RATHFRILAND RANGERS’ made their first foray into the Irish Cup fifth round, but they couldn’t force an upset against high-flying Championship One outfit Institute.
Stephen Parkhouse and Warner Mullan scored within the first 25 minutes to put Institute 2-0 up, before Ally Wilson’s close-range effort gave hope to the men from the hill, who battled hard in a bid to cause an cup shock.
Alan Fraser’s squad was a number of missing key players through injuries, and so call-ups were given to Colum McComish and Alan Murray in defence.
The difference in quality between the two side was obvious from early on, as Rathfriland were subjected to attacking pressure from ‘Stute, and the home side almost opened the scoring after 13 minutes. After beating the offside trap, Joe Gray crossed for Mullan, who diverted the ball towards Shane Harrison’s bottom corner, but the young Rathfriland ‘keeper clawed it away to safety.
Playing a lone role up front, Rathfriland skipper Decky Allister saw little of the ball in the first 15 minutes, but he was presented with an opportunity to give the travelling side a shock lead. A quick counter-attack was launched and Wilson crossed from wide left into the box, where Allister threw himself at the ball in front of goal to get a head to it, but couldn’t make sufficient contact to send it goalwards.
Just a minute later, and ‘Stute took the lead at the other end. Adrian Megaw gifted the home side possession after missing a straightforward header in the middle of the park, and Michael McCrudden crossed for Parkhouse to nod in from three yards.
Institute continued to dominate play after the opener, but Rathfriland managed to restrict their number of chances on goal. But a defensive lapse occurred in the 26th minute cost Rathfriland dearly when Darren McCauley played a low ball into the box, and Megaw sliced the clearance. Mullan was on to the loose ball in an instant, turned sharply and chipped it expertly into the far corner.
Rathfriland had looked ragged, but pulled a goal back just after the half-hour mark. After Stevie Coulter won possession in midfield, he played the ball out wide for Allister to chase. Support arrived in the shape of Kyle Heslip, and ‘Stute ‘keeper Corey Wilson fumbled his cross into the path of Rathfriland’s top marksman Wilson, who slotted home from eight yards out.
With hope and confidence restored, Rathfriland manufactured a half-chance for an equaliser. Harrison’s long punt upfield was chased by Allister, who beat Corey Wilson to the ball, but his header forced it out wide and allowed the young ‘keeper to recover and save his tame shot.
The build-up to half time saw more pressure from ‘Stute, and after they were awarded a soft free-kick for a foul by Murray on Mullan, Joe Curran headed into the net, only for his goal to be ruled out for a push on Harrison.
The second-half began much like the first had ended, and another ‘Stute set-piece was given in a dangerous area. McCrudden struck it low by Harrison got down quickly to make a fine save, and the succession of corners which followed for the Blues came to nothing.
Rathfriland had their own series of corner-kicks twelve minutes later, but the delivery was often too deep and they were unable to force a effort on target to test Wilson, who had looked suspect in goal for ‘Stute.
And Rathfriland were almost forced to pay for their lack of potency, when ‘Stute’s Aaron Walsh hit a goalward-bound shot at the other end, only for Murray to throw himself in front of it and send the ball wide.
From a corner three minutes later, Walsh laid the ball off to Mullan who was lurking unmarked just inside the area. Harrison brilliantly stopped the drilled shot with his legs, the ball bouncing up to Parkhouse six yards out who inexplicably hit the post when it looked easier to score.
Having been the better side in the second-half and there was still hope among the travelling support of their team clinching another goal which would’ve sent the game to a replay. The demands of playing a side several leagues higher began to show, however, as the Whites faded towards the end of the 90 minutes.
The opening half-hour suggested the game could have led to a heavy defeat, but Wilson’s goal reinvigorated the Whites and they lifted their performance significantly to match their superior opposition in the second 45 minutes.
Man of the match: Stevie Coulter (Rathfriland Rangers)
Rathfriland Rangers: Shane Harrison, Colum McComish, Conor Larkin, Alan Murray, Ian Weir, Kyle Heslip, Adrian Megaw, Stevie Coulter, Ally Beck, Ally Wilson, Decky Allister. Subs: David Gilmore, Michael Green, Tim Sexton.
Institute: Corey Wilson, Joe Gray, Paddy McLaughlin, John Curran, Graeme Taylor, Darren McCauley, Aaron Walsh, Declan McKeever, Warner Mullan, Stephen Parkhouse, Michael McCrudden. Subs: Sean Roddy, Robbie Hume, Corey Hegarty.