Scoring your first goal for a club is always a special feeling – no less than when they are high-quality strikes and contribute to the team picking up three points.
That was exactly the case for Jack Henderson and Ben Walker, who respectively opened and closed Bangor’s goal account against Annagh United en route to a 3-1 victory in the Playr-Fit Championship on Saturday.
Midfielder Henderson swept home a gorgeous opener just before the half-hour mark with a sublime first-time take into the bottom right corner, before teen wing-back Walker recorded his first senior goal, converting a delightful free-kick three minutes from time that all but confirmed the three points for Lee Feeney’s charges.
Naturally, you would have been seriously hard-pressed to wipe the smiles off the faces of the brimming duo, who found the net either side of Ben Arthurs’ rasping drive that soared past one-time Seasider Jason Craughwell in the Annagh goal – that was the Kircubbin marksman’s eighth of the campaign already – having indelibly contributed to the hosts’ rise up to 17 points in the table, perched just a point from the promotion play-off position. Henderson, who linked back up at Clandeboye Park after two years wearing the sky blue of Ballymena United, admits this was a moment in waiting that he couldn’t wait to pencil in.
“To be fair, I was joking with the boys prior to the game… I deserve a goal, I’ve been getting myself into them positions in the last couple of games, but I just haven’t been able to put the ball in the back of the net. When I seen that Seanna (Foster) had put the ball in the box and I anticipated that they were going to mishit (the clearance), thankfully it was a good hit that I seen go into the bottom corner. That’s what the gaffer (Feeney) has been saying to me. He’s been saying that he wants me to get into more advanced positions. I know I’ve got goals in me, it just now that it’s the first of hopefully a few this season."
Henderson has played as part of a trio alongside Lewis Harrison and Karl Devine in the centre of the park in each of the last two encounters, and the former Glentoran youth prospect believes that approach has it perks.
“Yeah, I think going to the natural three midfielders, it’s definitely letting (the midfield get forward more), because with Karl Devine – who I thought was brilliant – he’s sort of like a more natural No.6 and, yes, I’ve been playing No.6 quite a lot, but I’ve shown in the last couple of games that I can play just as well as a No.8. Karl sitting there, I think it lets me and Lewis get further forward and get more men in the box, and thankfully, we get more men up there and getting on the scoresheet today. The system the last couple of games has really worked, so long may it continue.”
Walker, meanwhile, was all too happy to run through the thought process behind his exceptional free-kick finish. The 18-year-old, who rose up the Academy ranks at Bangor before joining Larne’s esteemed set-up a couple of years ago, has returned to the seaside on loan from the Inver Reds, and he placed to perfection from 20 yards as his left-footed shot nicked the underside of the crossbar before nestling nicely in the Wall End net. The defender wheeled away and soaked in the joy of the Clandeboye crowd, believing that the precision he struck with in the situation was as good as he’s given.
“I’ve never hit it so sweetly. I practice free-kicks a lot, practice them in training every day and just, I hit it and it just went in. Jack even tried to take it off me! But I was confident going into it, I knew I was going to score. As soon as I hit it, I just knew it was going in.”
Adapting to regular minutes at the senior level for the first time in the 2005-born talent’s burgeoning career has been an exciting experience, he reveals, declaring himself pleased with how he has met increased demands.
Both Walker and Henderson go on to shed light on how the extra-time defeat to Coleraine on Tuesday night boosted confidence and belief that spurred them on to overcome Annagh. That 2-1 outcome, where Arthurs’ last-gasp penalty cancelled out Bannsiders star Matthew Shevlin’s deadlock-breaker before Lee Lynch’s long-distance piledriver confirmed the hosts’ cup progression, was a night that left mixed emotions – the disappointment at not having won at The Showgrounds, but optimism in the form of a performance that was full of merits.
“Yeah, I really like it (my left-sided role). I feel like I’m starting to fit in more because getting used to senior men’s football, it’s a big step up from Reserves. I think I’m starting to get used to the physicality and stuff. It is different, definitely; it’s more long-ball, more energy, but I feel like I’ve got fitter since I’ve come in. Being able to go up and down more. Yeah, I’ve really liked it.
“It was a tough one to take (that defeat), but it gave us confidence because we went right toe-to-toe with Coleraine, top Premiership side, I feel like we should’ve actually beat them… we were disappointed to come away from it (having lost).”
On that BetMcLean Cup last-32 reversal, Henderson added:
"It definitely shows that were more than capable of being at that level. They had a very strong team out the other night, and with the way that we performed… yes, were we under the cosh at times? Of course. Were they under the cosh at times? Of course. As Ben said, we went toe-to-toe with them, and I felt of the clear-cut chances, we could’ve nicked the game and I don’t think anyone could’ve had any complaints.
“But, as Ben said, it gave us a lot of confidence; there’s a great buzz around the group and everybody’s going in the right direction. If we keep getting points, you know, the good thing about us is no one’s talking about us. Everyone’s talking about the Portadowns, the Welders, Dundela and how good they’re doing… we’re just happy to go under the radar and go about our business, and then we’ll see what happens off the back of that.
“It is, 100 per cent, and to be fair to the gaffer and the coaches, they make that buzz.
“They give us that confidence, they put the trust in us, and, at the minute, yes, last Saturday (a 2-1 Championship defeat to Dergview) was a disappointing result, but that’s one way to answer back, bouncing back with a really convincing performance.”