Carrick Rangers and Bangor both remain in hunt for title glory after dramatic draw
Carrick Rangers 2 Bangor 2
On a day that could have been so decisive for the outcome of this season's Belfast Telegraph Championship One title race, the result ultimately proved inconclusive.
On the one hand, it is hard to escape the feeling that it was a point gained for Bangor and two dropped for Carrick Rangers, with the Seasiders' late fight-back to level the scores with two goals in the final five minutes.
Yet on the other, Carrick now know that the destination of this year's title is firmly in their hands. Win their last seven games and they will be champions. Get anywhere close to that, and they stand a great chance, with two games in hand over table-topping Bangor, who stand four points ahead of the Amber Army, but with arguably the trickier run-in.
So, it was no wonder that despite watching his side throw away a two-goal lead at the death, Carrick boss Gary Haveron still took some major positives.
"Of course I'm bitterly disappointed," he admitted, "but I am also upbeat about the weeks ahead. There is no need to hit the panic button - it's simple - if we win our games in hand, we go above Bangor.
"It feels like a defeat, and we deserved to win, but we will now pick ourselves up for the game at Larne on Tuesday (tomorrow night, 7.45pm).
"I went into the weekend believing we were the best team in the league. and now I believe it even more."
The managers of both sides readily conceded the blustery conditions played their part in this contest, and as such, neither of these title contenders appeared at their best in a cagey first half.
Quality chances were at a premium, with one of the few talking points of the opening 45 minutes an injury sustained by Carrick keeper as he dived in to push the ball away from the sliding Paul McDowell, but thankfully after a few minutes' treatment he was back on his feet again.
Prior to this, Carrick's Miguel Chines teed up his team-mate Ryan Arthur with a tempting corner, but the Carrick defender rose just a little too early to make a connection. Chines also swerved a 20-yard free kick just wide of the mark.
At the other end, Bangor's Andy Hall wasn't quite so close with his 30-yard set-piece attempt, as Neeson simply watched it whizz off-target. The Seasiders got another opportunity from a Hall free kick in the 37th minute, and although it looked to be heading straight to Jordan Forsythe in the box, Aaron Harmon did well to rise and intercept with a header of us his chance.
Five minutes later, the chance of the half fell to Chines, courtesy of a well-judged through-ball from Ben Roy, but Simon Steele used his reach after closing down the forward to ensure his lobbed effort didn't get past him.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, another goalkeeping incident caught the eye - this time, Bangor's Simon Steele clattered into Ben Roy after charging off his line in attempt to cut out the danger from an incisive Conor McCloskey pass. A number of Carrick players and supporters questioned referee Steven Taylor's decision to show Steele a yellow card rather than a red.
Overall, it had been a frustrating encounter, and needed something special to bring it to life. That moment arrived from the boot of Michael Chines in the 71st minute, as he guided a delightful 35-yard free kick from near the touchline over the helpless Steele.
Shortly after this, Steele was twice at full stretch to prevent Carrick from extending their lead; firstly from Kyle Cherry at the edge of the box, then stopping the goal-scorer from doubling his tally.
That only lasted so long, however. Chines really was a thorn in Bangor's side and was at his instinctive best on 83 minutes, to slot in from 10 yards after the keeper had parried out a previous strike from Cherry.
It looked like three points were heading the hosts' way, although Mark Cooling's 86th minute free kick through a crowded box and into the Carrick net, did put the matter into question again.
Chines' could have assuaged those doubts with a fine curling shot at the other end, seconds later, but it dipped just over the upright.
And so it was, that Forsythe smashed home the crucial equaliser in a goalmouth scramble from a 90th minute Cooling free kick. It was too late for Carrick to regain their advantage, though Steele tipped an injury time set-piece from McCloskey onto the crossbar to make sure of that.
Bangor manager Garth Scates stated: "I felt we deserved a point today. although Gary Haveron will probably say they were robbed. I would maybe say that too if I was in his position!
"But it was a great point for us. At 2-0, I thought 'that's it,' but we showed great determination and guts to get back into it."
Despite the prominence of these two sides, it is worth noting that we are not down to a straight two-horse race. Should either or both slip-up, second-placed Ards (who are a point off Bangor with an extra game played) and H&W Welders (six points behind the leaders with a game in hand) will be ready to pounce.
Brian Neeson: A brave and committed display. 8
Aaron Smyth: A reasonable effort. 6
Aaron Traynor: Composed in possession. 7
Ciaran Donaghy: Held his own. 7
Ryan Arthur: Unlucky not to have found the net. 7
Daniel Kelly: Won't be his best of the season. 6
Aaron Harmon: Good cover at set-pieces. 7
Kyle Cherry: Kept knocking at the door. 8
Miguel Chines: Easily the standout player. 9
Ben Roy: Good positioning, finishing could've been better. 7
Conor McCloskey: Showed glimpses of his class. 7
Nathan McConnell: On for Roy, 88
Adam Watson: Not used
Adam Dick: Not used
Jody Lynch: Not used
Anthony Lagan: Not used
Simon Steele: Made several crucial stops. 8
Andy Long: A battling display. 7
Kris Pike: Showed good ability to win back the ball. 8
Thomas Wray: Drifted in and out of the game. 6
Dean Youle: Assertive in the tackle. 7
Barry Walsh: A steady showing. 7
Andy Hall: Had his moments. 7
Mark Cooling: His set-pieces pulled Bangor back in. 8
Andy Morrow: Not among the chances. 6
Paul McDowell: Work-rate was high. 7
Jordan Forsythe: Started brightly, ended with the equaliser. 8
Ethan Boylan: On for McDowell, 78
Richard Gibson: On for Pike, 87
William McBurney: On for Hall, 72
Colin Nixon: Not used
Darren Gibbons: Not used
MAN OF THE MATCH: Miguel Chines (Bangor). An easy choice. Oozed class with every touch, and deserved his brace.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Between two. Miguel Chines' opener sparked the game into life, but Jordan Forsythe's equaliser sealed a dramatic comeback.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Simon Steele's vital tip onto the bar from Conor McCloskey in injury time.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Carrick must wonder how they let Bangor back into this one.
Belfast Telegraph Digital