A STEVIE Coulter hat-trick helped Rathfriland Rangers sink relegation-threatened Bangor Rangers, in what was undoubtedly a game of two very different halves.
Coulter’s three, along with a Decky Allister double and a fantastic team goal finished off by Ally Wilson all came in the second-half, as Rathfriland continued their excellent league form with another clinical away win.
The Whites’ last two games had seen them score 13 goals, but their first-half showing here was abject at best.
And it was Bangor who deservedly went ahead, as Stephen Willis slid in unmarked at the back post to tuck John McGahey’s ball across the goalmouth into the net.
Alan Murray prevented a second before the break when he blocked Alan Thompson’s drive from inside the area on the goal-line, in what was an otherwise lifeless opening 45 minutes.
It is rare that the Whites play two shoddy halves in the same game, however. The introduction of Coulter at the break was a much-needed change, and within two minutes of the restart, the scores were level.
Tim Sexton broke forward finding Wilson on the left, and his chip over the defence was met by Allister, who stretched out his left leg to divert the ball into the top corner.
And just a minute later, Rathfriland had a lead. Ally Beck combined with Wilson, who was clumsily felled inside the box by Paul Magee. Spot-kick specialist Coulter placed it into the bottom corner, past Bangor ‘keeper Stephen Crothers’ despairing dive.
On 51 minutes, there was even more action. After a 20-man melee ensued following an unsavoury tackle from Willis on Coulter, the Seasiders pulled an equaliser from nowhere. From outside the left-hand corner of the Rathfriland area, Courtney Marsh launched an audacious, looping shot which evaded Shane Harrison’s reach and dipped sharply into the far corner.
Rathfriland’s third, just before the hour, was the pick of the afternoon. Beck’s cross from the byline was dummied by Allister after a call from Wilson, who swept the ball into the far corner with a fabulous first-time finish.
Wilson was instrumental in making it 4-2 twelve minutes later, holding the ball up with his back to goal, before laying it invitingly to Scott Ward to shoot from the edge of the box. His effort was parried by Crothers, but Coulter was there to pounce and poke his second in from eight yards.
Bangor’s only other chance of note in the second-half came when Willis headed against the outside of the post, but they continued to be outclassed, and Allister added to his tally with a close-range finish, before being replaced after a hard afternoon’s running, his efforts appreciated by the travelling support.
A mazy run in the 87th minute from Sexton was brought to a halt when he was upended inside the area. Coulter, yet again, made no mistake from the spot clinching his treble in the process, and Bangor’s misery was compounded when, with the final whistle blown, Crothers was dismissed for verbally abusing the referee.
Rathfriland now sit fourth in Division 1B, and Alan Fraser will hope performances like this will continue to be the norm as his side push for promotion.
Man of the match: Stevie Coulter (Rathfriland Rangers)
Bangor Rangers line-up: Stephen Crothers, Keith McCready, Andy Rainey, Paul Magee, Colin Davidson, John McGahey, Ryan White, Alan Thompson, Courtney Marsh, Stephen Willis, Gavin Martin. Subs: Stephen Barr, Johnny Miller, Craig Mayne.
Rathfriland Rangers line-up: Shane Harrison, Colum McComish, Conor Larkin, Alan Murray, Ian Weir, Tim Sexton, Scott Ward, Paul Evans, Ally Beck, Ally Wilson, Decky Allister. Subs: Stevie Coulter, Kyle Heslip, Colm Kearney.