Colin Cousins began his 11th season in a Banbridge Rangers shirt on Saturday and couldn’t have marked the occasion in any more typical fashion.
The skipper smashed home a last minute goal to seal a thrilling 2-1 victory over Ballymacash Rangers.
The visitors from Lisburn finished in second place last season and would fancy their chances at going one step further this time around. Consequently, this fixture presented the home team with a baptism of fire.
Banbridge Rangers manager Richard McMinn knew his side would be up against a strong and pacey team and with strikers Clydesdale, Mallen and Philip all ruled out prior to the game, his options for match winners was thinner than he would have liked.
But despite the first half being a competitive affair, it was the home side who managed to create all five chances. Colin Cunningham intercepted a back pass in the ninth minute but his shot was cleared off the line by a covering defender and four minutes later saw the post come to Ballymacash’s rescue as Jeff Brady rattled the upright from an acute angle.
Just after the half hour mark, Cunningham controlled a Brady cross inside the box but the opposing keeper read which corner his shot was headed for and saved.
Cunningham went close a few minutes later when an arrowed Chris Chambers ball put the young striker through on goal but when he lifted the ball over the keeper it nestled on the roof of the net.
Just before the break, referee Sebastian Jankowski made a big call to deny Banbridge Rangers a penalty when Jeff Brady was played in by Chambers and went down, electing instead to book the Gers midfielder.
After the break, Banbridge Rangers finally made their domination pay when Brady curled a free-kick into the front post where Colin Cunningham saw him able to flick in after his run was untracked.
The response from Ballymacash saw them start to impose themselves on the game with a few unpunished challenges and eventually managed to create a few guilt edged chances once they took control of the game but were denied by two fine stops from Chris Davison.
With 13 minutes to go, Ballymacash scored their equaliser with a well worked throw in which saw both strikers drop deep to split the centre halves and midfielder Kenny Campbell raced into the open space and finished into the bottom corner.
The Lisburn team almost snatched the winner two minutes later when a well worked move saw a back post header miss the target.
This miss would prove costly when Colin Cousins was sent free in the 89th minute and he showed great composure to beat the keeper with the outside of his boot to the delight of the home touchline.
The amount of winning goals scored by Cousins during his career with Banbridge Rangers has been nothing short of phenomenal with the Rangers stalwart on course to make his 300th competitive appearance for the club in the derby this Tuesday at Seapatrick.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Cunningham could have wrapped it up after beating two defenders but a tired shot was skewed past the post although it didn’t affect the primary aim of gaining three valuable points on the opening day of the season.
Up next for the Gers are two matches against the Village in the space of five days with an Intermediate A game at Havelock Park on Tuesday kicking off at 6.45pm. The follow up Bob Radcliffe tie on Saturday will kick off at the earlier time of 2pm.
RANGERS: Davison, Crooks (Sergeant 90), Chambers, Gregg, Frazer, Porter (Beattie 75), Teggart, O’Neill (Ward 66), Brady, Cousins, Cunningham.