entered the game on the back of impressive league wins on the Saturday leading up to the game with Rosario defeating current league champions Newington away 4-1 and Banbridge Rangers emphatically recording a 12-2 win over pitch sharing rivals Banbridge AFC. The match started at frenetic pace with the lightning fast Rosario striker stinging the hands of Rangers keeper Blevins only two minutes in after getting a clear sight of goal.
Banbridge Rangers midfield four of Frazer, Wilton, Cousins and Hughes worked tirelessly in the opening fifteen minutes in a game dominated by midfield action with right winger Bradley Hughes seeing an effort go narrowly wide on eleven minutes. Midway through the first half Banbridge Rangers broke the deadlock when Willie Frazer fired home after the ball fell kindly to him from a Clydesdale in swinging corner.
Within a few minutes Rosario should have been level when their striker went through one on one only to be denied by another superb stop by Ivon Blevins in the Rangers goals. The Ormeau Road side would rue their missed opportunity only minutes later when Banbridge Rangers doubled their lead. Some neat one touch football down the left hand flank opened space for Jason Gourley to fed Colin Cousins in behind the back line who used his turn of pace to edge away from his marker before slotting under the keeper to the delight of the Banbridge Rangers contingent.
Before the half time interval Rosario had a succession of set pieces which were all cleared by centre half pair Chris Chambers and Ryan Gregg who limited the home side to shots from distance. At half time Banbridge manager Dan Thornton made a tactical switch moving goalscoring midfielder Cousins into centre half to man mark the Rosario pacey forward with teenager Ryan Gregg moving up to protect the back four from midfield. Banbridge Rangers came out of the blocks straight away with Mark Wilton heading agonisingly over the bar from another threatening Clydesdale corner after only a minute into the second period.
Just after fifty minutes Rangers had a penalty appeal waved away for advantage to take the shot when Willie Frazer was pulled back by his marker after being fed in behind again by Gourley by the shot from Frazer skewed wide of the upright. Bradley Hughes was replaced by the towering Matthew McKnight who was making his debut in the Irish Cup at only seventeen years old. McKnight was composed on the ball and helped steady the game in Rangers favour as Rosario threatened to pile on the pressure but failed to create any clear cut chances.
With just under twenty minutes remaining Thornton decided to bring on another seventeen year old into midfield with recently signed Aaron Megaw coming on to the right hand side for Wilton. On seventy six minutes Rosario got their breakthrough goal when Cousins upended the home striker after he clipped the ball past him on entering the area, the Rosario midfielder stepped up and smashed his penalty to give the game a spark heading into the final quarter of an hour.
As Rosario pushed men forward they became increasingly frustrated with Rangers back four of Porter, Cousins, Chambers and Buchanan putting themselves into defending every cross that came near their box. A brief respite saw Rangers almost snatch a third goal when a corner saw some pinball football before the ball was eventually cleared off the line from a Jason Gourley shot. Neville Cochrane replaced man of the match Willie Frazer on the left hand side for the remaining minutes of the game with the Banbridge side winning 2-1 and going into the pot for the third round draw.
This was a great result for Banbridge Rangers side who signed former Loughgall striker Clifford Sterritt this weekend to help them push for promotion into Mid Ulsters top stream after narrowly missing out in each of the last two seasons. This Saturday Banbridge Rangers will be hoping to relive some of the magic of the Intermediate Cup when they travel to Ballymena to take on Raceview in the opening round of this years competition, kick off at 1.30pm.