Roy nets late to seal a draw for Rangers

Rathfriland Rangers celebrate their late equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Ards Rangers on the opening day of the season. Pic: Rathfriland FC

Rathfriland Rangers celebrate their late equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Ards Rangers on the opening day of the season. Pic: Rathfriland FC

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Rathfriland Rangers began life in the top tier of amateur football with an encouraging away 2-2 draw against one of the league’s top sides.

New boss Paul Kirk led his men into an opening day battle against much-fancied Ards Rangers and came away from Drome Park with a point after a late rally.

Thomas Lockhart put the visitors ahead with a stunning free-kick but Ryan Newberry levelled moments later.

And when Glen Upton put Ards ahead it looked like the Whites would leave empty-handed, but Jonny Roy popped up to grab a point with only a few minutes remaining.

Ards won the NAFL Premier Division two years ago and last year they smashed their record points tally but finished runners-up to Immaculata.

But Rathfriland did not let their opponents’ standing faze them, and they were able to comfortably quell any attacks they were faced with in the opening stages.

Equally, however, Ards had little bother in closing down attacks from the Whites and striker Nathan McConnell was largely unable to trouble defenders Jamie Patterson and Michael Moore.

At the other end, Whites centre-halves Conor Larkin and the particularly impressive Daryl Evans won virtually everything that came their way.

The closest either side came to breaking the deadlock was through Rathfriland midfielder David Graham’s rasping shot from the edge of the area, but it was parried away by keeper Kieran Gordon

It looked like both sides’ best chance of opening the scoring would come from set-pieces and so it proved.

On 42 minutes, Lockhart stepped up to hit a dead ball from 22 yards and it crashed in to the net, leaving Gordon with no chance.

It was a stunning hit, well worthy of being the club’s first goal in the top division this season.

But within two minutes Ards were level pegging again when Newberry hit a free-kick from a similar range to Lockhart’s strike.

It sailed past keeper Mark Winstone and the midfielder wheeled away to celebrate with the half-time whistle sounding shortly afterwards.

The first 45 minutes had been punctuated by a series of hard, often late tackles as Ards looked to stamp their authority on their opponents, and at times it looked like the game could bubble over.

But the second period saw much less of that, although the two teams continued to cancel each other out.

Ards grabbed a lead when Moore broke upfield in possession and the ball found its way to Upton, who struck a goalbound shot that deflected off Roy before it crossed the line.

From that point, Rathfriland looked like the would struggle to get back in to the game and their attacks were blunted time and time again, either by good defending or a poor final ball.

But substitute Ally Wilson managed to unlock the Ards backline with a superb flick to Lockhart on 87 minutes, who drilled the ball to James Costello inside the box.

The striker’s shot hit the bar but right-back Roy was on hand to follow it up into the empty net for an equaliser that was thoroughly deserved.

There was still time for more drama, with Newberry seeing a second yellow for a late, high tackle on Darren McGrath.

And there were vehement appeals for a penalty in added time when Ards players claimed Conor Larkin blocked a shot with his arm, but the referee turned the calls away.

The Whites saw out the final minutes with ease and had plenty to be pleased about from their performance.

Judging by this display, they should be more than competitive in the season ahead.

Man of the match: Daryl Evans (Rathfriland Rangers)

Rathfriland Rangers: Mark Winstone, Jonny Roy, Conor Larkin, Daryl Evans, Jonny Black, Darren McGrath, Stevie Coulter, David Graham, Jonathan Scannell, Thomas Lockhart, Nathan McConnell. Subs: James Costello, Chris Havern, Ally Wilson