Back in the big time, at the first time of asking, Carrick Rangers are already looking at being dragged into a relegation battle.

One win from their opening five Danske Bank Premiership games has them just above Warrenpoint and Institute in the early league table. Elimination from the Bet McLean League Cup at the hands of a team two divisions below them is hardly an ideal start to the season either.

However, there are signs of hope for the Amber Army.

The Currie Plan

Niall Currie moulded a successful Championship1 Team last year on four basic principles:

  • A back three, with captain Mark Surgenor calling the shots in terms of organising the team in different phases of play (he never shuts up!).
  • Wing-backs on both flanks who are encouraged to push forward at every opportunity.
  • A central midfield three that interchange between protecting the back line, and supporting a mobile front two.
  • Retaining possession whenever possible, looking for opportunities to attack.

The step up to the Premiership has not deterred him from these principles, despite the huge gap between the personnel he has available compared to his opponents. This is a brave stance to take, and this is why the supporters have some hope of avoiding the drop.

…and so it starts

In the opening game of the season, at Seaview, Carrick lost 3-0 to title-challenging Crusaders. On the face of it, it looks like a battering, but this was no backs-to-the-wall performance. There was never a chance that Rangers would have won in North Belfast, such is the gulf between the squads, but the display was a positive one. The Currie principles were deployed with some success at times: two golden goalscoring chances were created, but were cleared off the line.

Fellow East Antrim side Larne visited the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena the following week. A team that was mainly now full-time scored late in the game to win 2-1, after Caolan Loughran had equalised. As tight a game as the scoreline suggests, though overall the visitors just about deserved the win.

The first league points of the season were secured away from home. Institute, ground-sharing the Brandywell with Derry City, were put to the sword as James Ferrin and substitute Mark Kelly scored in a 2-0 win. Despite the match being played on an artificial pitch into a monstrous gale, Carrick played some good football, and were good value for the win.

Another tight game at Taylors Avenue ended in Cliftonville scoring the solitary goal of the game on the hour, countering quickly from a Carrick Rangers’ corner. The visitors then shut up shop, and the hosts, hampered by the loss of Eric Faulkner and Kyle Cherry to injury, could not find a way through a resolute defence.

They think it’s all over…

The Bet Mclean League cup tie at Bangor, who play in the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate League (two divisions below the Premiership), should have been a welcome distraction from the league campaign. It turned into something of a nightmare. Outplayed in the opening 90 minutes, Carrick somehow managed to take the game into extra-time. An own goal from a Michael Smith cross opened the scoring, and a late Mark Kelly left the teams tied at 2-2.

With the final whistle about to blow, Rangers were handed a numerical advantage, the officials spotting a flying elbow and dispatching a Bangor player to an early bath.

The underdogs, though, made light of their depleted personnel, cutting through the Carrick defence at will. They scored three times in the first half of extra-time to lead 5-2. A late scrambled goal by Lee Chapman was the most minuscule of consolation to the travelling support as a cup run ended before it could get started.

Another blank

The month ended with Ballymena visiting Carrickfergus. A game of few clear scoring chances saw the visitors taking the lead on the hour, but almost immediately had former Carrick player Johhny Addis red-carded for a lunging challenge on Chapman. This effectively ended the game as a spectacle. The Sky Blues tightened their defensive structure and were most effective in winding down the clock. Carrick appeared to find it harder to create chances against the ten men than they had against a full lineout.

I love it when a plan comes together

So, the month ended with a poor haul of points, but the performances in the league (I am blotting the cup aberration from my memory) have been promising. No hoof-ball, no packing of the defences, no panic. Currie knows that his principles are sound and have proven to work, up to a point. His masterplan has not delivered enough goals. Defences in the Premiership are a huge step up from what he faced last term. Some late additions to the squad, brought in before the transfer window closed, may prove to be the missing link.

Only time will tell.