TWO POINTS dropped or one point gained? That was the question Fort Rangers were left asking after they finished a tough battle with honours even.
The message going into Sunday’s game against the Lions A was simple: win and their Premier Division status would be safe for another season. They didn’t manage to get all three points, but having fought back twice from a goal down there was some satisfaction that their day didn’t end in total disappointment.
Eddie Nugent ensured Fort got something for their troubles - and in some style - as the game ticked into injury-time. With Rangers throwing almost everything into attack, Nugent was perfectly placed to latch on to Liam Forristal’s knock-on from a long Dion Fitzpatrick ball and hammer a thumping half-volley past Paul Shortall.
It was an emphatic finish from a Fort side who went into the game knowing a win would keep them in the top flight and send Clover United down at their expense. They pressed hard to make home advantage count as early as possible, Emmet Nugent going close when played through by brother Eddie’s clever ball from midfield after just two minutes but Lions netminder Paul Shortall made a smart save with his foot, pushing the ball beyond his right post.
The sides had a real battle with the elements in the first half, fighting against wind and rain, but Fort weathered the storm long enough to almost take the lead before the half hour.
In the best move of the game full-back Seamus McGrath won possession inside his own half and galloped forward. Working play on McGrath picked out Emmet Nugent, who sent Eddie Nugent free down the left. The low cross was seized on by Emmet Nugent, who clipped a low shot past Shortall, but the smacked off the base of the far post and bounced out.
The youngest Nugent was making a nuisance of himself, and had another bite at the cherry with 30 minutes on the clock. This time Jim Nugent was the provider, winning a midfield tussle before knocking the ball on to the striker. Nugent showed a cool head to take the ball around Shortall, but the shooting angle was too wide to hit the target.
The Lions took those let-offs as a sign to raise their game, which they duly did. Centre-halves Gearoid Campion and Kevin Shortall led from the back, pushing the defensive line closer to midfield as they began to put the squeeze on the hosts.
One such move saw Danny Lennon and Michael Freeman link up well with Darren Lynch down the left, moving the ball around well before Shortall stepped up to shoot, but his 45th minute strike didn’t trouble netminder David Buggy.
The Durrow side had better luck with their next attempt as they took the lead in first half stoppage time. Attacking down the right, James Larkin teed up Matthew Wallace to drill in a low cross which Steven Thomas stabbed home at the near post.
The goal checked Fort’s stride a little, but with a strong wind at their backs in the second half they set about regaining their attacking composure.
David Forristal got them back on track with an excellent pass from midfield on 57 minutes. Emmet Nugent picked it up and split the Lions defence, but couldn’t get the ball out from under his feet for a clean strike.
The pressure was building on the visitors - Shane McCann saved their skins with a great last-ditch tackle to deny Nugent a shot - who finally cracked after the hour after Eddie Nugent was upended in the box. Nugent dusted himself down to take the penalty and gave Shortall no chance with a kick blasted high into the middle of the net.
Pushing for all three points Fort kept on the front foot, introducing young subs Evans Wallace and Dion Fitzpatrick to the fray. The closest they came to finding a lead goal came in the 82nd minute, when a long throw was flicked on to Emmet Nugent, but his shot was straight at Shortall.
At that stage Rangers looked most likely to grab the win. The Lions hadn’t read the script, however, stunning the hosts with seven minutes left on the clock. A scorer in the first half, Steven Thomas turned provider with a great ball for Simon Randall. The sub steadied himself, allowing the ball to run across his body before giving David Buggy no chance with a crisp shot that flew into the top left corner.
Rangers were down, but not out. Eddie Nugent’s injury-time rescue act ensured their drive to stay up carries on. With one game left to play the right result against Evergreen B will see Fort survive. Draw, and they can look forward to a play-off against Clover United - lose, and they will go down.
Fort Rangers: David Buggy, Seamus McGrath, John Bambrick (Dion Fitzpatrick, 81 mins), Padraig Murphy, Liam Forristal, John Cahill (James Lenehan, 89 mins), Jim Nugent, David Forristal, Tony Moran (Evans Wallace, 68 mins), Emmet Nugent, Eddie Nugent.
Lions A: Paul Shortall, Matthew Wallace (Kieran Freeman, 46 mins), Michael Freeman, Gearoid Campion, Kevin Shortall, Shane McCann, James Larkin (Mick Kennedy, 46 mins), Danny Lennon (Simon Randall, 46 mins), Steven Thomas, Ben Wallace, Darren Lynch.
Referee: Ollie Falsey.