Basement Club Ballymoney Utd, under new manager Peter Cairns formerly with Glebe Rangers, travelled to Crystal Park in a game of significant importance to both sides as they were both in dire need of league points to kick start the New Year and a desired climb up the table.
Town Boss Ryan Watson decided, not unexpectedly, to shake things up after the Dollingstown debacle and made wholesale changes to his starting lineup.
Big Steven O’Neill, Town’s leading goalscorer for a number of seasons, was welcomed into the line-up for the first time this season as he is home from America for a short holiday and it was also exciting to have Ryan Evans on the bench.
Banbridge opened brightly and Ally Wilson rode a couple of tackles and fired just wide of the post after five minutes.
Soon after, the visitors almost went ahead when McClelland rose unchallenged to head over from a Stewart cross. Then on 12 minutes Steven O’Neill, looking like he had never been away, pounced on a poor clearance from Ballymoney keeper Moore and steered the ball past the helpless custodian to put the homesters 1-0 ahead.
It was a great start for the striker and for Town who had fallen behind early in their previous three games. Maybe this was a new beginning and for a time they dominated proceedings, looking likely to add to their scoreline on a few occasions.
A great movement involving Ryan Gourley, O’Neill and Wilson ended with the Ballymoney keeper redeeming himself when he pushed Wilson’s piledriver over the bar. Gourley’s pace down the right was causing the visitors problems although the final ball didn’t always match the superb build up.
The little winger collected the ball from an Ally Wilson free-kick soon after but his effort was charged down as he pulled the trigger. Ballymoney were not taking this pressure lying down and only a fine save by Town keeper Stephen Croft on 31 minutes prevented an equaliser after the speedy Brown had outpaced Michael Ferguson.
After 40 minutes, David Gray made a good run down the left and sent an inviting cross into the danger area where Ryan Gourley got his head to the ball first but was unfortunate to see his effort go agonisingly wide of the far post. O’Neill looked odds on to stretch Town’s lead just before the interval when he raced clear to a great Wilson through ball but keeper Moore rescued his side with a fine diving save to thwart the striker.
It had been a satisfactory first half for Banbridge and they kept the tempo up as the second half restarted. However. the first real chance of the half fell to the visitors when Hanna threaded a ball through to the inrushing Brown only for the pacy No. 10 to fire wildly over
On 57 minutes Steven O’Neill had another great opportunity to increase Town’s lead when he once again found himself on a one-to-one with keeper Moore after Adam Dennison had sent him through but the keeper saved brilliantly to keep his side still well in the game.
On a normal day, O’Neill would have had a hat-trick at this stage but it is perfectly understandable that he would be a bit rusty after making his first appearance in nine months. He almost got his foot to an Ally Wilson shot across goal one minute later but for some reason Banbridge seemed to take their foot off the gas at this stage and Ballymoney forced their way into the game.
They even shocked Banbridge with a 61st minute equaliser when Mark Gillan, back at his former club on a month’s loan, nudged the ball past Stephen Croft after a comedy of errors in the Town defence.
The visitors now had their tails up with Gillan proving influential in a lot of their moves. Ryan Watson then introduced the mercurial Ryan Evans in an effort to regain control and early combination work with Ally Wilson in particular looked positive.
It was now end to end stuff with both sides creating chances. Moore saved well from an angled David Gray shot on 73 minutes and seconds later Gray turned on the edge of the box and sent a volley inches over.
Ally Wilson curled a 30 yard free just wide after 79 minutes but just before the end, Town had keeper Croft to thank for keeping out a thunderous McKane drive that looked destined for the roof of the net.
In the end, honours were even and although Banbridge will be disappointed to drop two points, it cannot be denied that Ballymoney deserved a share of the spoils and on this evidence will certainly take points off other opponents as they fight to get off the base of the table.
Next Saturday, Banbridge Town travel to face Coagh Utd in another vital league fixture (kick-Off 2pm).
Steven O’Neill will again be available for this game and with Ryan Evans getting some game time under his belt Town might be a stronger position to take points than they have been for some time.
Banbridge Town Supporters Club will be running their usual bus to the game and anyone interested in travelling should contact Transport Co-Ordinator Dan Buchanan.
BANBRIDGE TOWN: Stephen Croft, Stephen Jones, Michael Ferguson, Martin Buchanan, Glen Waddell, Adam Dennison, Ryan Gourley, Mattie McCartan, Alaistair Wilson, Steven O’Neill, David Gray. Subs: Stephen Greene (Jones 47), Ryan Evans (Gourley 64), Duncan Stoddard, Neil Watson, James McConville.
BALLYMONEY UTD: Brian Moore, Francis McKenna, Mark Dempsey, Jordan Craig, Hugh Og Boyle, Shane Dooey, Lee McClelland, Jamie Hanna, Ryan Stewart, Danny Brown, Mark Gillan. Subs: Jonathan Guyler (McClelland 83), Mark McKane (Hanna 62), Karl Steele (Craig 66).
Referee: Neil Robinson, Portadown.