THE BRIDGE OF SIGH.. BUT FOR McCARTAN; Matty's fitness return lifts gloom of slump.
IT'S a season which will go down as a celebratory one for Banbridge Town but that's not how it feels at the minute.
After winning the Bob Radcliffe Cup on Boxing Day, Stuart King's side were expected to kick on for a proper push at promotion.
But that bid has stalled, strangled by five straight defeats and an inability to score goals.
They've registered just two in that frustrating downturn of form, both of which were consolations.
And, when you look at it, Town have won just 40 per cent of their games since that festive triumph compared to 55 per cent beforehand.
The analysis is starkest on the goals front where they had a pre-cup final goal difference of plus 20 but that's now been eaten away to nothing.
They were again on the wrong end of the result at the weekend as a 2-1 loss to Newington demoted King's men into the bottom half of the division for the first time this season.
One of the chinks of light to come from those 90 minutes at Solitude was the appearance of Matty McCartan, a Banbridge man to the core who has battled back after 15 months of heartwrenching injury woes.
And he told Match On Tuesday the good times will soon come rolling back to Crystal Park.
"We have too good a squad for it to continue like this," he insisted.
"Wee small things don't go for you when you're on a bad run and that's what we're finding.
"But everyone is working hard to get us out of it and I'm confident we will do so.
"We're struggling a bit in front of goal but we have the quality in attacking areas and boys who have scored plenty of goals so it will come again.
"One good result could change everything and that's what we're working hard to achieve."
Working hard is something McCartan knows all about, of course.
November 2017 was the last time the 29-yearold pulled on a Banbridge shirt before a torn adductor muscle in the groin left him as a frustrated onlooker.
He admitted: "Anyone who has been out injured for a long time will tell you it's not easy watching.
"It's been hard and at times you doubt whether you will make it back to playing. But you have to believe. It was great to get an hour on Saturday and it was a very difficult game, away to Newington is always tough.
"It's going to take a while to get my sharpness back but it was a nice feeling to be playing again.
"I'm trying to get as much game time as I can between now and the end of the season.
"And hopefully I will get a good pre-season under my belt and be raring to go for next season."
Next up for Town is an 18-mile trip to Holm Park to take on an Armagh City side battling to remain in the division.
The youthful City outfit have won only three times in the league so far - but that's just two fewer than Banbridge.
And McCartan has warned his team-mates to avoid the temptation to assume they'll be able to waltz in and leave with the points at the weekend.
He added: "It's a tough league and every game is tough in it, especially going away from home.
"Everyone is fighting for points at this stage of the season for various reasons so you can never expect an easy game.
"We will take a win any way we can get it at the minute so it doesn't matter how it comes from our perspective."
NO HAPPY NEW YEAR
Banbridge before the cup final (all comps): P: 18, W: 10, D: 3, L: 5, F: 44, A: 24 Banbridge after the cup final: P: 10, W: 4, D: 1, L: 5, F: 14, A: 14
SON IS SHINING Newington's Ethan Devine and Banbridge's Stephen Acheson. Inset, Town boss Stuart King
TON OF EFFORT Ethan Devine tries to cut out a pass from Kevin Anderson of Banbridge
AT A STRETCH Newington's Robert McVarnock in a battle with Town's Jack Clarke
BOUNCING BACK Banbridge Town's Matty McCartan has returned from 15 months out injured