It was a relieved but contented Banbridge Town that left Ballymoney United’s Riada Stadium on Saturday.
The satisfaction was not that they had secured a fully deserved 3-3 draw with the home side but that they had finally stopped the rot that had set in some eight weeks ago.
Forced to field minus Chris Coleman, Mark Teggart, Conor Downey, Glen Waddell and James Wilson, it was an extremely youthful Town squad that made the journey . Such was their enthusiasm that they did their manager proud and returned with a well earned point.
Ryan Watson had started the game with the lively Ryan Gourley as main striker and the diminutive Ryan rewarded his bosswith a Man-of-the-Match display with his constant harassing up front causing problems for Ballymoney all afternoon.
Stevie Jones played behind the back four as sweeper and also stuck to his task admirably. Young David Gray, Jordan Hayes, Gareth Orr and Ryan Williamson (when introduced as sub) all can feel pleased by their contribution to a fighting performance.
After three minutes, a foul on Ryan Evans led to a Mattie McCartan free being headed on to Ryan Gourley whose effort was blocked by Ballymoney centre half Hugh Og Boyle.
A heavy tackle on the flying Evans minutes later showed the home side’s intent on going all out for some welcome points that might secure their safety in Championship Two.
Banbridge’s bright start paid dividends after nine minutes when Orr sent Evans raiding down the right and his cross was met by an excellent header from Jordan Hayes who marked his debut with a well taken goal.
Stephen Croft (returning to Town’s goals) was alert two minutes later to stop a McClelland shot. There was a determination about this Banbridge display as they sought to confine last week’s heavy defeat to the history books and on 35 minutes a dangerous Gourley cross-cum-shot forced O’Boyle to clear under pressure.
The homesters were by no means out of this game and after 42 minutes McVicker found himself free in front of goal but fired straight at Croft and the chance was gone. Just before the break, a great Gray/Evans move saw the latter’s stinging drive saved by Moore at the base of the post.
At the break, Ballymoney introduced Francis McKenna who was returning after a long injury period and his impact was immediate. He began to dictate matters for the homesters and gave them a new lease of life.
Ryan Gourley was still making things difficult for the home rearguard and twice in succession he forced Moore to save smartly.
It looked good for Town after 50 minutes when they raced into a 2-0 lead. Gourley fed Orr, whose speculative cross was fumbled into the net by the normally reliable Moore although young Orr will quite rightly claim the goal.
To their credit, Ballymoney did not lie down and four minutes later got a lifeline when Bradley struck a great drive past Stephen Croft and off the inside of the post and into Town’s net.
It was 2-2 after 66 minutes when a long ball down the middle deflected off Stephen Greene and ironically Stewart pounced to slip his shot past the advancing Croft.
The pressure was now on this young Town side but they responded admirably. Jordan Hayes and Ryan Gourley began a move and when the latter crossed in front of goal, Ryan Evans was unlucky to see his deft header go inches wide with the keeper rooted to the spot.
On 71 minutes, Evans hobbled off to be replaced by another debutant in Ryan Williamson. After 75 minutes, Mattie McCartan volleyed all of 30 yards only to see Moore push his effort over and one minute later as Banbridge upped the tempo, they forced successive corners with Greene heading wide from Gray’s delivery on the second of these.
On 80 minutes, Town’s ill-luck seemed to have returned when Ryan Stewart headed Ballymoney into a 3-2 lead following a hotly disputed corner.
Stunned Town came storming back and Stevie Jones went close. Then after 89 minutes, they finally got their deserved reward when a perfectly delivered corner from David Gray was met by Stephen Greene and he thundered his header into the net giving Moore no chance.
It’s a good point for Banbridge although Ryan Watson’s only disappointment will be the conceding of three more goals.
TOWN: Croft, Orr, Ferguson, Greene, Buchanan, Jones, Evans, McCartan, Gourley, Hayes, Gray.
Subs: Watson, Williamson (Evans 71), McGrath, McConville.
Next Saturday (April 11th) Banbridge Town will have a home fixture for the first time in five weeks when Glebe Rangers will be visitors to Crystal Park (Kick-Off 3.00 p.m.) It is also worth mentioning that Town will also be at home on the following Tuesday evening (April 14th) when Queen Univ. will be visitors (Kick -Off 6.30 p.m.)