AFTER their Intermediate Cup win last week Banbridge Town were keen to carry that form into Saturday’s league fixture at Crystal Park against Sports & Leisure Swifts.
This was their first ever visit to Crystal Park and they certainly started in the backfoot against a dominant Town side who pressurised all over the park in the early stages.
Crowd favourite Timmy Grant was fouled in Town’s first attack and the same player headed just wide from the resultant free taken by the trusty boot of Paul Walsh. The visitors, however, were well organised at the back with centre back Morris particularly effective.
Willie Herron flashed a header over after 18 minutes and soon after Conor Downey dithered on the ball when picked out in space by a terrific Paul Walsh pass and with acres of freedom and time on the ball he delayed long enough for his shot to be blocked by a recovering defender. Mattie McCartan the fired a 35 yard volley past an upright on 25 minutes.
Town were not converting their superiority on the scoreboard although it took a desperate last ditch tackle to prevent Grant on 30 minutes after the dangerous number nine had weaved his way through riding three tackles on his way. He should have opened Town’s account minutes later but his header was weak in front of goal after another inviting Walsh cross.
Debutant goalkeeper Nathan Morley-Hillen had little to deal with up to this stage. Kevin Henry, having a good game in the middle of the park for Town was fouled as he advanced on goal and the resultant free kick from Mattie McCartan was blocked on the line.
Conor Downey headed inches wide from a Paul Walsh cross and after dominating proceedings Town went in on level terms as the half time whistle sounded.
Football is notoriously unpredictable but no-one could have possibly imagined the goal feast that was to follow in the preceding 45 minutes. The half was only one minute old when Stephen Greene rose in the air to meet a Paul Walsh corner and plant his header into the far corner of the net.
However it was 1-1 a minute later when Pierce Tully latched onto a loose ball 40 yards from goal and cracked a tremendous volley past a bemused Morley-Hillen.
Banbridge introduced another forward with Adam Pedlow replacing Willie Herron and the former would soon make a telling introduction.
On 50 minutes Stuart Thompson made a strong run down the right and his fabulous cross eluded the defence only to be miscued on the line by the normally deadly Timmy Grant. Indeed the latter was having one of those afternoons when very little went right for the striker.
Town continued to push forward and substitute Pedlow regained the lead for them after 52 minutes when he lashed home a right foot drive giving ‘keeper Nugent no chance.
Henry and Pedlow again spurned chances as Banbridge upped the ante. Sports & Leisure showed great determination and Brady was off target for them in a quick counter attack after 62 minutes.
Three minutes later it was 3-1 to Town when Conor Downey scored with a downward header from another well delivered Paul Walsh corner.
Substitute Jay Close found himself unmarked on the right 12 yards from Town’s goal and he made no mistake blasting past Morley-Hillen to make the score 3-2 and game on again!
Pedlow sent a shot which just swerved past an upright and Stevie McArdle replaced Conor Downey as Brian Adair tried to freshen things up after 71 minutes.
However it was a shocked Town who conceded another equaliser after 75 minutes when Sports & Leisure’s No.9 Neil Corr hit a screamer from 25 yards past Morley-Hillen.
Stunned Town introduced yet another forward in Stephen O’Neill as they went for broke and it looked good in the 85th minute when Stephen Greene ghosted in behind the defence but this time the big man headed across goal and the chance was lost.
The visitors were not to be undone and they almost stole the points in the last seconds only for Morley-Hillen to make a fine save from McCann.
TEAMS: Banbridge Town: Nathan Morley-Hillen, Glen Waddell, Stuart Thompson, Neil King, Kevin Henry, Willie Herron, Mattie McCartan, Stephen Greene, Timmy Grant, Conor Downey, Paul Walsh. Subs: Adam Pedlow (for Herron 45 mins.), Ryan Gourley, Stephen O’Neill (for Waddell 85 mins.), Stephen McArdle (for Downey 71 mins.).
Sports and Leisure Swifts: Damien Nugent, Stephen McDonnell, Gavin Johnston, Kevin O’Hare, Gerard Morris, Pierce Tully, James Daly, John Brady, Neill Corr, Jay Donnan, Jim O’Neill.