A valiant comeback victory over Ballyclare Comrades has ensured Bangor their place in the quarter-finals of the County Antrim Shield. That Tuesday evening recovery from an early two-goal deficit was inspired by Seasider favourite Ben Arthurs’ four-goal haul, delivering two in each half to bring the Clandeboye institution into their second Shield last-eight encounter in three seasons; the previous occasion being in 2021, when a Second Round defeat to Cliftonville at Solitude spelt the end of their crusade. This year, though, provides a unique dynamic. Five of the eight representatives of the quarters are from below the Premiership – Bangor join fellow second-tier trio Ards, Knockbreda and Dundela as well as last season’s PIL runners-up Ballymacash Rangers in flying the flag – and, depending on how Saturday’s draw pans out, the Yellows could find themselves in with a very real shot at a semi-final showdown. Feelings on prospective future opposition and much more were dissected by the heroic Arthurs and Bangor boss Lee Feeney post-match.
"I was just really pleased with the attitude and the performance and the desire and the hunger. It had everything there. We got in their faces (after going behind), and I even told the lads at half-time, if you give that fight and that effort that you gave in this half and we lose this game, there will be no problem with that, but I am sure if you do, you will win it. And they did, they never slacked off. Right until the end, we’re still all fighting for each other and that’s what we want to try and get on a consistent basis. The character was unbelievable. The character was massive."
The manager admitted that the greatest source of satisfaction surrounding the victory was the bouncebackability from such an unenviable early position. When fighting against a two-goal deficit at that juncture, it can be easy to let the pressure take hold and the flower further wilts, but the composure of Bangor to respond when the going got tough naturally inspires belief in the mentality of the squad.
Twice in succession now they have clawed back from a deficit to claim something out of the contest, and naturally, this feat has fuelled Feeney with heart that his battling charges were thereafter not swayed into losing further ground.
“We could’ve easily buckled at 2-0, there was a few individual mistakes and nodding of the heads, and I knew that and I said ‘lads, just don’t worry about it'. I think maybe because it wasn’t such a stressful game or a game that matters as much, it was maybe more relaxed mentally, but we certainly reacted in the right way. It’s something that we’ll need to work on maintaining every game."
On Arthurs’ four-goal haul, the former Linfield and Rangers star had praise for both his line-leaders for contributing on more fronts than just the scoresheet.
“I was delighted with both of them, the two frontmen; Adam Neale as well, who set Ben up for a few chances, but their work-rate was unbelievable. When you’re a defender and you see your frontmen working like that, no matter if you’re two or three down, you’ll always have a chance and you’ll feel you have a chance.“It comes from them, and they done it brilliantly."
The 25-year-old, who registered a quartet of finishes for the first time in the yellow and blue shirt – gaining his third match ball of the year in the process, following up his trebles against Tandragee Rovers and Dollingstown – was understandably delighted with his night’s work.
"I think the last time I scored four was for, dare I say it, Ards Under-20s against Glentoran! I remember scoring four in the first 30 minutes and thinking 'I don’t know what's happening'! No, I don’t think at senior level I’ve ever scored four goals, so that’s good to get tonight. You don’t get too many nights like these, so when they do come round, you want to enjoy them. I’m not saying I’ve only scored five goals, but I’d scored one in five (against Dundela) and I’ve banged four tonight but I think four out of five tonight, hopefully I keep them coming."
In five years at Clandeboye Park, the man they call 'Big Ben' has risen to become one of the modern greats of the club. His 111 goals have him perched in third-place in Bangor’s all-time top goalscorers list – although, with this being his first experience of senior-status football, these are more dizzying heights for the Kircubbin man. Stepping up from the intermediate rung of the pyramid has been an enjoyable experience, he reveals, adding that a different dynamic in the brands of football on display contributes to the challenge of gaining points week in, week out.
“I find it good, I’m enjoying it. The games, there’s not really anyone sitting back; it’s just end-to-end, and I think the main thing for me is we’ve come up and we’re competing. We were talking about before the game actually tonight, we’re competing every game. Every game, there was a (Bangor) goal in it and then we obviously draw 1-1 with Institute, and tonight we go out and score more than one goal, which you have to look at as a positive. We were coming up and we didn’t know fully what to expect and we’re holding our own, so we’re maybe a wee bit unlucky in the way that we could be on more than seven points – but nothing we can do about it now, so we just need to keep going. I would say a lot of Bangor fans would take the start to the season we’ve had… we’ll find our identity (in this league), if we can stay healthy and keep playing the way we’re playing, I think we’re only going to get better."Reflecting on the way the game started, the Peninsula hero was honest in saying that heads could have dropped in the burgeoning phase of the contest. A swift recollection of the side’s focus when it counted, though, was to stand Bangor in good stead for the rest of the contest.
“We could’ve folded after that. But we done well to regain our composure; they were two sucker punches really, and that’s the way football can go, but we did well just to settle down. And I think, night and day after that, we had all the chances; in my opinion, we could’ve had more, but obviously we’re happy with the result.”
On the Seasiders’ quarter-final draw prospects, he opines:
“Well, if anything, it’s another game for the club, and obviously we’ll see who we get and whatever, but it’s minutes for boys’ legs and it’s better than going out. In general, yes, Saturday (against Institute) probably wasn’t good enough, and I think sometimes you have those off-days, but I think it’s good to come back and do something for the fans, and I think we’re only going to get better as there’s some new faces and some real good players there. There’s quite a few new players in and we’re only getting to know them, but they’re holding up well and we’re only going to get stronger.”
(Posted: Friday, 8th September 2023)