Belfast Telegraph

Ards aren't down and out just yet, says defiant boss Feeney

Carrick Rgrs 1 Ards 0

Pressure on: Craig McClean tracks Carrick’s Stewart Nixon as he keeps the ball under control
Pressure on: Craig McClean tracks Carrick’s Stewart Nixon as he keeps the ball under control

By Alex Mills

Ards boss Warren Feeney last night warned not to write his team off even though their stay in the Danske Bank Premiership hangs by a thread.

Michael Smith's early goal settled this NIFL promotion/relegation play-off at the Loughshore Hotel Arena, giving Carrick Rangers the slender advantage ahead of Monday night's second leg at the Bangor Fuels Arena.

It certainly wasn't a game for the football purist - it was littered with late tackles and mistimed passes. There was precious little skill on view.

Even though his team are now staring down the barrel of relegation, Feeney believes his boys can turn it around when the teams reconvene.

"Don't write us off just yet," he said. "There was a lot at stake, and it made for an untidy game, played on a bumpy pitch.

"To be honest, we created enough chances to get something from the game, especially in the second half.

"But we've still got the chance to repair the damage.

"I'm confident the boys can put in a better performance to turn it around."

It was the Premiership team that almost forged a breakthrough on two minutes when Gareth Tommons' scuffed shot fell invitingly for Michael McLellan but, just as he was about to pull the trigger, defender Chris Rodgers produced a brilliant block. But it was the home fans who were celebrating on 11 minutes.

In Carrick's first meaningful raid, young full-back Reece Neale whipped in a corner-kick from the right that was met at the near post by Smith and a quick flick of the head did the rest.

Ards responded in a positive manner. McLellan displayed great tenacity and clever feet to trick his way past full-back Caolin Coyle and his low drive appeared to be destined for the bottom corner until lanky goalkeeper Aaron Hogg got a finger-tip to the effort to divert clear.

Rangers boss Niall Currie's plans were then thrown into disarray after he lost Craig McMillan and influential defender Caolan Loughran to injury.

Despite the setback, midfielder Lloyd Anderson surged forward 10 minutes before the break and tried his luck with a low 25-yard drive that stung the hands of Sam Johnston.

The visitors should have been level three minutes later. McLellan lofted a delicious pass into the feet of Kyle Cherry and, after holding off the challenge of Michael Surgenor, his rasping drive from the edge of the box brought a wonderful response from Hogg, his strong hand managing to beat away the effort.

But the action quickly switched to the other end of the pitch with Smith charging into the heart of the Ards defence only to see his shot flipped over the top by the alert Johnston.

Ards threatened again 10 minutes after the restart. Josh Kelly's long throw-in caused mayhem in the home defence which resulted in Cherry's header being flicked on by McLellan, but Hogg again got down to save at the base of the post.

Rangers then had loud appeals for a penalty when the lively Stewart Nixon went down under a challenge from Damien McNulty, but referee Tony Clarke wasn't interested.

Hogg came to his team's rescue once again on 62 minutes. Eoghan McCawl broke through the middle only for his shot to deflect into the path of substitute Mark Kelly, but the big keeper produced another wonder save.

Substitute Darren Henderson then missed the chance of pulling his team level when he shamefully shot wide of the post following a clever cut-back from Mark Kelly - the former Coleraine man just held his head in disbelief.

CARRICK RANGES: Hogg, Coyle, Neale, Surgenor, Rodgers, Loughran (McDermott 34), McMillan (Adamczyk), Anderson, Kelly, Nixon, Smith (Strain 70).

Unused subs: Malcolmson, Strain, McNeill, McCauley, Gage.

ARDS: Johnston, Kerr, McAllister (Henderson 69), Taylor, Cherry (Nelson 73), McLellan (Kelly 53), Kelly, Tommons, McClean, McCawl, McNulty.

Unused subs: Davidson, Byers, McAleenan, Shearer.

Referee: Tony Clarke.

Man of the match: Aaron Hogg

Match rating: 5/10.

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