Banbridge Town finally got the better of their bogeymen from West Belfast on Saturday, and in some style.
Mattie McCartan’s last minute strike sealed a thrilling 3-2 victory, the first time Town have beaten Sport & Leisure Swifts since the City Men entered Championship Two a few seasons ago.
And that stunning finish came after Town striker Ally Wilson had been dismissed in the closing minutes after getting his second yellow card.
Baltic conditions prevailed at Crystal Park with showers of swirling sleet thrown in to greet the hardy supporters of both sides as they huddled round the ground.
However, a rousing opening 19 minutes that produced four goals warmed everyone as the wind howled down the pitch towards the pavilion end.
As early as the fourth minute, Ryan Gourley raced down the left wing and forced a corner. Banbridge new boy John Murphy raced in on the blind side to get his head to Conor Downey’s delivery and deceive Swifts keeper Nugent to send Town into an early lead.
Although stung by this setback, the Swifts, who are still challenging for league honours, raced back and were awarded a penalty on eight minutes for an alleged handball. Keeper Stephen Croft, who had a brilliant ninety minutes, rescued Town when he pushed Ciaran Gargan’s spot kick away with a full length save.
The home side were buoyed after this and Ally Wilson almost increased their lead on 11 minutes with a fiercely driven free-kick which Nugent saved at the second attempt. Big Darren Gallagher, Swifts’ man-mountain at No.10, was making his presence felt in midfield and he forced a fine save from Croft soon after.
However, there was nothing the home custodian could do when Gallagher rose above Town’s centre backs after 15 minutes to a right wing cross and he placed his header into the bottom corner to level matters at 1-1.
It was breathtaking stuff and just one minute later Banbridge sensationally regained the lead when Conor Downey converted a free-kick on the edge of the box with a low drive that seemed to take a deflection on its way in.
There was no let up in the frantic pace and on 19 minutes the visitors forced a corner on the right. Banbridge’s rearguard, who had shown a vast improvement in recent weeks, were then caught out when Gallagher pounced on a loose ball from a corner and gave Croft no chance to notch his second goal of the match and level again.
Things could not continue at this pace and a torrid midfield battle ensued for control. Ryan Evans was causing problems for the visitors down the right side and both John Murphy and Adam Dennison, oozing with more and more confidence as the weeks go by, worked tremendously hard in the Town’s engine room.
With the wind at their backs in the second half, it was Town who had the bulk of the play. A Dennison cross shot was well saved by Nugent on 62 minutes while Swifts sub Cunningham tested Croft after racing in on goal.
The dangerous Cunningham struck the outside base of Town’s post after 73 minutes while Ryan Evans struck a shot which Nugent saved after Town sub Duncan Stoddard had found him with a deft header.
Town looked like they would be holding on for a point when striker Ally wilson was shown his second yellow card in the closing minutes.
A lot of teams would have defended stoutly and settled for a point but not ten-man Banbridge Town.
With 90 minutes on the clock, Stephen Greene began a move from his left back position and found substitute David Gray who cut inside superbly to send Mattie McCartan racing through a bemused Swifts rearguard and the Town skipper finished magnificently to send the home support into raptures and Banbridge into a 3-2 lead.
It was Mattie’s first goal for some time but what a time for it to come. It won a terrific three points for Town and they will be a big boost to their confidence in the coming weeks.
Another new signing Chris Coleman was introduced for the final few minutes and should prove a useful addition to Ryan Watson’s squad.
BANBRIDGE TOWN: Croft, Wilson, Greene, Murphy, Waddell, Dennison, Evans, McCartan, Wilson, Downey, Gourley.
Subs: Coleman (Dennison 90), Ferguson, Gray (Evans 85), Stoddard (Gourley 65), McConville.
SPORT AND LEISURE SWIFTS: Nugent, P Lynch, Gargan, McMullan, Carland, Johnston, Largy, McAuley, Clelland, Gallagher, K Lynch.
Subs: Thompson (K Lynch 69), Tully (McAuley 64), Cunningham (Clelland 54), Daly, Moore.
Referee: Ken Gibbons, Carrickfergus.