Smyth sees red as defeat ends Cookstown hopes in title chase

Banbridge v Cookstown � Edward Byrne Photography INBL07-222EB
Banbridge v Cookstown � Edward Byrne Photography INBL07-222EB

The scoreline suggests that this was a close game, but in essence there was always only going to be one winner and Banbridge deservedly did so.

Because of injuries and a couple of players on Ireland duty, Cookstown faced a seriously understrength Banbridge who even had to draft assistant coach Scott McCandless into action.

Cookstown won the first penalty corner of the game which in turn resulted in another penalty corner. However, this broke down and Bann raced to the other end to win a penalty corner of their own which Hughes saved.

The Reds were lethargic in everything they attempted to do with little-to-no options available for the ball carrier. Basic errors were the order of the day for Cookstown as they continued their recent trend of mediocre hockey.

Midway through the half the unmarked Hugh McShane - and he was unmarked for quite a while - was eventually found and his through ball to Ward was brilliantly steered home despite being upended by Hughes.

At this stage the home side’s 40 yard passes were all finding their forwards and keeping Cookstown constantly on the back foot.

The Reds had a glorious chance to level the game at their third penalty corner but Gareth Lennox saved Simon Todd’s initial effort and when the ball fell invitingly for Smyth at the near post, the Coagh man somehow got back up to save again.

With only a minute of the half remaining Cookstown drew level when a sharp reverse cross from Allen was touched home by Todd.

Straight from the tip off an innocuous aerial from Bann was allowed to drop between Hughes and the onrushing Ward and again the Bann forward was able to score despite the close attentions of the Irish keeper.

The Cookstown support thought that the Reds couldn’t play worse, but, alas, throughout the second half they did just that with disjointed, disappointing and at times just outright bad hockey.

Cookstown took the tip off at the start of the second half and immediately gave the ball to Bann who attacked strongly.

The visitors did have a few sporadic attacks and a Todd cross just evaded Ryan Millar at the back post.

From another Bann attack a reverse shot from outside the circle from Dowds came off Hughes at the near post to increase the home side’s lead.

Despite being second best Cookstown almost clawed themselves back into the game as a deflection from Ames went over the bar.

A few minutes later a deflection from Allen hit Lennox before skittering away to safety. To epitomise Cookstown’s day, an injection at a penalty corner didn’t even make it out of the circle as the Reds’ chances became limited.

Smyth was then unlucky to be yellow carded as he collided with the umpire in an attempt to tackle.

He then made Cookstown’s task impossible as he talked himself into a red and will probably serve a two-game ban at some future stage.

On the full time whistle Cookstown won a prolonged penalty corner and, after a further two corners were broken down but not cleared, Ames eventually netted to reduce the deficit.

Cookstown are now out of the Premiership title chase and will do well to finish third. They now face the usual tricky away game to Kilkeel this Saturday. A return to form is a necessity as they build towards the Irish Hockey League fixtures towards the end of the season.

Cookstown: Ian Hughes; Keith Black; Matty Rollins; David Best; Godfrey Irwin; Ewan Butler; Simon Todd; Andy Barbour; Stephen Sloan; Greg Allen; Stuart Smyth; Ryan Millar; Jon Ames; Gareth Cuddy; Paul Thompson