John Kernaghan’s first game in charge of Rathfriland Rangers ended in a 1-1 draw away to Abbey Villa, their sixth stalemate in 13 games this season.
Darren McGrath had given the visitors a first-half lead but Steven Barr levelled for Villa after the break.
An impressive support travelled with Rathfriland to Millisle to witness Kernaghan’s managerial debut for the Whites and to see striker Ally Wilson return to action with the club after recently resigning from Lisburn Distillery.
And Kernaghan couldn’t have wished for a better start when just two minutes in, Darren McGrath was tripped inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. McGrath stepped up and placed the penalty perfectly into the corner to beat the Villa goalkeeper’s dive.
The returning Wilson then went close with a free-kick from 25 yards which just whistled over the bar and then he sliced a shot when Coulter broke into the area and cut the ball back to him.
Villa also had chances and on 30 minutes, Gary McDermott should have equalised when he lobbed a loose ball over Rangers keeper Kieran Maguie but Kieran McCourt reached it just in front of the line. And from the resulting corner, Boyd headed narrowly wide. Rathfriland could have gone two goals up shortly after the break but while Wilson did well to reach a ball inside the area, he skied his shot over the bar.
Villa’s equaliser came ten minutes into the second-half. Gary McDermott seized upon a short back-pass to Kieran Maguire and he won a penalty when he went down under the goalkeeper’s challenge. Steven Barr drove the spot-kick into the net.
McDermott and Rathfriland centre-half Ally Evans were involved in a fantastic battle of wits throughout the second-half which was the highlight of the match, and as both sides pushed for a winner, the game became increasingly entertaining.
On 75 minutes, McGrath almost scored his second when he collected a flick-on from Wilson. The young front-man squirmed past his man and into the box before hitting a terrific left-footed strike which the keeper just managed to push over the top of the crossbar.
Rathfriland piled on the pressure and perhaps should’ve won it in the final five minutes, but they couldn’t force a good effort on goal and had to settle for a point, which leaves them sitting eighth in the league table.
ABBEY VILLA: Jon Munn, George Gamble, Adam Arthurs, Paul Magee, Chris Boyd, Ryan Munn, Gary McDermott, Thomas Canavan, Ryan Ritchie, Steven Barr, Andrew Pitman. Subs: Isaac Caldwell, Jamie Marsh, Stephen Mulholland.
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: Kieran Maguire, Kieran McCourt, Ally Evans, Alan Murray, Ian Weir, Ryan Evans, Stevie Coulter, Johnny Gibson, Alan Beck, Darren McGrath, Ally Wilson. Subs: Paul Greenaway, Colum McComish, Aaron Robb.