Young guns on target at Midleton
A much improved performance from last week’s slip-up at Seapoint saw Bangor take control at Midleton, and eventually take the victory by 8-15.
Having won this away fixture by the narrowest of margins last season, Bangor were determined not to wait until the last kick of the game to secure victory. The hero from that previous game, Gareth Millar, was missing through an injury picked up at Seapoint, but with the return of Desi Fusco and Phil Broderick in the centre, Ross McCloskey moved into the out-half position with Lewis Bret taking on the slightly less familiar duties of scrum half. Apart from the absence of Jamie Clegg, the forwards unit was intact and ready to impose their dominance in the set pieces once again. The earlier heavy rain had subsided to just an occasional drizzle and, with little or no wind it looked like the sizeable crowd of spectators were in for an entertaining encounter.
Having made the long trip to Midleton the day before, Bangor were well rested and prepared, and hopes were that they would get into their stride quickly, as opposed to their sometimes slow starts. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case as, within the first minute of Midleton’s kick-off, they conceded a penalty for a high tackle as the Midleton players drove forward. To Bangor’s relief, the kick from the left hand side was wide of the posts. However, the danger for Bangor wasn’t over as Midleton continued to exploit Bangor’s apparent uncertainty. As Midleton mounted an attack down the right hand touchline, Bangor’s situation wasn’t helped by the indecisive actions of the tough judge on that side. His raised flag for a Midleton foot in touch was quickly lowered again, allowing winger Rian Hogan to take advantage of the confusion and squeeze over in the corner for a try. Although Stuart Lee’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful, Bangor found themselves 5-0 down after just 7 minutes of play. Then, instead of calming things down and building from the restart, the kick went straight into touch, and handed the initiative back to Midleton.
What Bangor now needed was something to spark them into action. It took another 14 minutes of steady play, where the Bangor pack started to assert themselves in the scrums and also successfully contest in the lineouts. From one such attacking scrum, just inside the Midleton half, the cleanly heeled ball was channelled to Lewis Bret. Rather than pass the ball across the backs, he quickly spotted an opening ahead of him and immediately set off, taking his opposite number unawares. Despite being so far out, and with defenders ahead, his speed and side-steps proved too difficult for the Midleton backs and, although finally tackled as he approached the goal line, his momentum and out-stretched arm saw him get the ball down for a superb individual try. The conversion from close to the left hand touchline was far from certain, but Nathan Graham stepped up confidently and slotted the ball home to give Bangor the lead by 5-7.
The restart looked to have been taken cleanly, but somehow the ball bobbled loose and Midleton turned it over. To Bangor’s credit, the forwards fought back immediately and regained possession. However, Midleton seized on the opportunity of being inside the Bangor twenty two and soon forced a penalty, which they elected to kick. Lee’s kick hit the upright and bounced back towards the approaching Midleton players. Thankfully the ball came to David Bradford who displayed his remarkable kicking skills with a big clearance up-field, and the danger was cleared. Within minutes, the tables were turned when Bangor won a penalty in the Midelton twenty two. Once again, Graham’s kick was successful, extending Bangor’s lead to 5-10, with 10 minutes of the first half remaining. This score-line would probably have been a fair reflection of the half, and one which Bangor would have been comfortable with going into the second. However, another lapse in Bangor’s composure handed Lee with a straightforward penalty which he duly converted to narrow the half time score to 8-10.
The magic of the half time team talk spurred Bangor into an attacking start to the second half. Finding themselves under pressure, Midleton cleared their lines with a long positional kick. Full-back Graham had the ball safely covered, but was isolated when faced with the Midleton backs who had quickly followed up. Having been judged by the referee as not rolling away quickly enough after being tackled, he unfortunately received a yellow card. Midleton, however, were unable to benefit from the penalty, or even the extra man advantage. An excellent kick to touch by McCloskey was followed up by success in the lineout. As the Bangor pack trundled in-field and towards the Midleton posts, it was Lewis Stevenson who made a push for the line, only to be held short by several Midelton defenders. However, before being wrapped up in the tackles, he managed to off-load the ball to Martin Withers who dived over the final metre to score his first try for the club. As McCloskey tee-ed up the ball for the conversion in front of the posts, he remarked to the referee that this would be his easiest 2 points. As is so often the case, pride comes before a fall, and the Bangor players could only look on in disbelief as the ball bounced back off the post and the points were gone. Although Bangor were now 8-15 ahead, the addition of this conversion would have required Midleton to have come back with 2 further scores, instead of being able to tie the game with one converted try in the remaining 30 minutes of play.
However, as the game went on, Bangor began to take control, especially in the scrums which yielded repeated penalties as the Midleton pack began to tire. Despite this advantage, Bangor were unable to add to their tally of points, but it was encouraging to see a much more effective and organised defence that closed out any viable attacking opportunity for their opponents. In the final minute, Graham had a long range penalty attempt that would have denied the home side a losing point. Although the kick had perfect direction, it fell just short of the posts. In the end, both sides left the field of play with something for their efforts, which was perhaps a fair result. For Bangor, however, this win moves them ahead of Midleton in the league and, with a home fixture against Limerick side Thomond next Saturday, hopes are that they will build from this success and continue to move further up the table with another win.