A SCINTILLATING attacking display by Rathfriland Rangers brushed aside league leaders Rathfern Rangers, and helped them avenge the defeat suffered to the same side three weeks ago.
Stevie Coulter’s cooly-taken penalty put the Whites ahead, before Colin Andrews equalised, but the Rathcoole side couldn’t muster a reply to goals from Decky Allister, Ally Beck, Ally Wilson, and new signing Colm Kearney, as Rathfriland eased to their first league win of the new year.
The two teams met in January, and Rathfern nicked the points that day in a game Rathfriland felt they should’ve won, and they weren’t going to let the same happen again.
Both teams battled for supremacy in the opening stages, each having a handful of half-chances, and Coulter almost opened the scoring on 18 minutes with a clever flick which hit the foot of the post.
And from that point on, Rathfriland took to the driving seat, with Beck and Kyle Heslip spurning good opportunities before Wilson drew a foul from Rathfern skipper Paul Montgomery on the edge of the area to earn a 33rd minute penalty.
Coulter’s record from the spot this season has been remarkable, and once again he slotted his kick with minimal fuss to give the home side a deserved lead.
But no sooner had Coulter and his teammates finished celebrating, and Rathfern were back on level terms.
Ian Weir was caught on the wrong side of Blues striker David Moore, and his cross found Chris Johnston, whose header rattled the bar before cannoning back to Colin Andrews who tucked the ball home from two yards, despite looking suspiciously offside.
Shortly before the break, however, Rathfriland restored their one-goal advantage. Coulter pick-pocketed possession from Johnston in the middle of the park, and drove forward unchallenged into the Rathfern area, firing a low cross which Wilson was unable to convert. The ball fell kindly to Allister and he side-footed past the ‘keeper from six yards.
Conceding so close to half-time extinguished any fire in the bellies of the Newtonabbey men. In the second 45, Rathfriland were allowed to exhibit their natural attacking instinct, and Rathfern surrendered meekly to it.
On 52 minutes, Tim Sexton, who had a fine game in only his second start for the Whites, lifted a ball over the Rathfern defence for Heslip to chase. Unable to find space for a shot, Heslip played the ball across the 18-yard box to Beck, who turned sharply and curled towards the top corner to score the pick of the afternoon’s goals.
For much of the afternoon, Wilson’s luck didn’t look to be in, but shortly after the hour, a cross-come-shot by Colum McComish hit the bar and Rathfriland’s leading scorer found himself in the right place to slam the ball into the net from point blank range and take Rathfriland out of sight of their opponents.
The game was won with half-an-hour still to play, and the introduction of Colm Kearney meant the examination of the Rathfern defence wasn’t about to end just yet. The new signing was quickly into the action, bagging a debut goal just minutes after coming on. Wilson skipped down the left flank and fired in a low cross, which Kearney bundled home for his side’s fifth of the afternoon.
Rathfriland were running riot, and the two big frontmen, Wilson and Kearney combined well, creating havoc in the Rathfern box, and teeing each other up for a number of good chances which ought to have been converted.
First, Wilson’s trickery took him past two men before laying the ball to Kearney, his shot smothered by ‘keeper Neill Lovell, and Kearney returned the favour, but Wilson’s shot was easily saved.
Kearney could and should have had a brace, only to hit the bar from a terrific Joe Toal cross when well placed, but the game had long been won, and Rathfriland maintained their push for the Division 1B title.