Belfast Telegraph

Ards Rangers eager to have the final say with Immaculata in Premier title race

By Martin Mawhinney

Ards Rangers manager Lee Forsythe is happy that his side have done everything in their power to push this season’s Premier Division title race to the wire… but that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.

In fact, should Immaculata defeat Downpatrick on Thursday night (Rosconnor Playing Fields, 7pm) to lift their first ever Amateur League top flight title, he admits he will find it tough to take.

As the old adage goes, it takes a good team to win the title, but a great one to defend it, and Forsythe and his side have their sights set on becoming the first team to win back-to-back Premier Divisions since Newington YC’s three-in-a-row class of 2009-2011.

However, it is out of Rangers’ hands for now, even if anything less than victory for Immaculata - who currently lead their title rivals by a point - would take it to an exciting final day showdown between the pair at Drome Park on Saturday (2pm).

Contemplating the possibility of a 22nd victory in 25 league games for the current leaders this week, Forsythe insisted: “It would be a disaster for us. The great Bill Shankly once said that first is first and second is nothing… and he was right. We might as well finish tenth as finish second.

“If they do it, all you can say is fair play to Immaculata - they have been on an amazing run, I think it’s 19 games in a row now. But what makes it tough for us, is that we have more wins, more points, and have scored more goals than we won the league with last year.

“We won the league in 2012 with 56 points, by four points, and then last season we won with 63 points, by seven points. This year, we have put 64 points on the board, with the Immaculata game still to come, and it might not be good enough.

“From our point of view, we didn’t want to hand anybody the league - if we were going to be beaten to the title, we wanted to make sure we made someone else have to go on and win it themselves.

“I can’t criticise my players in any way. To win 10 games in five weeks is some going - I think all the neutrals thought we would drop away, but we haven’t.”

Forsythe points to bad fortune in the early stages of his team’s season, but the facts are there for all to see - as things stand, they have won as many games as Immaculata. Those neutrals to which he refers would surely enjoy the opportunity to see the top two contest the title on the final day, but will they get that chance?

The Rangers manager isn’t so sure, but he is confident that if his side are given such an opportunity, they would grab it with both hands.

He added: “I would be over the moon (if we got that chance), and I would be amazed if we didn’t win if it gets to that stage, with the hunger and desire we have at this club.

“I don’t expect them to drop the points (on Thursday), but there is no question that the closer you get to an achievement like that, the more the nerves will kick in.”

So Downpatrick, who only themselves dropped out of the title race mathematically over the past week, could have a major say in the destination of this year’s Premier Division title.

But whether it makes its way to the Grosvenor Road or remains on the Portaferry Road, there can be no denying that the club who lifts that trophy this year will have truly earned it.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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