Carrick Rangers crowned kings of the Championship
It might not have provided a Michael Thomas or Chris Morgan moment, but Saturday’s finale was a fitting finish to a fascinating season at the top of Belfast Telegraph Championship One.
At the start of play, either one of Carrick Rangers or Bangor could win the division, while Ards still had an outside chance of leapfrogging the Seasiders and claiming a place in the play-offs.
Bangor started the day two points behind Carrick but with a superior goal difference. They kept the pressure on Rangers with a comfortable 3-0 win over Lisburn Distillery at New Grosvenor. Dean Youle opened the scoring in the first half with a rebound header. Mark Cooling’s initial 25-yard effort cannoned off the underside of the crossbar, allowing Youle to nod home. Andy Hall put the result beyond doubt just after the break before Jordan Forsythe completed the scoring.
Over at Taylor’s Avenue, things were rather more tense. When captain Aaron Harmon connected with a low cross in the 11th minute to give Carrick Rangers a 1-0 lead over already-relegated Dundela, most thought Glenn Taggart’s team were in for an easy day.
It didn’t pan out that way. The next 79 minutes of football were nervy, tense and occasionally unbearable for the Carrick support. The large home support knew a Dundela equaliser would gift the title and automatic promotion to Bangor, but Rangers held on for narrow win.
The club’s official manager Glenn Taggart was overjoyed after the game.
"It was a very nervy performance. I honestly thought if we got the early goal then we would be alright from there, but we were nervous, even after Aaron's goal.
"There were a few scary moments in the second half, but we held on to win the game and I think we deserved it.
"The league is won over 26 matches and I think we've shown that we're the best team in the league over the whole season.
"A lot of people were saying there is no way Carrick can win all their games in hand, but that's exactly what we did.
“The team spirit in the dressing room is something I’ve never experienced before. Gary Haveron deserves a lot of credit for putting together such a great squad.
“I’m confident this team can do well in the Premiership. In recent weeks, we’ve had to muck in, but we’re fully capable of playing great football as well.”
Bangor’s official manager Jeff Montgomery wasn’t downbeat after his team’s 3-0 win over Lisburn Distillery at New Grosvenor. Although the Seasiders didn’t win the league, they could still go up if they defeat Warrenpoint Town over two legs in this week’s play-off.
“Those three goals took us to 68 for the league season, which is a tremendous effort. We got an early goal but we had a chat at half time and told the lads not to sit back, but to keep pressing and keep on the pressure.”
Third-placed Ards needed to beat Ballyclare Comrades and hope Distillery would beat Bangor at New Grosvenor to claim a play-off place. It became obvious within the first 15 minutes that the Whites were never going to do Ards a favour, and as the results filtered through a flat, anti-climactic atmosphere descended upon the Bangor Fuels Arena.
Ards drew 1-1 with Ballyclare, as Stephen O’Neill and Andrew Doyle exchanged goals. Ards finished the season in third place after an unbeaten run of 17 games. Their tally of 56 points would have won the division in 2014 and been enough for second in each of the last four years. Next season, third place would set up a play-off with the team who finished second.
Manager Niall Currie said: "I'm angry with the players today because that was a very poor performance and not a great way to end the season but if I take a step back, then I'd have to say I'm very proud of our players. In another season, 56 points would have been enough to win the league.
"A 17-game unbeaten run is something we can be very proud of. We only lost two games all season. I’m not sure if I could have asked for any more than that.”
While the regular season may be over, there is no rest for Carrick Rangers and Bangor. Carrick face Harland & Wolff Welders in the Intermediate Cup final on Friday night, while the Seasiders play Warrenpoint Town in the play-off on Tuesday night. Ards are left to prepare for another season in the second tier.