Ards Rangers manager Lee Forsythe was full of praise for the manner in which his Premier Division leaders battled for their first ever league win over Islandmagee at Drome Park in his entire seven-year reign... yet he refuses to entertain the notion of them becoming Amateur League ‘Invincibles.’
Saturday’s hard-fought victory was their ninth in as many games in the current league campaign, giving them a healthy seven-point cushion ahead of second-placed Ardglass, who have played two games more than Rangers.
With a third of this season’s games now behind them, it has also raised the tantalising possibility of the 2011/12 top flight champions going through their whole season undefeated in the league – a possibility that Forsythe has laughed off as fanciful.
The Rangers boss smiled: “The thought of being ‘Invincibles’ hasn’t even crossed my mind. There is going to be a game where things don’t go our way, and that’s when people are going to be watching to see how we react.
“Obviously we are title contenders this season – I’m not going to talk down the start we have had to the season. It may be boring though, or clichéd, but we have to take it one game at a time.
“That was a big win for us in terms of the previous times we have played each other. Those sort of things can play a part in the whole psychology of it, and it was great to finally break that hoodoo.
“Some managers wouldn’t like winning the way we did today, but I was glad to see it. We had a tough game on Monday night (Border Cup semi-final win over Drumaness Mills), and we weren’t at our best today, but we dug in and got the win. That showed our character.”
It had all begun with such promise for the runaway league leaders. Ricky Rutherford and Ryan Brown both tested Christopher Keenan from close range before Rangers broke the deadlock early, on 14 minutes.
And what a beauty it was. Calum James collected the ball from Glen Upton, 25 yards out, before sweeping it expertly into the top right hand corner.
Straight from the restart, Michael Moore put himself into a goal-scoring position, hitting the target from a tight angle just inside the box, only to be denied by a fantastic reflex save from David Ferguson.
Rangers then doubled their advantage in the 26th minute, with Rutherford leaping to connect an accurate header to Ryan Newberry’s searching corner.
Once again, Islandmagee made an attempt to post an immediate reply from the kick-off, and once again, they missed out, this time Ferguson saving with relative comfort to gather Moore’s header from an Andrew Waide free kick.
Up to this point, Rangers had been impressive, slick, decisive, and the only question seemed to be how many they were going to win by. Yet Islandmagee, who have such a rich record at the Portaferry Road ground, were about to give their opponents something to think about.
A flash of brilliance from the experienced Waide saw him carry the ball past two defenders before laying off to Daniel Ellis, who slammed it hard into the net from close range.
This appeared to lift the visitors, as they pushed hard for a first half equaliser, with a rushed shot from Moore on the turn wide of the target and Ellis heading past the post from a Gary Workman free kick, thanks to good marking from Jamie Patterson.
Islandamgee kept up their workrate into the early part of the second half, with a Waide shot blocked by Newberry, and a Workman 30-yard drive well saved.
Workman’s movement, both on and off the ball was a positive for the Islanders, and in the 55th minute, he received the ball on the halfway line from Keenan, then tore down the right wing before shooting across the face of goal.
Rangers held firm, however, and reaped their rewards with 20 minutes remaining. James showed his finishing qualities yet again as he threaded the ball into the bottom corner from 15 yards.
There were still more talking points to follow. Waide received a second yellow card for dissent after a booking for a foul earlier in the game, and Andrew Phillips rattled the underside of the bar from a Workman corner in the 82nd minute.
But the result had all but been settled by then, and Islandmagee admitted his side had been beaten by the better team on the day.
He said: ”Do I think they will win the league? By a mile. They have the two best players in the league in Newberry and Rutherford, and they make all the difference.
“Every year is the same for us. We are a small club, and it’s all about staying in the league. I reckon 24 points will be enough, and the sooner we can get them, the better. But we missed a couple of chances and our defending was sloppy at times today.”
David Ferguson: A solid afternoon in goal. 7
Jonny Roy: Provided good service to those around him. 8
Marc Roy: Blistering pace down the left. 8
Gary Brown: Kept it tight at the back. 7
Jamie Patterson: Usually first to the ball. 8
Ryan Brown: Hobbled off after just 20 minutes. 6
Calum James: His first goal was a thing of beauty. 9
Ryan Newberry: Worked tirelessly all game. 8
Ricky Rutherford: Made his presence felt. 8
Glen Upton: Unlucky not to make the scoresheet. 7
Simon Moffatt: Very impressive on the ball. 7
Jonathan Bowers: Not used
Timmy Ritchie: Not used
Grant Dunlop: On for R Brown, 20
Christopher Keenan: Made some decent stops. 6
Stephen Smyth: Not a standout display. 6
Paul Matthews: Played with passion.6
Andrew Phillips: Got forward well. 7
Neil McKnight: Put in a shift. 6
Gary Barkley: Full of energy. 7
Andrew Waide: Carried attacking threat. 7
Gary Workman: Kept opponents on their toes. 7
Michael Moore: Kept plugging away. 7
Daniel Ellis: Got his team off the mark. 7
Elliot English: A relatively quiet game. 6
Nicholas Baird: On for Barkley, 68
Kieran Kane: Not used
Neil Lammey: On for Ellis, 84
MAN OF THE MATCH: Calum James (Ards Rangers). Two very well-taken goals to his name, especially the first!
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Calum James couldn’t have struck Ards Rangers’ opener any cleaner if he dedicated an entire training session to it.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: David Ferguson’s tremendous save to deny Islandmagee skipper Michael Moore an equaliser after Rangers took the lead.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Andrew Waide’s dismissal reduced his side’s hopes of a comeback – though he may feel it was harsh.