Watching Carrick Rangers is like eating a box of chocolates without the helpful guide – you don’t really know what you will get.
An inconsistent month for the County Antrim side, but another few small steps taken towards securing a top-flight place next season.
A cruise for the Crues
Carrick Rangers 1-5 Crusaders
February opened with a home Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup tie with Crusaders. Carrick Rangers had struggled in previous cup competitions this season, but even so the manner of this exit from the most prestigious one was a huge disappointment.
The Crues cruised to a comfortable win, as an unusually frail-looking defence failed to cope with the visitors’ direct play. Lee Chapman’s goal, after Crusaders had taken a 2-0 lead, was just a consolation as Rangers conceded another three goals.
Man advantage squandered
Cliftonville 3-1 Carrick Rangers
This was a re-arranged Danske Bank Premiership midweek fixture, the original having been postponed due to the sudden death of Rangers’ left-back Jerry Thompson in December.
The home side took an early lead through Conor McMenamin, as Carrick struggled to get a foothold on the game. The dismissal of Reds’ Liam Bagnall should have evened things up, but even with the depleted numbers, Cliftonville continued to press. It was no surprise when McMenamin doubled the score.
With the game seemingly lost, a combination of Carrick raising their efforts and the home side electing to defend the lead with 10 men gave Rangers a glimmer of hope as substitute Micheal Smith pulled a goal back. This spurred Carrick on, and only a world-class save by Richard Brush from a point-blank Chris Rodgers header kept Rangers at bay. With the visitors pushing men forward in search of an equaliser, McMenamin found himself at the end of a swift counter-attack to complete his hat-trick.
The Cherry on the cake
Ballymena United 0-2 Carrick Rangers
Played in appalling weather conditions, Rangers completed their second league away victory over Ballymena this season. Playing into a gale in the first half, the Rangers defence stood up to an aerial bombardment from the hosts. Carrick ‘keeper Harry Doherty had to be extra vigilant as the wind played havoc with the trajectory of the ball. Rangers played a clever game, though, counter-attacking when possible and keeping the ball on the deck. From such a move, Darren Murray delivered a peach of a cross from the right wing which Kyle Cherry majestically headed home.
With the storm-force wind now at their backs, acting as an extra defender, Rangers controlled the second half. The home side failed to cope with the gale, their long balls out of defence simply blowing back at them. Carrick, however, capitalised on the natural advantage and put the game to bed when Daniel Kelly scored with a back-post header.
Glentoran 0-0 Carrick Rangers
Title-hunting Glentoran were unable to break down a resolute Carrick defence in the first half. Rangers’ centre backs stood strong, and Doherty provided expert goalkeeping when tested.
The second half was a more even affair, with the Glens unable to break through the Carrick defence. The visitors grew in confidence and began to enjoy a little more possession. Both ‘keepers made a couple of good saves to keep the game scoreless as the match entered stoppage time. With the referee about to blow for time, Rangers’ loanee Daniel Reynolds collected a Reece Neale ball played over a static defence, but hit the post from a narrow angle after rounding the ‘keeper.
Man disadvantage too much to overcome
Carrick Rangers 1-2 Dungannon Swifts
This was a match that ebbed and flowed throughout. Dungannon took the lead early in the first half, but in all honesty, could have been two or three up before scoring the opener. Rangers struggled to cope with the pace and movement of the Swifts’ forward line and were fortunate to only be a goal behind at the break.
That luck ended within seconds of the restart when a rash, needless foul on the halfway line by Rodgers earned him a second yellow card. Not long after, the visitors doubled their lead and the game appeared over as a contest. However, the home side rolled up their sleeves and put in a terrific final thirty minutes. Caolan Loughran dispatched a penalty with just under twenty minutes to go, and it took two great saves by the Swifts’ goalkeeper to prevent Rangers taking a share of the spoils.
March sees the conclusion of the pre-split league fixtures. Despite the loss to relegation rivals Dungannon, it looks like Carrick need just a few more points to retain their place in the Premiership.