Bangor win over Armagh keeps title race and promotion hunt alive
Bangor 2-0 Armagh City
As the Belfast Telegraph Championship One title race enters its final straight, it’s worth remembering that it is points – not performances – that win prizes. For while Bangor may not have produced the latter against Armagh City on Saturday, a 2-0 victory at least ensured them the former.
With Carrick Rangers level on games with Bangor, but two points ahead in top spot, and Ards in second with an extra game played over both, three points were an absolute must for the Seasiders to stay in the three-way chase for promotion, either automatically by winning the league, or by means of the play-off route awarded to the Championship One runners-up.
A number of factors should have made this a more comfortable afternoon for Bangor – home advantage, Armagh’s mid-table position, the fact that their opponents were fielding their fourth choice goalkeeper, that City have an important Mid Ulster Cup final against Dungannon Swifts to prepare for on Tuesday, and that the away side were reduced to 10 men after just 20 minutes.
But in the end, this was a win that Bangor had to sweat for… and not only because of the simmering mid-Spring heat.
Bangor manager Jeff Montgomery later admitted: “At the tail end of the season, it’s all about getting the three points. It is more important to get the result than to worry about the performance.
“We put on some good early pressure, and were disappointed not to be 2-0 up by the time of the sending-off, but after that, we didn’t seem to cope with having the extra man. That was credit to Armagh, and how well they pressed us.
“All we can do is to try to keep winning and putting pressure on Carrick and Ards. It is an old cliché, but it really is one game at a time… and now we have two left to play.”
Bangor’s start to the game was as bright as the sun-kissed conditions providing its backdrop. Andrew Long and twice Barry Walsh were unfortunate to fire over the bar from close quarters in the opening 10 minutes.
However the hosts’ positive approach was duly rewarded in the 13th minute, as Ethan Boylan rifled the ball home on the volley from just inside the area.
A few minutes after this, there was a shaky moment for home keeper Darren Gibbons when he missed the ball after coming out to challenge Stephen Murray, but fortunately for him, Kris Pike cleared from the Armagh striker’s eventual shot to spare his blushes.
However, the away side showed themselves equally capable of blundering at the back, with that red card offence on 20 minutes, and while there did not appear to be a great deal of malicious intent in Luke Grimley bringing down Boylan, the fact that he was the last man left referee Graham McIlwrath with no choice but to dismiss him.
This was Bangor’s chance to assert some dominance, but Mark Cooling was just wide with the resultant free kick, and Walsh couldn’t quite get the ball over the keeper with an attempted chip.
In fact, Armagh could easily have had the scores level in the 26th minute, but Philip Donnelly drove narrowly wide from an excellent Dale Montgomery forward pass, while Gibbons had to be quick off his line to intercept a flick-on from Donnelly heading towards Murray.
The apparent unease amongst the Bangor faithful turned into a detectable anxiety on the stroke of half time when Murray yet again beat Gibbons to the ball before crashing a shot against the upright, while the Bangor keeper did well to get to a low shot from Eamon Kelly just seconds after that.
The second half didn’t begin with any great signs of urgency from either side, and although Richard Gibson did tap in from a Pike free kick in the 57th minute, the whistle had already gone for a foul on debutant Armagh keeper Eoin Donaghy.
Meanwhile, a wide shot from Armagh’s Murray, and an effort just over from his team-mate Andrew Moore drew gasps from the home support, serving as a reminder of how slender the lead was in this crucial fixture.
Bangor boss Jeff Montgomery was clearly mindful of this too, bringing on Jordan Forsythe with less than half an hour to go… and the former Lisburn Distillery winger had an almost immediate impact, whipping in a superb cross, with one of his first touches, for Gibson, who directed his 68th minute header beyond the impressive Donaghy’s reaches.
With Forsythe on, Bangor looked a much more purposeful, threatening prospect, and the substitute could consider himself unfortunate not to get himself on the score-sheet in the 90th minute, when after a neat piece of individual skill, he fired just past the far post.
“It was a hard job for us, after going down to 10 men,” accepted Armagh boss Marty Rice. “But I was pleased with how organised we were.
“It has been a massive learning curve, coming up from Championship Two. Our goalkeeper today hadn’t ever played at this level before and deserves huge credit, while our back three were aged 20, 21 and 22.”
Darren Gibbons: Can take satisfaction in clean sheet. 7
Dean Youle: Cleared the danger when required: 7
Kris Pike: An impressive defensive display. 8
Thomas Wray: Never looked unduly troubled. 7
Colin Nixon: Did a solid job. 7
Barry Walsh: Persistent, unlucky not to score. 7
Andrew Long: Made some decent headway down the right. 7
Mark Cooling: A towering midfield presence. 7
Andrew Morrow: Had a quiet afternoon. 6
Richard Gibson: Deserved his goal. 8
Ethan Boylan: His opener was a fine finish. 8
Jordan Forsythe: On for Long, 62
Edward McCallion: On for Youle, 70
Paul McDowell: On for Boylan, 75
Andrew Ferguson: Not used
Eoin Donaghy: A promising debut. 7
Dale Montgomery: Composed and assured. 8
Ryan McGarrigan: Covered a fair amount of ground. 7
Luke Grimley: Sending off meant an early bath. 5
Dara Noonan: A reasonable contribution. 6
Eamon Kelly: Commanding in the centre. 8
Andrew Moore: Used his strength well. 7
Liam Cullen: Provided decent cover. 7
Stephen Murray: Pressed well. 7
Philip Donnelly: Industrious and fleet-footed. 8
Sean Mallon: Kept things tight. 7
Conor McAnalen: On for Noonan, 54
Gary Boyle: On for Cullen, 70
Andrew Hoey: On for Donnelly, 82
Marty Havern: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jordan Forsythe (Bangor). While only on for less than half an hour, his introduction had a notable impact.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Richard Gibson’s 68th minute header was the moment most Bangor supporters breathed a sigh of relief.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Darren Gibbons from Eamon Kelly’s close range effort at the end of the first half.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Athough a fairly harmless challenge, Luke Grimley will regret bringing down Ethan Boylan on 20 minutes.