Border Cup Semi-Final
Venue: Seaview, Belfast
Match report by Jim Masson
East Belfast 2 Rathfriland Rangers 2 (winning 0-3 on penalties)
This Border Cup semi-final between East Belfast and Rathfriland Rangers was a brilliant game of soccer with a spectacular ending that no-one could have predicted.
The match ended up 2-2 in normal time and went into 20 minutes extra time, then the teams had to take penalties to resolve the deadlock. East Belfast players Gary McBride, Lewis Irwin, and Stephen Cockcroft each took their shots … but the Rathfriland keeper Jonathan Parr was on top form and saved all three.
The Rathfriland Rangers players lined up for their shots, and up first was Andrew Kilmartin followed by Jonathan Roy, then the fans and the players went wild when Stephen Hughes who played a great game buried the ball into the back of the next putting Rathfriland through to the Border Cup final to face either Ballynahinch Olympic or Shankhill United.
Aaron Black, Rathfriland head coach said after the match: “Jonathan Parr is an awesome goalkeeper and tonight he was on top form.
“To be fair, both teams were fairly well matched throughout and Rathfriland certainly played as a team. We just had the edge over East Belfast in the penalty shoot out with our brilliant keeper and classy penalty takers.”
The match began with East Belfast going on the attack from the whistle and Purkis was unlucky not to score with a long curling volley.
The game went up and down the pitch and it wasn’t long before Rathfriland after their cautious start took a shot at the East Belfast goal when Stephen Hughes blasted off a low ball just held by keeper David Ferguson.
In the opening stages it was East Belfast that looked the marginally more promising, and they displayed a number of solid tactical moves such as McWilliams putting through to Purkis who again almost converted.
As the game warmed up, so did some of the challenges and the first yellow cards went to McBride (East Belfast) and Lockhart (Rathfriland) in a feisty exchange. Gradually Rathfriland started to press more into the East Belfast half but East Belfast were capable of sudden breaks. Rathfriland had a great spell around the 40 minutes mark when they made some relentless charges at the opposition goals and were unlucky not to have opened up their scoresheet.
The match re-started into the second period and East Belfast again were pressing Rathfriland. McCaughan missed a snapshot at goal, and it was game on. The second half became more intense as both teams worked hard to open up their score card. Rathfriland too were quick on the break and the action yo-yo’ed up and down the pitch given the fans plenty to cheer about.
Both teams were creating opportunities… Cockcroft was on form and worked his way along teh back line under pressure and fired off a volley at a sharp angle which just went over the Rathfriland top bar.
At about 15 minutes into the second half, Lockhart broke through the middle and took a shot at goal and Ferguson the East Belfast keeper held it safely, then Hughes got possession and took a volley at the East Belfast goal and that too was held by Ferguson. Then Hughes got possession once more and passed to Lochhart who made a tremendous volley but keeper Ferguson smothered it safely.
Then just as the spectators were becoming hypnotised with the up and down attacks of both teams in this fast-paced semi-final, Rathfriland’s Rauiri Fitzpatrick unleashed a low volley from the back of the box through a forest of legs in the goal area giving Ferguson no chance.
This goal in the 62nd minute lifted Rathfriland at an opportune time and East Belfast for a short spell seemed to loose their fluency. Rathfriland were on the attack for a while and Lockhart made a great snap volley at goal forcing Ferguson to make a fingertip save pushing the ball over the crossbar for a corner.
But, Joe McWilliams turned the tables for East Belfast when from no-where he fired off a rocket at the Rathfriland goal having broken through the middle and East Belfast were back from the dead in the 72nd minute with an equaliser.
Then minutes later, a free from the left into the Rathfriland goal area saw Purkis rise up and head the ball into the top of the net.
Rathfriland had to do it all again… if they wanted their place in the final. And it was a long ball in from Peter Telford that ricocheted through the bodies in front of the East Belfast goal into the back of the net giving Ferguson no chance. The game was drawn again at 2-2 with 7 minutes of normal time left. Both teams were now giving it their all.
Rathfriland had their moments to score such as when Kilmartin passed to Lockhart whose header was just over the bar, and Kilmartin then took a shot from within the box but it was well held by keeper Ferguson.
The game went into extra time and there wer ea small number of flare ups, injuries, and cramps, and the pace although still fast, was more erratic.
East Belfast’s McWilliams was unlucky as his shot sailed an inch over the top bar. It seemed that East Belfast were again doing much of the pressing but typical of this match, Rathfriland’s Hughes made a run into the box facing the East Belfast goal but captain Lee Finlay made a crucial interception to keep East Belfast alive, and Finlay made another gallant effort when he shot low at the Rathfriland goal but keeper Parr got the ball under control. Both teams, exhausted, sweating in the freezing night air, were then left to face the dreaded penalty shoot out.
East Belfast will not forget missing three straight penalties in a row costing them a place in the Border Cup final despite having gone toe to toe with Rathfriland Rangers, an adversary who battled to the last and showed a greater determination and focus in the penalty shoot out.
East Belfast: David Ferguson, Karl Rossborough, Marc Roy, Ross McCaughan, Lee Finlay, Nathan McVeigh. Joe McWilliams, Gary McBride. Daniel Purkis, Keith Armstrong, Stephen Cockcroft. Subs: Sam McNaul, Simon Graham, Lewis Irwin.
Rathfriland Rangers: Jonathan Parr, Graeme Edgar, Ruairi Cunningham, Peter Telford, Daryll Evans, Ruairi Fitzpatrick, Andrew Kilmartin, Jionathan Scannell, Stephen Hughes, Thomas Lockhart, Jonathan Roy. Subs: Nigel Prentice, Harry Campbell, Robert Graham.