NAFL Border Cup semi-final
Crumlin Star 0 Rathfriland Rangers 1
CRUMLIN Star’s hopes of winning a third successive Border Cup were dashed by Rathfriland Rangers at Seaview on Wednesday night as Ruairi Fitzpatrick’s late goal gave the Co Down side a 1-0 victory.
Both sides had amble chances to break the deadlock with Dee Fearon going close for Star in the first half while Rangers’ captain Andrew Kilmartin had a goal in the second half ruled out for offside.
With six minutes remaining, a free-kick on the edge of the box proved to the catalyst for the game’s only goal with Fitzpatrick appearing to catch Star goalkeeper Dean Smyth off guard with a dipping shot.
Crumlin Star pressed hard for an equaliser in the closing minutes, but the quality of their final ball was lacking, as was the case for the majority of the semi-final contest.
Chances were few and far between in a cagey opening period with Adam Neale firing a half volley wide of the target after four minutes.
Ruairi Fitzpatrick probably should have at least hit the target when he was allowed to unleash a shot from the edge of the box on 15 minutes.
It took Star a while to settle into the contest, but they soon found their stride and an excellent ball over the ball played James Doyle through on goal, but Rathfriland ’keeper Bryan McMullan was swiftly off his side to block the shot.
However, the North Belfast side were soon controlling the tempo of proceedings and they should have taken the lead when striker Dee Fearon was afforded time to get his shot away inside the box. Yet, he pulled his effort to the right and narrowly wide of the post.
Rathfriland still looked dangerous on the counter and they served notice of danger they posed when Matthew Holloway got in behind the Crumlin Star defence.
His cross, though, was played behind Neale who was unmarked at the back post.
Just shy of the half hour mark, Star had a claim for a penalty turned down when Aidan McNeill went down in the box after playing a one-two with Sam McBurney. Referee Mark Domican wasn’t having it and play continued.
Star boss Paul Trainor was forced into a change when centre-back Paul Prigent went down unchallenged clutching his left knee with Patrick McIlkenny being drafted in.
The best chances at the end of the half fell to Rathfriland with Neale showing excellent footwork in the box to get a shot away, albeit straight at Dean Smyth.
Rathfriland striker Brian Newell should have at least tested Smyth when he let fly with an effort from the edge of the box moments before half-time.
If Star edged the first half, then Rangers were the better team in the second half and they had the first meaningful chance of the second half.
Harry Campbell’s cross found Neale at the edge of the box and the striker tried to curl a shot back across goal, but his effort rose over the crossbar.
Minutes later, the Co Down outfit had the ball in the back of the net, but skipper Andrew Kilmartin had his goal disallowed for offside.
On the hour mark, Star had another great chance to break the deadlock when Aidan McNeill’s cross found McKilkenny, who played the ball back across goal to fellow substitute Ciaran Murphy. Yet, Murphy’s header was superbly turned away by McMullan.
Murphy had another shot on target soon after and, unfortunately for Paul Trainor’s men, they failed to test McMullan for the remainder of the game.
At the other end, Newell’s strike from the edge of the box wasn’t far off target on 70 minutes and Rathfriland’s goal also came from a shot from outside the box.
A foul on Holloway by Joe McNeill on the edge of the area gave Rangers a free-kick in a great position.
While Robert Graham lined up as though he was going to try a left-footed strike, Fitzpatrick spotted that Smyth had moved over to his right and let rip with a crisp shot which dipped in under the crossbar.
The Star goalkeeper will certainly feel he should have done better and the defending champions were forced to throw caution to the wind in the closing minutes as they scrambled to find a late equaliser.
A couple of rash challenges on James Doyle gave Barry McKervey opportunities to get the ball into the box.On each occasion, Rathfriland’s defence was able to clear their lines.
The final chance of the night fell to McIlkenny who lashed a shot over the crossbar in stoppage time as the 2017 champions knocked out the 2018 and 2019 winners to progress to this season’s Border Cup final.
CRUMLIN STAR: D Smyth; B O’Neill, A McNeill, P Prigent (P McIlkenny 32), M Lyons (S Smyth 85); J McNeill, S McBurney (C Murphy 55), K Trainor, D Fearon, J Doyle, B McKervey.
RATHFRILAND RANGERS: B McMullan, D Devlin, R Graham, R Fitzpatrick, A Kilmartin, B Newell, A Neale, M Holloway (J Black 92), J Hayes (R Kelly 80), H Campbell, B Johnston.
REFEREE: M Domican.