Belfast Telegraph

Heartache is over for Ards as they taste final glory

Ards Rangers 3 Downpatrick 1

By Martin Mawhinney

Like a child on Christmas morning who had just got what he asked for, Lee Forsythe could hardly contain his excitement as he joined his Ards Rangers players and staff in their celebrations after beating Downpatrick 3-1 in Saturday's Border Cup final.

In reality, this Seaview victory isn't at the very top of the Drome Park boss's list - everyone knows respective Premier Division and Division 1A title glory are what Rangers and Downpatrick really want this season - but he realises this result could be a springboard to even greater things.

This may not quite have been the Christmas cracker the healthy crowd were anticipating, but the main thing for the Premier Division table-toppers is that it continues a staggering run in competitive football. It has earned them nine league wins and a draw, not to mention an upcoming plum draw against Cliftonville in the Irish Cup.

Indeed, their only defeats have been against Ballymena United Reserves in the Steel & Sons Cup, and Rosario YC in the Intermediate Cup.

And why stop at a league and cup double, when there is more silverware up for grabs?

A jubilant Forsythe grinned: "We are still in the Clarence Cup and top of the league too, so I couldn't really have asked for more. But today was all about the result, and getting some tin in the cupboard."

Given how Rangers have largely flourished under their current manager, it is arguably surprising to learn that this marks just the second piece of silverware in his seven-year reign to date.

Yet in light of how many near-misses they have had recently, the victory surely tasted almost every bit as sweet as their 2011/12 title triumph.

He said: "That's a massive monkey off our backs, getting our hands on a cup. I am sure after two Clarence Cup final defeats and one in the Intermediate Cup final, some people were probably wondering when it would ever happen.

"We were terrible today, particularly in the first half, and I don't think the surface helped either team. But we defended like lions and showed great character to win this. It's up to the lads to keep that going for the rest of the season."

A scrappy first half to the Amateur League's showpiece final gave little away about who would be the eventual winners, but on the rare occasions that the ball was played along the ground, Downpatrick probably shaded it.

Having failed to test David Ferguson from a 12th minute Barry Treacy free kick which hit the wall, the 1A leaders did force an excellent finger-tip save courtesy of an Aaron McGarry volley three minutes later… but the whistle had already gone for offside. Downpatrick continued to hint at a threat, with Jamie Patterson alert to the danger with a well-timed sliding tackle to retrieve the ball after Peter Telford had put Eoin Boyle through.

Rangers got their first clear-cut opportunity midway through the half, with Glen Upton's rebound shot blocked by Terence Bell, after Michael McKenna had kept out a Ryan Newberry effort.

And when Rangers broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute, Newberry was involved yet again, threading the ball to the back post, to pick out none other than experienced centre-back Mark Holland, who slid in to knock the ball past his own goalkeeper.

Downpatrick's anguish wasn't long-lived, however, as Andrew Telford showed great attacking instincts to level the scores just two minutes later, latching onto a misplaced Patterson header before dashing 20 yards to goal, and slotting the ball in behind McKenna.

Soon after this, Gary Brown brought down Andrew Telford with a cynical tug in a dangerous position, prompting some calls for referee Trevor Moutray to show a red card, but he produced yellow instead, noting that Patterson's presence ensured his team-mate wasn't the last man.

Holland was then given an opportunity to redeem himself on 41 minutes as the ball floated towards him from a Treacy free kick, but the former Cliftonville and Lisburn Distillery man headed wide.

Rangers regained their lead seven minutes into the second half, as a great Newberry pass found Upton, whose goal-bound lob was helped over the line by Tony Tumelty.

By this stage, the Peninsula men looked decent value for their advantage, but a Brown foul on Treacy - which earned him his second yellow card and subsequent red - threatened to undermine that, with 25 minutes still to play.

Within seconds, Peter Telford could have made it 2-2 amidst a flurry of activity in the Rangers box, but instead lifted it over the bar from an Aron McGarry flick-on.

It was a missed opportunity that would be rued, as Downpatrick's opponents darted up the other end, and man-of-the-match Newberry turned provider yet again, playing through to Upton, who slotted comfortably past McKenna.

Downpatrick didn't let their heads drop, and could have brought themselves back into it in the 85th minute, but for Mark Drysdale's goal-line clearance from a well-hit Andrew Baggley effort.

"Unfortunately, all the big moments went against us," lamented Downpatrick's joint manager Joe McMahon afterwards. "Credit to Ards Rangers, though, they defended well. It hurts now, but we have to take that into the rest of our season.

"This team isn't finished."

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