Rathfriland Rangers continued their excellent recent form with easily their best pre-season result yet, holding Irish Premiership side Dungannon Swifts to a 1-1 draw.
James Costello headed in against his old club to give the Whites the lead just before the break in front of a big crowd at Iveagh Park.
But midway through the second period Swifts’ striker Andrew Mitchell capitalised on one of Rathfriland’s only defensive slip-ups to grab a leveller for the visitors.
It was a performance full of heart from Rathfriland, and shows that Clifford Sterritt has built a side of some considerable strength that will be expecting to compete on all fronts in the season ahead.
Dungannon boss Darren Murphy brought his side to County Down for a morning tactical training session followed by a friendly fixture after lunch, and later said they had been “treated like royalty” throughout the day.
But Rathfriland were not going to be overawed by their top flight opponents on the field.
For much of the first half it was a case of Rathfriland soaking up pressure and hoping for something on the counter-attack.
And when they won a corner kick on 42 minutes, Thomas Lockhart swung it into the six-yard box.
There Costello rose above Swifts’ defender Fra Brennan to power the ball home and give the Whites what would have been considered before the game to be a surprise advantage.
Ally Wilson was introduced for the Whites at the break, and his presence allowed them to spend more time in the Swifts’ half.
Wilson managed one good effort on target but it was saved by Andy Coleman, as well as a free-kick that went a few feet over the top.
And just when the Rangers were looking like they could be on to win the game, a lapse in concentration saw possession lost and a long ball over the top sent Mitchell through. A proven finisher, his pace allowed him to beat a challenge from substitute Decky Allister before slotting the ball past Shane Harrison in the Rangers’ goal.
Eight minutes later Dungannon almost snatched the lead when Matthew Hazley drilled a shot at goal from 10 yards out, but Harrison was there to make a sharp stop and keep the Whites on level terms.
With another friendly game against Irish Premiership opposition - Portadown - to come on Saturday (1 August), they will be hoping for a repeat performance or maybe even to go one better.
MOTM: Ross Black (Rathfriland Rangers).