Rathfriland Rangers take the spoils in their clash with Ards Rangers.
Ards Rangers 2 Rathfriland 3.
Rathfriland Rangers enjoyed their first competitive match since their narrow defeat in the Border Cup in December. The team were well rested and looking forward to their clash against Ards Rangers at The Drome in Newtownards writes Jim Masson.
Rathfriland Rangers now lie 6th in the league table, with Ards Rangers in 4th spot, but they are four matches behind league leaders Crumlin Star and could catch them as the league comes to a finish. It is all to play for.
The match began with Rathfriland pressing ahead then it was Ards Rangers turn to press on with a few attacks.
A useful pass from Lee Newell to Adam Neale almost saw an early goal as Rathfriland forced their way down the left of the pitch making some excellent crosses.
Adam Neale opened the scoresheet for Rathfriland. The prolific scorer has topped 20 goals since the start of the season.
It was clear from the onset that Rathfriland were after the points and Ards Rangers had their work cut out.
However, Ards Rangers were not lying down and their pressure eventually won a free kick outside the Rathfriland box. Philip Simpson lined up the shot and expertly delivered a dipping ball over the wall into the top of the net.
Rathfriland immediately fought back against the equaliser and Neale was often in position to score. Defender John Scannell made an excellent cross to Neale who turned and shot on target but his effort was blocked by keeper David Ferguson.
Ards rangers Ruairi Fitzpatrick made a solid pass to Mark Armstrong up front but a timely interception from a Rathfriland defender squashed all hopes of a goal.
On 32 minutes Jason Walls volleyed on target at the Rathfriland goal but was unlucky when the ball deflected off a defender and keeper Ferguson was forced to make a fingertip save.
Just past the half hour, Harry McIlwrath crossed from the right towards the Rathfriland goal mouth and Ards forward Philip Simpson made an excellent contact with a low header to beat Rathfriland keeper Johnny Parr.
It was classic end-to-end play and Brian Johnston crossed to Lee Newell whose effort just missed the inside of the Ards Rangers back post.
The fast paced game approached the half way stage, the rain having stopped and the ground being quite heavy.
Neale make a flurry of attacks on the Ards rangers’ goal and eventually won a corner for his efforts keeping the pressure on the home sides’ turf.
Rathfriland keeper Johnny Parr was in good form and made one crucial save stopping Armstrong’s shot at goal.
Rathfriland were very much all over Ards Rangers like a proverbial rash as the match unfolded. As Ards did try and push back Fitzpatrick gave away a free by taking down Philip Simpson outside the box as the game started to get quite physical, but it was cleared by the determined Rathfriland defence.
In the second half, an early play from Newberry to Brown to Simpson almost paid dividends but the effort was foiled by the sound hands of keeper Parr.
The match levelled early in the second period when Ards Rangers were awarded a penalty taken well by captain Ryan Newberry.
Ards were again pressing forward trying to get control of the match. But the tables were turned as Rathfriland pushed into the Ards Rangers half and Brian Johnston launched a strong dipping volley on target to the top right hand corner, but it was deflected by goalkeeper Parr.
And again fighting back Neale was at the end of a pass from Jordan Hayes, close to the Ards Rangers goal but was at full stretch to make the killer contact.
Then soon after, in a burst at the Ards goal, Adam Neale clocked up his second goal.
As the match unfolded, Rathfriland defender Daniel Devlin made a good pass to Jesse Jackson up front who passed to Newell whose shot from inside the box was saved well by keeper Ferguson. This was a day when both keepers were on form.
Both teams were breaking constantly to try and get an advantage and one effort from McIlwrath to Simpson to Brown almost proved a goal for the home side.
Then after a sustained attack on the Ards Rangers goal, Neal popped the ball in from close quarters to put Ards in the driving seat.
Both teams were having near misses and in the last ten minutes, both teams could distincly feel the pressure of the fast, physical on a heavy surface.
Fitzpatrick made a last gasp effort as Ards Rangers made a break to save the day but keeper Parr managed to deflect the ball out for a corner.
Rathfriland put the pressure on in the dying embers of the game and John Scannell rose up well to head the ball down into the Ards Rangers net only to be denied by keeper Ferguson who read the move well.
Ards Rangers made a final charge but the ref’s whistle left them regretting their defeat to Rathfriland.
Overall this was a crucial away win for Rathfriland. Manager Ally Wilson will have been smiling from ear to ear on the road back to Rathfriland having collected the points to push them closer to the top of the Premier League table and make a run at the league title.
Ards Rangers: David Ferguson, Harry McIlwrath, Lewis Roy, Gary Watson, Taylor Kirk, Aaron McKee, Jason Walls, Ryan Newberry (C), Philip Simpson, Mark Armstrong, Aaron Brown. Subs: Hillen, Ennis, Irwin.
Rathfriland Rangers: Johnny Parr, Daniel Devlin, Jack Graham, John Scannell, Ruiari Fitzpatrick, Andy Kilmartin, Lee Newell, Adam Neale, Jordan Hayes, Jesse Carson, Brian Johnston. Subs: Harry Campbell, Sam McCallister, Stephen Greene.