Rathfriland cruise past Villa to set up fifth round trip to Crues
In a week when much of the talk at Rathfriland Rangers has been about new arrivals, their comprehensive 4-0 drubbing of Division 1A leaders Abbey Villa has been the strongest hint yet of the birth of an exciting new era at the club.
There could be no bigger indication of the commitment of those working for the Rathfriland cause that their manager Clifford Sterritt - who was awaiting news of the birth of his fifth child on the day of the match - and two-goal hero Ally Wilson – who celebrated the birth of his first, just hours before – were both present to play a key role in the side’s most important game of the season so far.
After two previous postponements, due to Abbey Villa’s waterlogged surface at Adams Park, the Tennent's Irish Cup fourth round tie finally went ahead on Saturday, after the 1A front-runners arranged with Championship One club Bangor to have it held at the Bangor Fuels Arena.
The prize for victory was a fifth round tie against Crusaders this weekend, although Sterritt, whose side trail Villa in the table by six points with three games in hand, claimed this was never on the mind of his players in the build-up to this game.
He told The Park: “The only prize for us was beating Abbey Villa. Don’t forget, they are the table-toppers of our division – they have quality and experience throughout the side.
“It was all about winning the battle. We haven’t kicked a ball in four or five weeks (with the weather) and it can be hard to keep a squad hungry. We haven’t been starting our games well, either, but I couldn’t have asked for a better start today.
“Obviously Crusaders are Irish League champions, but all we can do is give a good account of ourselves and enjoy our big day… and that’s what we intend to do.”
With the Danske Bank Premiership schedule played 24 hours previously, and only a reduced number of Championship games taking place on Saturday, this clash saw one of the season’s best all-Amateur League attendances, with barely a spare seat available in the main stand.
And the healthy travelling support was rewarded with an early master-class, as Rangers surged into a two-goal lead within moments of referee Ken Gibbons’ opening whistle.
The first arrived on five minutes. After Jon Munn kept out a close-range attempt, he was unable to do the same with a low drive from Wilson on the rebound.
Less than 60 seconds later, keeper Munn went into the book for bringing down James Costello in the box, and the clinical Wilson doubled his tally from the spot.
It would have been tempting for the visitors to try and sit on this advantage, but to their credit, they pushed for a third in the eighth minute, and only a diving save from the Villa goalkeeper prevented Costello from making it three with his strike on the eight minute.
Villa had their own chances, most notably through Jordan Dalzell, who shot wide with a half volley in the 10th minute and skywards with a lob, 10 minutes later. Free kicks from Michael Dunbar and Thomas Dickson respectively presented Shane Harrison with easy saves.
Dalzell continued to push for a goal, swivelling to hit a volley just wide, while he was put through by Gary Sharratt in the 39th minute, and was just about to shoot from a matter of yards, when a timely interception from Aaron Black prevented what would surely have been a goal.
Yet, just as Villa’s hopes of getting back into the game were rising, Rathfriland knocked them back down in devastating fashion. A clever header from Costello into the box was collected by Marty Havern, who drilled the ball accurately into the bottom right.
Rathfriland already had the game well under their control, yet still looked the likelier to score in the second half, and it took a brilliant save from Munn to deny Costello at point-blank range.
Villa sub Gareth Sloan did manage to hit the post on the hour mark, but Dalzell really should have done better when the ball bounced back out to him, instead of firing wastefully over.
The Villa striker watched yet another opportunity pass him by in the 75th minute, as his powerful effort was hit straight at Harrison.
Rathfriland, however, weren’t finished with the scoring, and Marty Havern netted his second – and his team’s fourth – of the game, connecting his own header to Conor Fegan’s headed assist.
Visibly disappointed by the result, Villa boss TJ Young admitted: “We were beaten by the better side on the day. Not having any games since the end of November has cost us.
“We wanted to play at our own ground, but clearly the weather made that impossible, and they proved that the 3G suited them better than us.
“But we don’t fear them. Once we get our players fit again, we are looking forward to playing them again home and away in the league. After being top at Christmas, I am confident that we can achieve our aim of promotion this season.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ally Wilson (Rathfriland Rangers). His two goals so early on in the game gave Abbey Villa a mountain to climb from the off.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It’s hard to look past Wilson’s decisive brace for the defining spell of this cup clash.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: His side may have already been three goals behind at the time, but Jon Munn’s save from Costello’s point-blank range was top quality.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Jordan Dalzell firing over the bar after Gareth Sloan struck the post was arguably the miss of the match.
Jon Munn: Some good saves, but overall bad day at the office. 5
Dean Justin: Found the opposition a handful. 5
Thomas Dickson: Worked hard to win the ball back. Impressive. 7
Paul Magee: Put in a few decent tackles. 6
Bryan Hylands: Not a standout display. 6
Ryan Munn: Had a quiet game. 6
Andrew Cooling: Energetic at least. 7
Adam Arthurs: Found it difficult to impose himself on the game. 5
Gary Sharratt: Didn’t get as many chances as he’d have liked. 5
Jordan Dalzell: Industrious, but end product could have been better. 6
Michael Dunbar: Passing was off-key at times. 5
Gareth Sloan: On for Dunbar, 50
Grant Dunlop: On for R Munn, 76
Jordan McMillan: On for Sharratt, 55
Michael Foster: Not used
Craig McConkey: Not used
Shane Harrison: A more than satisfactory clean sheet. 8
Christopher Havern: Tidy and disciplined. 8
Jonathan Black: No fuss in clearing his lines. 8
Conor Larkin: A steady enough showing. 7
Aaron Black: Let nothing past him. 9
Ross Black: Proved tough to shrug off the ball. 8
John Scannell: Good movement off the ball. 7
Marty Havern: Both goals showed his class. 9
Darren McGrath: A lively spark. 8
Ally Wilson: Lethal marksman on top of his game. 9
James Costello: Got himself into dangerous positions often. 8
Thomas Lockhart: On for McGrath, 51
Lee Feeney: On for Wilson, 67
Conor Fegan: On for Costello, 80
Nathan Baird: Not used
Mark Gracey: Not used
Belfast Telegraph Digital