Banbridge Town suffered their first away defeat of the season on Saturday to Amateur League Premier Division side Nortel FC.
Along with the defeat went Town’s Intermediate Cup campaign after they surrendered a two goal advantage to lose out 3-2.
Conor Downey and Adam Pedlow had been on target to give Town a buffer but that wasn’t to be enough, as the hosts rallied back to win.
Manager Ryan Watson said in last week’s LEADER that he would make changes to his squad for this game and the starting line-up saw a number of players come in.
Stephen Croft was in goal but with James Wilson unavailable, the back four of Jones, Greene, Buchanan and Thompson were unchange. Adam Pedlow started on the right wing with Anderson and King in the centre and Ryan Gourley on the right. Up front, Neil Barr partnered Conor Downey.
The pitch was soft after the recent wet spell and cut up easily but the referee deemed it playable.
Town started the game well with Ryan Gourley proving a threat on the right. He fed Downey whose cross to the far post was prodded wide by Barr.
Nortel weren’t sitting back either and Clarke on the left wing was keeping Stephen Jones occupied.
Adam Pedlow was seeing a lot of the ball and set up Town’s first goal after only seven minutes. Picking up a pass from midfield, he evaded a tackle and played the ball over the defence for Downey to run on to and the forward finished well, lifting the ball over the outrushing home keeper, Kris Malone for 1-0.
This was just the start Town wanted and, boosted by the early goal, a wonderful pass from Stuart King released Gourley whose shot had to be smartly saved.
Not to worry, Adam Pedlow managed to get himself back amongst the goals on 20 minutes, smashing home a deflected effort from the edge of the area after Barr and Downey’s efforts both rebounded back into the danger area.
Town were in control and looked like they could score more. Nortel were certainly not out of it though and looked to get a goal back as quickly as possible.
Wilkinson was a constant threat and on 27 minutes he got his reward. He dispossessed Buchanan on the left, ran through on goal and beat Croft at the near post with a low shot.
Nortel were growing in confidence and tested the Town defence with crosses into the big centre forward Wilkinson, who was being closely marked by Greene.
However, Town couldn’t hold out. A shot from yet another cross was only parried by Croft and there was Wilkinson to fire the loose ball into the net to put Nortel level.
Stephen Jones picked up an injury with five minutes of the half remaining and he was replaced by captain Ryan Moffatt who went in at left back with Thompson switching to the right.
Town began to second half well but after Downey, King and Gourley combined well to create another chance, Gourley shot just wide.
Nortel were a threat when they went forward, particularly on the left with Clarke giving stand-in right back Thompson a torrid time.
Town went close when a quick throw-in allowed Downey to cross from the left and a half clearance saw the ball break to Barr whose overhead effort went just wide.
Wilkinson and left winger Clarke were the main threats for Nortel and on 65 minutes they combined to put the home side ahead; Clarke beat two defenders to get his cross from the left into the box, where Wilkinson had time to take a touch and turn to fire low past Croft to complete his hat trick.
Manager Watson made changes immediately, bringing on Chris McGrath and Chris Kingsberry for Barr and Pedlow as Town tried to find the equaliser.
Town pressed forward at every opportunity with Moffatt, Kingsberry and McGrath trying to create an opening.
Hat-trick hero Wilkinson was replaced as Nortel attempted to shut up shop for the final 15 minutes. Two Town corners in as many minutes ended with the ball falling to Downey at the edge of the area but he missed his kick and the danger was cleared.
Greene was called into further action at the other end and his determined defending saw him booked with five minutes left.
Town were throwing everyone forward and Moffatt and Kingsberry combined well on the left with Kingsberry’s cross finding Downey but Nortel keeper Malone forced him across goal and his shot was into the side netting.
Despite late efforts from Moffatt, Kingsberry and Gourley, Town couldn’t find a way through the stern Nortel defence and the hosts saw out a Cup upset.
TOWN: Croft, Thompson, Greene, Buchanan, Jones (Moffat 40), Pedlow (Kingsberry 65), Anderson, King, Gourley, Barr (McGrath 65), Downey.
Unused subs: Murphy, McParland.