Ally Wilson scored his 200th goal for Rathfriland Rangers to help them close in on the NAFL Division 1A title with a hard-fought win over fellow challengers Lisburn Rangers.
At a packed Iveagh Park on Saturday, Wilson’s milestone goal gave them his side the lead, before Darren McGrath doubled it just a few minutes later.
And in spite of James Montgomery’s second-half goal for Lisburn, the Whites held on for a crucial three points that helps them to stride closer to the finish line.
The result means Clifford Sterritt’s men could seal their first league championship win in 18 years this weekend on their away trip to Larne Tech Old Boys.
There were no signs of nerves as Rathfriland came bursting out of the traps in the opening stages, scything through the Lisburn midfield and backline almost at will.
Lisburn’s makeshift left-back was targeted by the whippet-like McGrath, and the pace and movement of the Whites other attackers was as good as it has been all season.
The breakthrough came in the 14th minute, when Thomas Lockhart and James Costello linked up on the left, before the ball was rolled across the box to Wilson, who coolly slotted it into the bottom corner for his 29th goal of the campaign.
Among Wilson’s 200 strikes for the club have been two separate hauls of more than 50 goals in a single season, and his incredible scoring statistics set him apart as one of the best in the business.
Just four minutes after Wilson hit the net, McGrath added a second for the Whites.
James Costello took the ball in close, shielding it from his marker and held it while McGrath broke into the box, before crossing it low for the winger to tap home from beneath the ‘keeper’s nose.
For a solid 35 minutes, the Whites were totally dominant and their opponents were hardly given a sniff of Shane Harrison’s box.
But they rallied in the final few minutes of the half, and after the break they came out with much more intent.
Lisburn controlled possession for large parts of the second half but their attacks were generally blunted either by Rathfriland’s tough-tackling midfield pairing of Ross Black and Jonathan Scannell or by the cool, collected centre-half duo Chris Havern and Aaron Black.
Young full-back Jake Redpath had arguably his best game in Rathfriland shirt to date.
Lisburn did hit the net in the 68th minute, however, with Montgomery’s free-kick from 10 yards arrowing dangerously goalwards, before a deflection off the wall took it into the top corner, well out of Harrison’s reach.
The visitors pressed for a leveller, but more staunch defending by the Whites prevented them from doing so.
While Sterritt has consistently denied this season that his side are the title favourites, surely now he cannot argue that the odds are firmly with the Whites.
Man of the match: Jonathan Scannell (Rathfriland Rangers).