Ards knock Bangor off the peak after a crazy week in the Championship
Bangor 1 Larne 1
When Bangor and Carrick Rangers fans awoke on Tuesday morning they must have thought April Fools' had come a day early.
A crazy week of Championship football started on Monday night when both clubs put out a statement announcing the departures of their respective managers. On the face of things, it seemed to be an incredible decision. Bangor boss Garth Scates and Gary Haveron are two of the most talented and well respected young managers in the Irish League.
Scates took Bangor to their first senior cup final in over a decade, while Haveron won the Steel & Sons Cup for Carrick on Christmas morning. In the league, both teams still have a realistic chance of winning the Belfast Telegraph Championship One title and promotion to the promised land of the Premiership.
However, both clubs had to take drastic action if they wanted to play in the top tier next year. For a club to gain promotion, they must be awarded a Championship Licence, and to gain a Championship Licence, your manager must acquire a UEFA B coaching licence. As neither Haveron nor Scates have completed their B licence, both stepped down the day before the club submitted their licence application. Bangor are now managed by well respected coach Jeff Montgomery, with Scates remaining on the club's playing staff. Carrick's new boss is experienced player Glenn Taggart, with Haveron now on the coaching staff.
Whether or not the IFA Licencing Department are satisfied with this chain of events remains to be seen. Section 8.05 of the Club Licensing Manuel does give them the right to investigate managerial appointments. It states, "The Licensing Committee reserves the right to investigate any short-term managerial appointment which could be viewed as being made only for the explicit purpose of circumventing licensing regulations." With the applications now in, we will have to wait until on April 24 to discover which Championship clubs will be awarded a licence.
With so much going on behind the scences, it's easy to forget that we have a thrilling title battle on our hands. With just three weeks of football left to be played, just one point separates the top three of Ards, Carrick Rangers and Bangor.
On Tuesday, Taggart claimed the first win of his managerial career with a 2-1 win over Larne at Inver Park, thanks to a late winner from Adam Dick. Carrick won their second East Antrim derby in five days when they defeated Ballyclare Comrades 2-0 at Dixon Park, thanks to an early goal from Aaron Harmon and a late own goal from Chris Getty.
Jeff Montgomery's tenure as Bangor boss didn't get off to the dream start. The Seasiders were held to a 1-1 draw by Larne at the Bangor Fuels Arena on Saturday.
Larne broke the deadlock in the 41st minute, when Gerald Gillan was fouled 10 yards inside the Bangor half. He took the free kick himself to send the ball into the area, where Larne skipper Paul Maguire cleverly chested the ball down before swivelling to slam home from 10 yards.
Bangor scored the vital equaliser on the hour mark. Ethan Boylan and Mark Cooling combined to supply Hall, who made no mistake as he found the net from close range.
Montgomery said: "We're very disappointed in the result, it's another game that we've went behind in. Although in this game, I thought we were well on top. We created a number of good chances, we hit the woodwork and their keeper made a couple of good saves. When you miss chances it can come back to bite you."
Elsewhere, Ards climbed to the top of the table for the first time this season with a narrow 2-1 win over Donegal Celtic. It looked like Niall Currie's men would have to settle for a draw after Denver Gage and Dan Smith exchanged first half goals, but then came the 92nd minute winner from Gary Warwick. The Red & Blues are unbeaten in 14 games.
Ards and Carrick are now level at the top of the table on 49 points, although Carrick have five games to play while Ards have just three. Bangor may have slipped into third, but they are just one point behind the top two, with four games left to play.
With three weeks left in the league season, there are likely to be a few more twists in the tale. When it comes to the Belfast Telegraph Championship, you can't be certain of anything.