Just two games during March for Carrick Rangers, both in the Bluefin Sport Championship. Those matches, though, secured very valuable points as Rangers’ continued their charge for promotion.
First up was a trip to Portadown, who were sitting just below their visitors in the table at kick-off. Rangers took quite a while to come to terms with the strong wind that swept across Shamrock Park. The hosts adapted quicker, taking a two-goal lead into the final quarter of an hour. With the game seemingly lost, central defender Caolan Loughran continued with his recent goalscoring form by powering in a header in the 77th minute. This goal rocked the home defence, and with time almost up, Loughran was again in the right place to equalise with an identical headed goal. This was his third consecutive brace!
The following week, the Championship winners Larne came to town. They were given a guard of honour by the Carrick Rangers squad and a flag-waving cohort from the club’s youth teams, as they entered the pitch. The visitors created several good goalscoring chances early on in the game, all squandered before they conceded a penalty. Loughran stepped up to strike the ball home, his seventh goal in four matches! There were no more goals in an even contest, giving Rangers the honour of being the only team to beat the Champions twice this season. The three points also ensured that they ended the month five points ahead of third place, with just four games to go.
At this point, I think it is worth a quick look back to the opening two games of the league campaign. A 1-0 defeat at Harland & Wolff Waders was followed by a humiliating 5-0 thrashing at home to Dundela. Carrick were at the foot of the early table, and relegation was seen as a more likely conclusion to the season than a return to the top flight at the first time of asking. The turnaround, masterminded by Niall Currie, has been Lazarus-like, and it despite how the campaign ends, there is a sense of real optimism back at the club.
April will be the defining month for Carrick Rangers as they aim to secure a place in the one-off play-off. The highest placed team will have home advantage, with the winner facing the second-bottom team from the Danske Bank Premiership (likely to be Ards or Newry City) in a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off.