None of the teams who won their Irish Cup first round ties on Saturday will dare to dream they will contest the final when it eventually comes around in May, but that almost seemed an irrelevance as Ards Rangers celebrated their extra-time win over Islandmagee on Saturday.
The cheers ringing out from Drome Park’s home dressing room were so loud and jubilant that losing manager Stephen Donald joked that “you’d think they’d won the World Cup,” but Rangers boss Lee Forsythe was happy to explain the reason for his players’ reaction.
He admitted: “I don’t usually let them get on like that, but they asked me if they could today, and I said it was okay. It only reflects the way Islandmagee react when they come here – they are used to coming away with a win, but that didn’t happen today.
“This is my seventh year in charge now, and every one of the seven times they have come here in that time, both in the league and the cups, they have beaten us. They were starting to call this place Three Point Park.
“There have been much more important games – the year we won the title, the Intermediate Cup final... but I was just happy with how we got on today. We had a new-look side with a couple of boys at a wedding today, and I thought Carter (Dawson, goalkeeper) and Matty (Pollard, centre back) did well in their place, on their debuts today.
“We made it hard for ourselves, but I always knew we had goals in us.”
In the first half of this game, there looked to be only one winner, as Islandmagee dominated the play to gain a stranglehold on proceedings.
An early warning shot was fired by Islanders skipper Michael Moore in the 15th minute, and Rangers stand-in keeper Dawson had to be at his most alert to tip his effort off the crossbar and out for a corner.
Five minutes later, and the very same bar was shaking once again, but this time, Daniel Ellis was claiming a goal, having looped it in and over Dawson’s reaches. Moore smashed into the net to make sure, but the ball already appeared to have crossed the line by this stage and Ellis wheeled away in celebration.
Moore wasn’t to be denied his place on the score-sheet, however, and after Dawson beat the offside trap having received a pass from deep, he then slid a fine through-ball to his advancing captain, who skipped past a defender and rounded the keeper to give himself an easy tap-in. The worrying thing for Rangers was that this came only two minutes after conceding the first.
The home side put up a small fight, but in the first 45 minutes, the best they could muster was a tame shot from Glen Upton and a rushed effort skewed wide by Simon Moffat and a Ricky Rutherford header over the bar.
It was a similar story at the start of the second spell when Jonny Roy was put through on goal by Moffatt, only to miss the target. This was to be Roy’s last contribution, as he was replaced by Anthony Tumelty with Ryan Brown coming on for Timothy Ritchie soon after.
Ellis had a chance to double his tally and put the outcome beyond all doubt in the 66th minute when receiving the ball from Moore just five yards out, but Dawson did extremely well to keep his subsequent effort out and keep his team’s faint hopes alive.
Those hopes became much more realistic with 20 minutes of normal time to play, when Zack Allen found the bottom left hand corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area... just a minute after joining the action from the subs bench.
More opportunities followed for both teams, but Rangers seemed to have the edge and were rewarded with extra time for their endeavours, when Upton turned in a 92nd minute header from a Ryan Newberry corner.
Rangers’ winning momentum continued with them into the additional half-hour, and Islandmagee had Darren Devine to thank as he dived to deny Tumelty, who was unlucky not to see a cleanly struck volley hit the net in the first period of extra time.
Nevertheless, the enthusiastic Tumelty didn’t allow his head to drop, and with five minutes between the two teams and a dreaded penalty shootout, he struck the decisive blow – summoning enough power to poke past Devine from yet another Newberry cross.
It left Islandmagee’s Donald to reflect on a golden opportunity missed.
“We hammered them in the first half, and really, we should have them killed off,” he said.
“But this isn’t a competition we have a lot of interest in – we were never going to win the Irish Cup now, were we?”