Gers surrender two goal lead as late collapse

Darren McGrath in action for Rathfriland Rangers.
Darren McGrath in action for Rathfriland Rangers.

A catastrophic late collapse saw Rathfriland Rangers surrender a comfortable lead to 10-man East Belfast and crash out of the Border Regiment Cup.

The Whites had a 1-3 lead with little more than 10 minutes left on the clock after goals from Jonathan Scannell, James Costello and Darren McGrath.

But the home side completed a remarkable turnaround with three late strikes to claim a mouthwatering quarter-final tie against much-fancied West Belfast club Immaculata.

This was a competition Rathfriland had been backing themselves to challenge for and the defeat will be a bitter pill to swallow, one that could make or break their season.

The Whites were without captain Conor Larkin and his defensive colleague Christopher Havern, while first-choice goalkeeper Shane Harrison and frontman Ally Wilson were also missing, but the depth of the squad meant there were options to fill their places.

After a sluggish start and a lengthy early spell in which they saw little of the ball, the Rangers grabbed the lead through a good finish from midfielder Scannell.

And Costello doubled the advantage shortly before the break to leave his side sitting pretty at 0-2 up.

Things got even better for Clifford Sterritt’s men when East Belfast were reduced to 10 players.

But rather than capitulating, the home side were fired on by the red card and pulled a goal back almost immediately.

McGrath tempered any thoughts that a comeback was on when he restored the Rangers’ two-goal lead with a coolly taken finish, and as the minutes wore on it looked likely to be their day.

But slack, complacent defending allowed East Belfast back into the game when a free header was planted into the Whites’ net.

And they levelled moments later when a poor clearance was taken down by East Belfast’s winger, who scored from 20 yards past Rangers’ keeper Blaine Hughes.

Now with all the momentum of a steam locomotive, East Belfast drove forward with another attacking wave and an offence in the box from Whites’ man Lee Feeney handed them a spot-kick.

That was dispatched and their place in the next round was secured, while Rathfriland were left to soul-search and question how they gifted the game to their opponents so timidly.

The answers they find and the response the give will almost certainly define their season.