Glenavon 0-1 Carrick Rangers: Tiarnan McNicholl goal sends Carrick to first League Cup final
A Tiarnan McNicholl solo effort 10 minutes from time secured a League Cup final place for Carrick Rangers with victory over Glenavon at Mourneview Park.
Carrick roared out the blocks right from the start when, in a quick break, McNicholl had a shot on goal only for his effort to be deflected wide by Caolan Marron.
It took Glenavon around a quarter-of-an-hour to settle in the game and when they did Kevin Braniff laid the ball off for Mark Sykes who, in turn, tried to find Eoin Bradley but the danger was snuffed out by Paddy McNally.
The visitors created the best opportunities of the scoreless first half-an-hour or so, although the closest they came to finding a way through was a T.J. Murray effort which he could only direct straight at 'keeper James Taylor.
At the other end, Andy Hall delivered a cross into the box in an attempt to find Joel Cooper but Carrick 'keeper Brian Neeson comfortably gathered the ball.
And Neeson was called into action again soon after to deal with a potentially difficult drive from Bradley.
But Carrick almost snatched the advantage a few minutes from the break when Daniel Kelly connected with a great pass from McNicholl only to send the ball just wide of an upright.
Glenavon had a chance of their own right on the half-time whistle after Braniff found Cooper with a cross field pass but Cooper could only send the ball the wrong side of the far post.
Gary Hamilton's side began the second period brightly, with an early chance coming when Sykes just failed to make contact with a Hall cross.
The Lurgan Blues continued to up the pressure with Cooper skewing the ball across the face of goal after connecting with a Bradley flick.
However, McNicholl caused concern at the other end with a powerful cross from the right which Taylor did well to push away before play switched again with Cooper again going close with a looping header.
Perhaps the chance of the game to date arrived moments later when a Martin Murray corner was nodded goalwards by McNally but, luckily for Glenavon, Andy McGrory was perfectly placed to clear off the line.
With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining Jamie Singleton almost found a way through for Glenavon only for Neeson to deny him with a superb fingertip save.
But, again, Carrick created a chance moments later through substitute Chris Morrow, only on the pitch a few moments, when he was denied by Taylor with literally his first touch.
Aaron Callaghan's side did take the lead with ten minutes remaining, however, when McNicholl cut a swathe through the Glenavon defence before slotting the ball beyond Taylor into the bottom corner.
Glenavon: Taylor, Lindsay, Marshall, Cooper, Bradley, Hall, Sykes, Marron, McGrory, Braniff, Singleton subs Neill (not used), O'Brien (replaced Bradley 83), Moorhouse (replaced Braniff 83), Martyn (replaced McGrory 83), Elebert (not used)
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Chapman, McCullough, Rice, Surgenor, McNally, Taggart, M. Murray, McNicholl, T.J.Murray, Kelly subs Morrow (replaced T.J. Murray 77), Lavery (replaced M. Murray 87), Hanley (not used), Wilson (not used), Foster (not used)
Referee: Steven Taylor
Taking final step will give our season a real lift - Andy Hall
By Graham Luney
Glenavon winger Andy Hall acknowledges that the stakes are high at Mourneview Park tonight (7.45pm) in the race to make the League Cup final.
Carrick Rangers, free from the pressures of their Danske Bank Premiership relegation fight, will provide the opposition and Gary Hamilton's side will need to earn a place in the decider against either Ballymena United or Coleraine.
The Lurgan Blues are confident they can make the final - and so they should be after ending Cliftonville's stranglehold on the trophy.
The Reds were chasing League Cup glory for the fifth year running but lost out 3-2 after extra-time in the quarter-finals.
Former Bangor favourite Hall, who netted in the 2-0 Irish Cup final win over Linfield in May, says the Glenavon players are desperate not to let this golden chance to make another major final slip through their grasp.
"It's a huge opportunity to get to a cup final and these opportunities don't come along often so we will be focused and determined to win the game," he said.
"Hopefully we will get the victory we need to make the final.
"A lot of players in our squad can remember two Irish Cup finals and many played in the last Irish Cup final.
"They've got a taste for winning silverware and the new lads who have come to the club will want to have that feeling.
"Losing a cup semi-final is a cruel way to go out - no one remembers the beaten semi-finalists.
"One team goes on to the final and the other goes out. We beat Crusaders 4-3 in a thrilling Irish Cup semi-final last season and winning is everything.
"Every team wants to win a trophy and if we could go on and win this one it would be a huge lift to the club and help us kick on the league and push up the table."
The visitors will also be highly motivated to win tonight's contest as the opportunity to win a first major prize is tantalisingly close.
But the Lurgan Blues have certainly had a little luck on their side - the luck of the draw that is with their cup battles all being played at Mourneview Park.
Tobermore United were put to the sword 5-0 in August, H&W Welders 4-2 in October and Cliftonville 3-2 after extra-time last month.
Now Carrick must avoid a Lurgan banana skin to make the decider.
"The draw has been kind to us in the sense that we have enjoyed home advantage for each round, that's the luck of the draw, but you still have to perform," said Hall, who joined Glenavon in May 2015.
Glenavon's two Irish Cup wins in three seasons, coupled with their league form which has seen Gary Hamilton's side slip to sixth in the Premiership table, has seen the 'cup team' tag thrown at the Mourneview men but Hall feels that judgment is harsh.
"The label of us being a cup team is a bit unfair," added Hall.
"We certainly aren't happy with our points tally and league position but I don't believe they merit our performances.
"I think last season we were able to win matches with similar performances but unfortunately we are drawing games we might have won in last season's campaign.
"To win two Irish Cups in three seasons is a remarkable achievement but this squad can do better than that and we want to improve our league form.
"I have never won the League Cup and it would be nice to add that to the collection as well as the league title.
"But you have to make the final first and we will not underestimate Carrick who held us 0-0 at their place in the league.
"I know that Carrick are fighting for league points but the pressure is off them in the cup semi-final and they will be very tough opponents. The league form is irrelevant."