Carrick Rangers

The well-worn phrase “concentrating on the league” best describes Carrick Rangers’ season so far. Two cup runs ended at the first time of asking. Bangor, who play in the Bluefin Sport Intermediate League (two tiers below the Premiership) turfed the club out of the Bet McLean League Cup last month. Within weeks Rangers were on the wrong end of another giant-killing act.

Not “Up for the Cup”

Bluefin Sport Championship side Harland & Wolff Welders visited the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena for a midweek Toals County Antrim Shield tie. Rangers fielded their two recent signings: Liam Hassin returned to the club after a spell at neighbours Larne, and Guillaume Keke was reunited with his former manager, Niall Currie, upon returning from a short spell in French football.

A full-strength team, however, failed to prevent the Welders from progressing into the second round of the Shield. A Michael Smith goal for Rangers was not enough to overcome a double from former Carrick loanee Jonathan Smith.

Hat-trick hero

The disappointment was, thankfully, short-lived. A trip to bottom club Warrenpoint Town in the Danske Bank Premiership was a decidedly one-sided affair. Stewart Nixon was the star performer, netting all the goals in a 3-0 win. This was the first top-flight hat-trick by a Carrick Rangers player since Paul Thompson’s treble in 1986 ensured a share of the points in a 4-4 draw at Ards. Most of the Carrick team were not even born then! More importantly this time, the victory opened up a six point gap between the two teams in the battle to avoid automatic relegation.

Next up was a Monday night game in front of the SKY Sports cameras, as Linfield came to Carrickfergus. The game was played in torrential downpour and strong wind. Both teams, however, put on a terrific show for the live and televised audience. Linfield scored with the last kick of the first half to break the stalemate- this was a body blow to the impressive home team who should really have been two goals to the good by this stage.

The second half was less frenetic as the Blues, buoyed by the lead, retained possession better than their hosts and eventually secured a 3-0 win, a scoreline that perhaps flattered the title challengers.

Interfering where it’s not wanted

The month’s fixtures ended in a controversial defeat at Dungannon Swifts. The home side scored twice in the opening half hour and looked to be in command. Right before half-time though, Rangers thought they had pulled a goal back, only to be denied that boost.

Reece Neale’s cross/shot from the left side of the penalty area drifted over the home keeper, clipped the crossbar and headed towards the right sideline. The referee acknowledged a raised flag for a Carrick player in an offside position, but chose to wave play on with the assistant then lowering his flag. A Dungannon defender collected the loose ball near the corner flag but then decided to stop playing. Lee Chapman pounced on the now unattended ball, the referee again waved play on, Chapman crossed and Nixon scored. The referee and his assistant both signalled that a goal had been scored and headed towards the halfway line.

The main official was then surrounded by the home team, who argued that they had stopped playing after seeing the initial raised flag. There had been no whistle, however, and the man in the middle had twice signalled play on. A subsequent conflab between the two officials concluded that the original offside decision should have been given, though it was clear to all that the player concerned was not interfering with play.

Aggrieved by this decision, a half-time team talk was not needed. A fired-up Rangers team pulled a goal back through Chapman two minutes after the restart and forged a handful of great goalscoring opportunities. An equaliser, or better, looked on the cards only for the Swift’s goalkeeper to pull off a terrific full-length save and his defenders block three other efforts with various parts of their anatomy.

A performance that deserved at least a share of the spoils.

Disappointing results in a couple of September’s games, perhaps, but overall league performances suggest that remaining in the top flight is a stronger possibility than most had predicted.