A new-look Rathfriland Rangers began life in NAFL Division 1A with an emphatic 4-0 win over Dundonald, answering some of the doubts over the strength of the freshly-assembled squad.
Captain Stevie Coulter made two goals and scored one of his own in an exceptional all-round display. His headed goal was the fourth of the afternoon at Iveagh Park, with new signings Paul Donegan and Darren McGrath getting on the scoresheet and Aaron Robb netting the other.
Rangers dominated possession and had the best of the first-half play, but largely looked unthreatening at the business end of the field, but McGrath did offer the occasional glimpse of what might be to come from him.
Ian Weir could have done better when he was twice picked out perfectly by crosses from Coulter and new centre-half Shannon Drainey, but didn’t manage to produce a shot from either.
It wasn’t until the 50th minute that the Rangers got the goal their efforts had warranted. Coulter swung a free-kick into the box from just inside the Dundonald half, and Donegan rose unchallenged to direct the ball past the ‘keeper Craig Marchant with a glancing header.
Donegan and Drainey have both joined from Loughgall and already the defensive pair look like they will be two key signings for Whites boss Ian McDowell.
Eight minutes later, another clever Coulter free-kick from a similar position found McGrath lurking at the corner of the area. He drove forward and beat two defenders before slotting the ball past Marchant and just inside the far post.
Along with Coulter’s typically terrier-like effort, left-back Kevin Doyle also put in an eye-catching performance, constantly pushing forward and making life difficult for the Dundonald defenders with his pace.
Rathfriland were coasting along with Dundonald struggling to make it into the final third and Whites ‘keeper Kieran Maguire barely had a single save to make all afternoon. The visitors had struggled in the league last season and with their distinct lack of potency it was apparent why.
But it wasn’t until five minutes from the end that Rathfriland grabbed a third and made sure of the points, when, almost from nothing, Aaron Robb sliced a half-volley into the top corner from the edge of the box.
And Coulter got his goal deep into injury-time when Weir drilled a corner towards the front post and the skipper leapt highest, his header at the front post deflecting into the net.
The four-goal win planted Rathfriland on top of the table alongside Derriaghy CC, who they face tonight (Tuesday) away and again in a week’s time at Iveagh Park.
Man of the match: Stevie Coulter (Rathfriland Rangers)
Rathfriland Rangers: Kieran Maguire, Kieran McCourt, Shannon Drainey, Paul Donegan, Kevin Doyle, Andy McLarty, Aaron Robb, Stevie Coulter (c), Lee Mackin, Ian Weir, Darren McGrath. Subs: Ryan Evans, Ryan McDowell, Alan Murray.
Dundonald: Craig Marchant, Ross Calder (c), Colin Wosley, Andrew Johnston, Simon Graham, Lee Hudd, Maik Reid, Andrew Thompson, Jonathan Tumelty, John Harper, Ross Ordely. Subs: Andrew Weir, Ross McCaughan, Michael Barren.