Rathfriland book quarter-final spot as McGrath goal sees off dogged challenge from Tullyvallen

Football update
Football update

Tullyvallen Rangers 0

Rathfriland Rangers 1

Rathfriland Rangers booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Bob Radcliffe Cup with a hard-earned away win over Tullyvallen Rangers on Saturday.

Darren McGrath’s well-taken goal gave the Whites a deserved first-half lead, and although they held the Tullyvallen attack off with relative comfort they could not kill off the game even after the dogged home side were reduced to 10 men.

The win means John Kernaghan’s side will now face Tandragee Rovers at Iveagh Park on Saturday, September 27.

After a result to forget the previous week, Rathfriland were much-strengthened for the trip to Tullyvallen, able to call again upon the services of striker McGrath, goalkeeper Kieran Maguire and full-back Brian Bird.

And Rathfriland certainly had the better of the early exchanges - Philip Main found the net a quarter-of-an-hour in only to see it disallowed for offside, and moments later Johnny Kernaghan drilled a volley narrowly over the bar.

The breakthrough came on 33 minutes when Maguire launched a ball forward for Stephen McArdle flicked on behind the ‘Vallen backline. McGrath chased it before poking it under the goalkeeper from 10 yards.

The goal was merited and just on the stroke of half-time it was almost added to when Kernaghan’s excellent work to beat left-back Joshua McNeice allowed him the space to chip a cross into the six-yard box for McArdle, but he placed his header just past the post.

The second-half was a similar affair with Rathfriland again dominating the attacking play.

McGrath should have doubled the Whites’ lead when he broke through to face William McKinstry one-on-one, but he failed to finish a chance he would normally score with ease and the ‘Vallen ‘keeper blocked his shot.

Just before the hour, ‘Vallen midfielder Simon Knight received his marching orders for a wild challenge on Kernaghan.

With a man light, clear-cut opportunities for Tullyvallen were few and far between but they went close to levelling when Kyle Morton struck a free-kick towards the top corner with Maguire clawing it away and doing well to save the follow-up from Brian Hadden.

At the other end, Stephen Hutchinson was just off-target from a free-kick and Philip Main rose highest at a corner but his header drifted wide. McGrath - perhaps lacking just a touch of match sharpness after missing three games with a suspension - saw another effort kept out by McKinstry after latching on to a terrific floated pass from Kernaghan.

Rathfriland’s back four, particularly Main and Hutchinson who headed away virtually every ball that went in their direction, were impenetrable for most of the afternoon.

But in a late ‘Vallen surge, Matthew Irwin got a firm downward header to a corner - had it not been straight at Maguire it would have been a certain goal.

It had been the golden chance the young home side were waiting on but despite their stubborn performance it wasn’t to be their day.

Rathfriland saw out the final moments with little fuss.

A tougher task awaits in the next round against Tandragee - who defeated Banbridge Town 4-3 after extra-time at the weekend - but Kernaghan’s new squad is strengthening week by week.

Man of the match: Stephen Hutchinson (Rathfriland Rangers).

Tullyvallen Rangers: William McKinstry, Mark Nicholson, David Simpson, Joshua McNeice, Colin Armstrong, Kyle Riddle, Robert Kennedy, Simon Knight, Kyle Morton, Brian Hadden, Matthew Irwin. Subs: James McElnea, Mathew Gass, Neil Morton.

Rathfriland Rangers team were: Kieran Maguire; Kieran McCourt, Philip Main, Stephen Hutchinson, Brian Bird, Johnny Kernaghan, Noel Lawless, Conor Macken, Martin Murphy, Stephen McArdle, Darren McGrath. Subs: Jason Gibson, David Gilmore, Ryan Hillen.