Rathfriland Rangers Reserves travelled to play near neighbours Newry City AFC Reserves on Saturday at the Newry Showgrounds with the incentive that three points would keep them at the top of the pile over Christmas.
Rathfriland once again had the attacking prowess of James Costello amongst their ranks and were confident of gaining a win against a Newry side that were sitting mid table prior to kick off.
The game was a relatively scrappy affair with neither side able to get into any rhythm.
Rathfriland took the lead, however, mid-way through the first half when a poor kick from the Newry goalkeeper was pounced upon by Costello and he capitalised on this error, making no mistake to slot the ball past the young goalkeeper to put Rathfriland 1-0 in front.
Newry came back at Rathfriland but the visitors defence stood firm and shortly before half time Rathfriland doubled their advantage when a great ball from Kyle Heslip picked out Costello and he grabbed his second of the day, firing low past the keeper to send Rathfriland 2-0 in front at half time.
Rathfriland came out of the traps at the start of the second half looking to kill the game off.
Newry were not going to lie down though and showed more urgency during the early periods of the second half, applying some sustained pressure on the Rathfriland rear-guard.
The game was effectively killed off as a contest though when Costello secured his hat-trick, bending a great left foot strike into the bottom left hand corner to give Rathfriland a 3-0 lead.
Rathfriland started to play with more freedom and confidence and pushed forward in search of more goals.
It was soon 4-0 when a great run from Costello on the right hand side saw him beat his marker for pace and he fired a low ball across the six yard box for substitute Micheal McArdle to tap in.
Rathfriland were seeing more of the ball towards the latter stages and created several more opportunities to increase their lead.
The lead was extended when Costello capped a fine individual display by scoring his fourth of the game, breaking through the Newry defence and toyed with the Newry keeper before eventually putting him out of his misery to make the score 5-0 to the away team.
Rathfriland were reduced to 10 men late on when Bird received his second yellow card but the Rathfriland backline consisting of McCracken, Magennis, Bird, Duffy and Moffat in goal were able to hold on to secure a clean sheet, which is remarkably the Reserves’ first clean sheet of the season.
Costello’s four goal haul took his tally to 24 goals in 8 games for the Reserves which is an incredible feat.
All in all a comprehensive victory for the Reserve team which puts them 6 points clear at the top of the Mid Ulster Reserve Championship after Loughgall were defeated 2-1 by Banbridge Town.
Rathfriland will be top of the tree over Christmas regardless of other results and Saturday’s victory has capped off what has been a great first half of the season for Adrian Megaw and Bobby McDowell’s men.
Team: Moffat, McCracken, Magennis, Bird, Duffy, Hollingsworth, Megaw, Power, Maginn, Heslip, Costello. Subs: B. Clydesdale, R. Clydesdale, McArdle and Weir.