Carrick and Ards able to draw comfort in battle for survival
Carrick Rangers 1-1 Ards
Both Carrick Rangers and Ards maintained their lead over basement club Portadown with a hard-fought 1-1 Boxing Day draw at the Belfast Loughshore Arena.
Daniel Kelly gave Carrick the lead in the 31st minute, only for Ards to equalise through captain Emmet Friars four minutes into the second half.
The draw leaves Ards 20 points clear and Carrick 10 ahead of the revitalised Ports.
Carrick boss Aaron Callaghan said: "It was a fair result. There was a strong wind blowing right down the middle of the pitch. We had that wind in the first half, and had the better of the game.
"They had it in the second half, and had more of the game. The wind played a big part.
"I think it was a good Carrick performance and I'm certainly not downbeat about the result.
"We will look to bring in players in January. We already have a couple of lads coming up from the south. There's a backseat free in that car that we would like to fill."
Colin Nixon remains unbeaten since replacing Niall Currie in the Ards dugout, earning two 1-1 draws to date. He commented: "I think we are unfortunate not to claim all three points. We worked very hard and were on top for most of the second half."
Carrick made the breakthrough in the 31st minute. Forward Kelly ran through the middle of the Ards defence, latching onto a smart pass from Tiernan McNicholl before slotting past Aaron Hogg.
Ards started the second half brightly, with a low half-volley from Stuart McMullan forcing Brian Neeson into a fine save, tipping the ball round the post.
The equaliser arrived in the 49th minute. Kyle Cherry's inch-perfect corner-kick was nodded home at the back post by captain Friars, with the ball clipping the inside of the post on the way in.
With the scores level, Ards looked the more likely to find a winner as Nixon's men struggled to create a clear-cut goalscoring opportunity.
Perhaps the best chance for a winner arrived four minutes from the final whistle when Ards' Joe McKinney flicked the ball into the path of Gary Liggett, but the former Dungannon Swifts striker blazed well over the crossbar.
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Foster, Surgenor, McNally, Kelly, McCullough, Morrow (Rice 72), McNicholl, Salley, M. Murray, Chapman.
Subs Not Used: Lavery, Hanley, Taggart, Waide
Ards: Hogg, Hall, McMullan, Friars, Ruddy; Cherry, McCullough; Tommons (Hughes 84), McAllister, McKinney; Keke (Liggett 74)
Unused Subs: Arthurs, Brennan, McComb.
Referee: Steven Gregg
Man of the match: Emmet Friars (Ards)
Match rating: 7/10