Town get ‘Nathan’ for their efforts

Banbridge Town 2

Ards 3

Life and indeed Sport can be so cruel at times and Ronnie Haughey and his young fighting side were proof of this on Saturday last when after a really encouraging display they succumbed to a 93rd minute winning goal from prolific goalscorer Nathan McConnell for a mightily relieved Ards side.

Town had recovered from going behind early to really put it up to their illustrious opponents and would have thoroughly deserved a share of the spoils but (and not for the first time) it was late heartbreak.

Banbridge had fielded new signings Stuart Thompson (on loan from Distillery) and ‘keeper Michael McAllister (signed from Warrenpoint Town) and welcomed back Mattie McCartan and Stephen Jones from suspension.

There was a good shape about the team with Thompson in particular bringing a steadying influence to Town’s rearguard and he looked every bit a Premier League player.

His partnership with the young and extremely talented Barry Nelson should bear fruits before long. The return of Mattie McCartan gave much needed support to Chris Kingsberry in the midfield sector and with full-backs Simon Robb and Stephen Jones getting forward at every opportunity there was quite a buzz and improvement in Town’s display.

Ards Mark Picking “picked out” Nathan McConnell after only two minutes but a superb tackle from Stuart Thompson thwarted a dangerous situation for Town.

Not to be undone Conor Downey forced a full length save from Ards ‘keeper Graham McKibben after five minutes. However one minute later the visitors were ahead when out of the blue striker Kyle McDowell unleashed a thunderbolt from 23 yards that struck the underside of Town’s crossbar and rebounded into the path of Ross Arthurs and he made no mistake from a few yards out. It was tough on the home side who nevertheless responded quickly with Kingsberry (himself an ex. Ards ace) releasing Aaron Gallagher but the latter was outmuscled by the strong Ards defence. They continued to press and Thompson went agonisingly close with a far post header following a corner in the 13th minute.

James Cully was off target with a similar effort for Ards soon after. It was end to end stuff and Ryan Cree tested McKibbin with a long range drive after 18 minutes. The visitors went close to increasing their lead after 24 minutes with a screamer from McIhagga which went the wrong side of the post with McAllister beaten.

It was the visitors turn to dominate and Nelson kept Town in the game after 30 minutes when he made a terrific clearance from under his own crossbar.

It was 1 - 1 a minute later when a quality pass from Mattie MxCartan found Chris Kingsberry and the little midfield dynamo raced 30 yards before placing a fine shot past McKibbin and into the corner of the net.

It was a well deserved equaliser in a match played at a frantic pace between two good footballing teams.

Picking and McConnell combined well but the latter was off target with his shot on the run after 39 minutes. McAllister (having a busy debut) saved well from Cully in the 43rd minute and the lively Conor Downey (who covered every blade of grass on the field) had a shot stopped by McKibbin as the first half came to a close.

It was Ards who started the second half better and the Town goal led a charmed life for a period of time. Cully flashed a header across goal and only inches wide in the 50th minute. The visitors would have had a lot more success had it not been for the gallant efforts of the Town’s “back four” especially central defenders Thompson and Nelson. The pressure continued and they were not helped when they lost midfielder Chris McGrath to a suspected broken nose after 65 minutes. It was when reduced to 10 men that Town went behind for the second time one minute later when Ards Aaron McKee rifled home from the edge of the box after another goalmouth scramble.

Back came “never say die” Town and when an inch perfect Kingsberry pass found Downey honing in on goal after 69 minutes the latter exasperated the home support with a poor finish. McAllister saved well from Cully and McIlhagga before Town stunned Ards with a superlative Mattie McCartan equaliser in the 80th minute. Town’s leading goalscorer this season struck a superb 22 yard free kick crashing to the net with ‘keeper McKibbin rooted to the spot.

The home support were ecstatic and a well deserved point seemed to be the order of the day until that man McConnell got on the end of a good left wing cross to steer his header high into the net and dash Town hopes in the 93rd minute. Yes a cruel fate for the home side but a great goal from an experienced striker who proved the point that you cannot take your eye of a prolific goalscorer even for a second and certainly not before the Referee has blown the final whistle!

This Saturday (Sept. 10th) Town begin the defence of The Bob Radcliffe Cup which they won last season after a memorable final against Rathfriland Rangers. This time they face a very tough 1st Round tie away to Warrenpoint Town (who defeated then at Crystal Park last week).

Kick-Off is 2.30 p.m. at Warrenpoint with extra time and penalties if necessary. On Saturday week (Sept.17th) Town are back in league action with another away match v Ballinamallard (kick-Off 3.00 p.m.) At the time of writing Ballinamallard top the table so needless to say this will be a very tough encounter with points at a premium!

Teams: Banbridge Town - Michael McAllister, Stephen Jones, Simon Robb, Stuart Thompson, Barry Nelson, Chris McGrath, Aaron Gallagher, Mattie McCartan, Ryan Cree, Chris Kingsberry, Conor Downey - Subs: Liam McGarry(for Gallagher 61 mins), Michael Ferguson, James Wilson(for McGrath 66mins)

Ards - Graham McKibbin, Robert Young, Darren Nixon, James Cully, Ciaran Boyd, Mark Picking, Aaron McKee, James McIlhagga, Kyle McDowell, Nathan McConnell, Ross Arthurs - Subs: Paul McKnight, David Cully, Adam Arthurs, Gary Spence(for Boyd 71mins), Paul Kee

Referee: Alister Burns (Portadown)