THERE was some added tension surrounding the fashion in which Bangor FC Ladies booked their place in round two of the Electric Ireland Women’s Challenge Cup, but any feelings of anxiety were kept well at bay by the players last Sunday.
A 2-1 success at home to Lisburn Distillery Ladies has Ethan Boylan’s panel in the hat for the next phase of the distinguished IFA-sanctioned competition.
It was not all plain sailing for the Seasiders at Clandeboye Park, who were forced to go the distance when a last-gasp leveller in the regulation 90 minutes cancelled out substitute Francesca Costa’s deadlock-breaker and called for extra-time to come into play.
Thankfully for the hosts, though, the dreaded penalty shoot-out was not forthcoming after Lydia Clarke fired in the winner with nine minutes to spare.
Beyond the unenviable warm conditions the fixture was contested in, such that water breaks were availed of during the middle of each half, manager Boylan has not found the going easy on the injury front of late either – and the enforced substitution of young midfielder Janine Jess five minutes before half-time with an apparent ankle knock was no help to that cause.
The 32-year-old found clear-cut chances at a relative premium despite Bangor keeping the action within the opposition half for long stretches, but it was Jess’ replacement who struck the first blow and capped off a well-worked move.
The industrious Costa was the beneficiary and delectably curled the hosts into the lead on 53 minutes – her first goal in yellow and blue, rewarding a hot spell following the restart in which Leah Robinson also crashed a distance drive agonisingly off the underside of the bar.
Although goal supremos Amber Dempster and Olivia Brown were still unavailable, there was no shortage of intent that was highlighted by another woodwork strike and several forays forward into Distillery’s final third. It was not to be in their net where the next goal of the game would nestle, however.
Four minutes into stoppage-time, in a final throw of the dice, the Whites’ Ellie Tennyson let fly from outside the area and rifled beyond Giulia McLaughlin into the top right corner.
McLaughlin got a good hand to the attempt, but the power took the ball beyond the Seagulls stopper and, having caused a giant-killing in the Co Antrim Cup courtesy of eliminating Premiership Larne on penalties last month, the possibility of sending another higher-tiered outfit out was on the New Grosvenor institution’s radar once more.
But the Division Four side were not to repeat the feat in North Down. After a goalless first half of extra-time, the eventual winner was yielded just one minute into the second batch of 10 when Clarke turned home.
Robinson’s cross from the right asked questions of the visiting defence and, after trickling just beyond substitute line-leader Claire Oakley, winger Clarke trapped the ball under her spell at the left-hand post before clinically burying it from close range.
When the full-time whistle sounded, there was a palpable relief but also a sense of satisfaction from the players and management alike that a stern examination of their credentials had been navigated cleanly.
And, as such, Bangor can look forward to being in the hat for the next stage of the tournament.