Irish Cup: Resurgent Rangers target Seaview shock

By Alvin McCaigBBC Sport NI
Former Glenavon and Ballymena forward James Costello bears down on goal for Rathfriland Rangers
Former Glenavon and Ballymena forward James Costello is now playing for his home town club Rathfriland Rangers

Rathfriland Rangers are a team on the rise.

Rock bottom strugglers a year ago, now title challengers with the chance to deliver a massive Irish Cup upset against Premiership champions Crusaders.

Clifford Sterritt has overseen a Rangers revolution during his 12 months in charge of the Amateur League club.

The former Loughgall striker arrived at Iveagh Park with Raithfriland firmly rooted to the Division 1A basement, while many players had departed with his predecessor.

A rebuilding job was required and Sterritt began by drafting in players from Orchard City, the junior club he previously managed in Newry.

Others returned to the Co Down outfit while Sterritt used his Irish League connections to bolster the squad.

They combined perfectly as Rathfriland finished the 2015 campaign in tied fifth and they are well placed for a title tilt this season.

Former Rangers and Linfield attacker Lee Feeney is player and assistant boss while striker James Costello is among a strong contingent with Irish League pedigree.

"I went into the club not knowing how bad a situation they were in," said Sterritt.

"I signed up to 14 players - they pulled us out of a bad situation and slowly but surely we climbed up the league.

"We got the team spirit going in the changing room but without James Costello we would have been relegated, he scored so many important goals."

Costello has formed a prolific strike partnership with Ally Wilson, who played alongside Sterritt when Loughgall graced the top flight a decade ago.

Rathfriland's progress was on show last weekend when Wilson bagged a double in a thumping 4-0 win over 1A pacesetters Abbey Villa in the Irish Cup fourth round.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter was among the big crowd in Bangor and knows Rathfriland will pose a threat to the Premiership leaders at Seaview.

A double celebration could be in store for Sterritt - overcoming the Crues on the day his fifth child is due to be born!

Lee Feeney is still playing at 37 and brings quality and experience to the Rangers team
Lee Feeney is still playing at 37 and brings quality and experience to the Rangers team

The fifth round encounter also provides added spice for Aaron Black, with the Rangers defender going up against his former club.

Crusaders could be vulnerable - defeated by Linfield on New Year's Day and memories still be fresh of a League Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Institute.

Sterritt has set out his master plan for the biggest game in the club's 54-year history.

"Crusaders are so experienced and they have quality throughout their squad with the likes of Owens, Heatley and Coates," he added.

"We're facing the Irish League champions so it's about sitting in for the first 20 minutes, hopefully getting the home crowd agitated and on the backs of their team.

"But we are not going to have all 11 men behind the ball - we're going there to gave a go.

"We have a great team from back to front, although we are very attacking which could leave us open on Saturday, so maybe we will have to change things a bit.

"There's a real buzz about the club and town while our supporters, who follow the team through thick and thin, deserve this big day out."

Tennents Irish Cup fifth round - Saturday 9 January
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