Rangers win a huge Belfast battle in their fight for the title

Ally Wilson gets in a header for Rathfriland against Broomhedge. Pic: Rathfriland FC
Ally Wilson gets in a header for Rathfriland against Broomhedge. Pic: Rathfriland FC

Rathfriland Rangers staged a stunning ambush at the home of top-of-the-table rivals East Belfast on Saturday.

They made off with a 4-1 win and three vital points in their hunt for a first league title in 18 years.

The result leaves the club three points clear at the top with games in hand over second and third.

Skipper Conor Larkin put the Whites ahead before Ryan Oliver hit back immediately in a pulsating first half.

But James Costello, Jonathan Scannell and Ally Wilson netted in the second period to clinch arguably their most important win of the season to date as the East imploded with two men seeing red.

Rathfriland made a good start when Ross Black swung in a free-kick on 13 minutes, Costello nodded it down for Larkin to bravely bundle over the line as East defenders slid in.

But Oliver equalised within 40 seconds, beating keeper Shane Harrison after some slack defending. Rathfriland hadn’t refocused after going ahead and paid a heavy price.

The first 45 minutes was end-to-end, with the Rangers having the best of it and the movement and hold-up play between Costello and Wilson particularly catching the eye.

And on the hour mark Rathfriland struck again.

A poor clearance from Curry led to confusion in the East defence and Costello strolled through to restore his side’s advantage, with appeals for offside being waved away.

Three minutes later, the Rangers’ lead doubled. A free-kick sent deep into the box from Black was met by the head of Scannell and the ball looped over Curry and into the net.

East defender Ross McCaughan was then harshly shown a second yellow for a tussle with Costello.

And his team-mate Stewart Beattie receiving his marching orders for his verbal abuse in the aftermath of the decision.

The resulting free-kick was lifted in to the box and Sam McNauls was adjudged to have handled the ball.

Wilson slammed the penalty in and there was no way back for the East’s nine men.

MOTM: James Costello (Rathfriland Rangers)