A chance to play in a showpiece final in Banbridge at Christmas all but evaporated within four minutes of Banbridge Rangers’ Premier Cup Semi Final away to Valley Rangers on Saturday.
The Premier Cup draw was less than kind to Banbridge Rangers this season with three away ties in a row away against the cream of talent in Intermediate A.
Wins away to Dollingstown and then a determined Quarter Final victory at Windmill Stars had given Lee Feeney’s men the chance to move within touching distance of a Premier Cup Final appearance which has eluded the Gers in each of the last five seasons.
The Banbridge back four looked to be glued to the recently laid turf of Bignian Parks 4G pitch in Kilkeel from the first whistle as Thomas McKee skipped into the box from the left wing and squared for Paul McCartney who was left unmarked and blasted home the opening goal after only 23 seconds.
Worse was to follow as Andy Graham picked the ball up on the edge of the box as Valley countered from a Rangers corner and when nobody decided to close him down he curled into the bottom corner to double the lead in the fourth minute of play.
Valley Rangers would likely have been expecting a closely run affair on Saturday but they couldn’t believe their luck when another counter attack fell to Andy Graham who walked the ball across the byline and pulled back for Andy McMath who had time to pick his spot from six yards as three Banbridge Rangers players stood and watched.
An injury blow to Frazer saw influential midfielder Mark Wilton enter the fray in the 19th minute after missing the last few matches.
Wilton made an immediate impact by threading a ball through for Colin Cunningham only seconds after coming on and the Banbridge striker poked past Teggarty to bring the score back to 3-1.
The goal rocked Valley Rangers who started to panic on the ball but over the next fifteen minutes of dominance the Banbridge Rangers players failed to score the vital second goal with Cousins having the better of the opportunities seeing a volley go wide when well placed and then a shot cleared by an outstretched leg when it looked destined for the bottom corner.
The next goal would decide the outcome of the match and it was Valley who all but booked their place in the Final in the 37th minute when Andy McMath curled a free kick into the near top corner from close to 30 yards from goal.
Valley made it five when Andy Graham latched onto a ball in the right hand channel, coasted past his marker with ease to bear down on goal and then committed keeper Blevins to the ground to leave himself a tap in.
The seventh goal of an action packed first half saw Colin Cousins score a penalty after Jonny Porter was brought down as he looked likely to score with only the keeper to beat.
Referee Basketfield kept his cards in his pocket and the half ended 5-2 to Valley.
The second half tempo dropped drastically and the chances of an unlikely comeback edged away with each passing minute.
A couple of goalmouth scrambles should have seen Banbridge Rangers grab at least a third goal to make it respectable and a fine save from Teggarty from an Andy Mallen free kick with ten minutes to go were the only highlights of a dour second half.
Banbridge Rangers were forced to play the remaining 11 minutes of play after Andy Mallen went over on his ankle after an innocuous challenge and was stretchered off before making his way to A&E.
Andy has had a stop start to the season and hopefully the scans and x-ray later in the week will be better than expected when swelling reduces.
Andy Graham capped his performance in the final minute with another run down the left flank that lead to goal.
Graham muscled his way across the byline before blasting under Blevins but saw his hattrick snatched off him as Thomas McKee slide in to help the ball over the line.
A hugely dissapointing match from Banbridge Rangers and a frustrating afternoon away to a Valley side who were more than worthy winners after their direct play was rewarded with half a dozen goals.
Next up for Banbridge Rangers is a tough league fixture against Windmill Stars at Cheney Park this Saturday. Kick Off against the Newry side is at 2.15pm.
BRFC Team: Ivon Blevins, Ben Wilson (Andy Mallen ‘76), Ross Elliott, Nathan Baird, William Frazer (Mark Wilton ‘19), Jonny Porter (Matthew McKnight ‘63), Colin Cousins, Stephen Teggart, Jeff Brady (c), Lee Feeney & Colin Cunningham.