Rangers stay top but are beaten by title challengers

Rathfriland are still top of the table despite the defeat. Pic: Rathfriland FC
Rathfriland are still top of the table despite the defeat. Pic: Rathfriland FC

Rathfriland Rangers suffered only their second league defeat of the season on Saturday, but crucially it came at the hands of fellow title chasers East Belfast.

The two sides are among the favourites to lift the NAFL 1A trophy and a win for Rathfriland would have cemented their place in top spot.

But a brace from hotshot Dee Wright was enough to see East reign with a 2-1 win, in spite of Aaron Black’s late goal for the Whites.

After five clean sheets on the bounce and with the meanest defence in the league, the last thing the Rangers would have expected was to concede within the opening 60 seconds.

But that’s exactly what happened when East winger Luke Wright collected the ball out wide and drilled it across the six-yard box for the onrushing Wright to slam home.

And that set the tone for the first half, with East flowing forward s.

In their first real drive out of their own half, Rangers’ Ross Black, Ally Wilson and James Costello all combined in a sumptuous passing move that gave the former a glowing chance to equalise, but his low shot was blocked superbly by the keeper.

More stunning goalkeeping, this time at the other end, kept Rathfriland’s disadvantage to a single goal when Wilson’s one-on-one effort was repelled by Harrison and the rebound was sent just over.

But then Wright doubled both his and his side’s tally just before the half-hour, pouncing to finish when a shot from distance was parried into his path.

There was hope for the home side, however, when East’s Dean Cousins saw red right on the stroke of the break for a savage lunge on Jonathan Scannell.

The ball was all Rathfriland’s in the second period as 10-man East hauled numbers back in an effort to protect their lead.

And that’s exactly what they did, despite the Whites’ domination of the territory.

Cross after cross and attack after attack, all cleared to safety as the tension began to rise and the tempers started to flare.

Spicy challenges and gamesmanship earned several players a yellow card, Wright among them. He was dismissed in the final 10 minutes for collecting two bookings, leaving East down to nine.

Finally the Whites broke their opponents down, with Aaron Black planting a header into the net from Ally Wilson’s corner.

But it was too little too late. East had come to Iveagh Park and left with the loot of an all-important three points.

Rathfriland know they must do the same in the return fixture later this season, as the fight for the title continues to hot up.