Belfast Telegraph

Surgenor is eager to reel in Mallards and force the Ports closer to relegation

By Alex Mills

Carrick Rangers defender Mark Surgenor has labelled today's clash with struggling Portadown as a must-win.

Carrick approach the basement battle with an 11-point safety cushion - and victory would all but squeeze Niall Currie's troops through the relegation trap door.

Having been handicapped since day one - the Ports were deducted 15 points because of irregular payments and registration issues - it's been all downhill for a team that was, at one time, the pride of Mid Ulster.

When long-serving Ronnie McFall walked away after almost 30 years in the hotseat just over 12 months ago, Pat McGibbon and Vinny Arkins tried but failed to stop the demise.

As the Ports slipped further and further towards the NIFL Championship, Currie was lured in a desperate attempt to retrieve the situation. The reality is that the damage was already done.

Defeat at the Loughshore Hotel Arena today will almost certainly seal the deal and end their top-flight status.

"It's a massive game for both clubs," said Surgenor. "There is a lot at stake, but I'm sure Portadown know defeat would probably be the end for them.

"We have the 11-point cushion, which takes a bit of pressure off. But make no mistake about it, we'll be going to win the game."

Rangers are also 11 points adrift of 10th-placed Ballinamallard United, but Surgenor insists his team are determined to battle their way out of the relegation play-off place.

"I still believe we can reel in Ballinamallard," he said. "We have Portadown and then Glentoran before the split. We look at both as being winnable.

"And, when the bottom teams meet for the final five matches, we have to be confident of picking up points there. They are teams in and around us in the table - they have all struggled just like ourselves."

Surgenor knows what is required to achieve the great escape following Carrick's astonishing last day, last minute reprieve at the end of last season.

With the clock ticking down in their final match against Ballinamallard - and trailing to an Ivan Sproule goal - they were destined for the drop until Surgenor popped in an equaliser in the 90th minute.

That hauled them off bottom place into the play-off position. Miguel Chines then struck a sensational winner with a spectacular scissor kick to win it, moving Carrick into 10th place.

It meant Warrenpoint Town were relegated and Ballinamallard were pulled into the promotion/relegation play-off with Institute.

"That was probably my happiest day in football," recalled Surgenor. "It was better than winning a cup, but I couldn't go through that again. We know victory over the Ports would edge us 14 points clear of them - and hopefully a little bit closer to Ballinamallard."

With Aaron Callaghan at the helm, Surgenor reckons he is the right man to steer the Carrick ship through the final stormy waters of the campaign.

"Aaron works really hard and he has tried his best to get us to gel," he added. "Earlier in the season we were all over the place - we were like 15 strangers. We were totally disjointed.

"The gaffer freshened things up during the January transfer window. With so many changes, it's difficult achieve the togetherness we had in the dressing room last season.

"That may be missing a bit this time, but everyone is pulling in the one direction. We not only want to get the points to keep us in the division, but we also want to steer clear of the relegation play-off."

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