Ryan Mann upsets the odds as Bangor Amateurs stun Shankill United in Border Cup clash
Supporters of Bangor Amateurs got their first glimpse of a potentially bright future ahead when they watched their side overturn a Shankill United team, placed three divisions above them, in the opening round of the Border Cup on Saturday.
Those around the Clandeboye Road club have been quietly confident of their prospects, given the busy recruitment-filled summer they have had, and last weekend, in the Steel & Sons Cup, they gave another Premier Division side, Derriaghy CC, a genuine fright, pushing them all the way to a penalties before bowing out.
This time, however, they saw the job through, with a Ryan Mann wonder-goal stealing the show on a fantastic afternoon for the Division 1C men.
Winning manager Sam McKee wants this result to be the opening chapter of a long-lasting success story... a success story he believes has been long overdue.
"I am over the moon," he smiled. "Everyone knows we have a good squad here – it's been something we have been building now for over a year.
"It's fantastic to beat a Premier club like Shankill. It sends out a big message, and who knows how far we can go?
"We get back to the league next week, and that will always be the priority, but the important thing is that we've shown we can beat anyone on our day."
Despite his pride at his team's performance, McKee was honest enough to admit he felt they rode their luck in a rather one-sided first half.
One such moment occurred in the eighth minute, when Seamus McDonnell appeared to have beaten the offside trap and chipped the ball over to Stephen Cummings while he was off his line, only to be denied by the referee's whistle for offside.
The Shankill players were left frustrated again 10 minutes later when Sean Cahill had the hosts' net rippling a second time, and once again had their claims ruled out, this time after the striker was adjudged to have fouled Cummings.
It wasn't until half-an-hour in that the home side got close to threatening a goal. Gary Sharratt took a quick free kick, before the whistle, but nevertheless, it went over the bar, therefore avoiding any debate in the aftermath.
McKee's side were still thankful that the scores were level following wave after wave of Shankill pressure. Their relief was probably at its most tangible in the 32nd minute, when Luke Briers blasted a volley straight at Cummings, who couldn't grasp the ball, and was duly relieved to see Seamus McDonnell drag wide from the rebound.
Moments later, Kirk Madden charged past a number of challenges down the left flank before firing a testing effort which was well saved by the Amateurs' outstanding goalkeeper.
It felt like a matter of when, not if Shankill were going to score, while the Amateurs' only opportunities seemed to involve free kicks. Mann whipped another expertly into the area before the break, only to find there was no-one running in to finish it.
It was difficult to tell what changed in the second period, whether Shankill had dropped off slightly, or whether the Amateurs had stepped things up a notch, but either way, the difference was there for all to see.
Now it was the visiting defenders doing the blocking, with Scott McMillan getting in the way of two successive Thomas Canavan shots.
The Amateurs were now playing with a greater sense of belief, and as Daniel Ferguson carved out a great cross after being sent through by a clever Sharatt pass, but no-one was there to finish.
Shankill's concerns were beginning to grow, and more so with the worrying sight of their captain McMillan having to be lifted off the pitch with what looked like a serious ankle injury.
They were left further down-hearted when Dramane Sangare, who had done so well to take the ball off Dwayne Beattie and get himself into the box, lost his footing to miss a great chance.
Mann, however, wasn't to be so wasteful when his big chance arrived in the 71st minute. In fact, he had little right to shoot from where he did, but his 30-yard hit was so cleanly struck that it soared all the way into the top left corner, leaving keeper James Thompson with no chance.
Shankill pushed on for an equaliser, but the Amateurs held out for the upset.
He may have had few words at the end, but Shankill manager Jamie Marks said all he needed to by stating: "It's simple. We didn't take our chances and, when you don't do that, you don't score."