Banbridge Rangers and Lower Maze had to settle for a point a piece on Saturday past at Cheney Park in a typically competitive Intermediate A League match.
Both teams were well organised and moved the ball at pace to provide an entertaining game for spectators but one in which Rangers will feel all three points eluded them after going 2-0 up shortly after half-time.
A free kick in the fourth minute could have seen an early opener for the Gers with Chris Chambers pulling off to the back post but his volley only hit the side netting.
Lower Maze spurned a good chance on 17 minutes when both strikers were played in on the keeper but a square ball to provide a tap in proved to be offside and the home team were let off.
Within a minute, Coly Cousins almost found the net after Jeff Brady picked out his run with a reverse pass but he curled around the keeper and the upright.
Just before the half hour mark, the ever lively Stuarty Mallen was fouled in a central area with the Lower Maze midfielder yellow carded.
Chambers stood over the free-kick and instructed striker Jerry Philip to make his move from the left of the box, where he met the ball with a magnigicent header that found the top corner from 15 yards.
The powerful striker has caused serious problems for opposition defenders since signing for Rangers with Saturday’s goal being number seven in only his fifth appearance.
Lower Maze responded almost instantly with a quick break down the left seeing their winger go free on keeper Chris Davison who got his angles correct to produce a superb double save.
For the remainder of the half, it was all one way in favour of the home side as Jeff Brady forced the keeper into a smart stop at the edge of the area followed by Kyle Sergeant cracking the crossbar with a volley on 41 minutes.
The final chance of the half saw Sergeant drill a ball into the feet of returning midfielder Jonny O’Neill who deftly lifted the ball into the path of Jonny Porter but his drilled shot fizzed past the post.
After the interval, the Gers were straight on the attack with Stuarty Mallen making good ground down the left flank before forcing an early corner. Jeff Brady whipped the ball into the front post and Chris Chambers was able to get a yard on his marker and headed home the second goal from close range.
Within the next ten minutes, Banbridge Rangers had two good chances to seal the points with Brady seeing a low shot skim the outside of the post. Then Cousins went for the top corner after cutting inside but whistled wide of the upright with the keeper static.
Lower Maze always looked threatening with some well worked phases of play down the flanks and on 57 minutes Davison was again called upon to save a one on one and when the ball spun out to the edge of the box no less than five Gers players commited to blocking the rebound and stopped a sure goal.
On 70 minutes, the arrears were reduced when the Maze striker dropped deep to pick up the ball and played a weighted pass for the right winger who controlled on the run and dispatched confidently to make it 2-1.
An equaliser followed less than two minutes later to leave the Gers shell shocked with Lower Maze playing several first time passes across the edge of the box before finishing well.
With 15 minutes to go, the closest either team came to snatching a winner came from Chrissy Chambers who curled a free kick toward the near top corner but the ball came crashing out off the inside of the post.
Banbridge Rangers introduced two strikers for the final quarter of an hour for defensive players but despite a series of half chances, they were unable to create that one clear cut chance and had to settle for a hard earned point.
Attention turns immediately to the Premier Cup semi-final which takes place this Saturday away to Camlough Rovers.
Both teams will be highly motivated to reach the showpiece final, which will surely be another intense game. Kick off is at 1.30pm and all supporters and affiliates of the club are urged to make their way to Camlough on Saturday to support the boys in blue.
RANGERS: Davison, Sergeant (Gracey 75), Gregg, Chambers, Mallen, Porter, O’Neill (Mallen 78), Cousins (c), Mallen, Brady, Philip.
Referee: David Doherty.