Carrick have nothing to lose in play-off: Currie
Championship play-off: Carrick Rangers 2 Portadown 0
Niall Currie claimed that his Carrick Rangers team have 'nothing to lose' after they put themselves within reach of promotion to the Premiership.
A hard-fought 2-0 victory over Portadown in the Bluefin Sport Championship pre-play-off means Carrick now face Ards in a two-legged battle for the right to face the big boys in the top flight next season.
After a tight and tense first half, in which both teams hit the woodwork, Carrick edged in front thanks to an unfortunate own goal by Ports defender Adam McCallum 15 minutes from time before Stewart Nixon wrapped things up in injury-time.
"I have said all along that we have absolutely nothing to lose. We are telling the players to play with freedom," said Currie, who managed both Ards and Portadown in the past.
"There's no pressure on us. We will go relaxed and we'll give it a go."
In a whirlwind opening, both teams came within a whisker of taking an early lead. Gerard Kelly hit a stunning shot from 25 yards which looked destined for the top corner only for it to rise late and rattle the angle of the crossbar and post.
The travelling Ports fans behind the goal then looked on as Chris Lavery met the ball after Aaron Hogg had punched out a free-kick, but he fired his shot inches wide.
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Portadown were then frustrated by the woodwork in first-half injury-time when Ryan Carmichael hooked the ball on from Sean Mackle's cross and Kevin Braniff headed against the post from just a yard out.
The Ports had the ball in the net early in the second half, but the whistle had gone before it was headed in.
With the tension rising as the game entered the latter stages, Carrick snatched the lead when Reece Neale sent a cross fizzing across the six-yard box and with substitute Lukasz Adamczyk putting him under pressure, the ball hit McCallum's body and flew past goalkeeper Declan Dunne.
The Ports threw three strikers onto the pitch in search of an equaliser, with Aaron Duke, Jamie Douglas and Adam Salley all coming on, but it was Carrick who broke through Nixon in the 92nd minute. He went one-on-one with Dunne after beating the offside trap and slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
CARRICK RANGERS: Hogg, Chapman, Surgenor, Rodgers, Loughran, Neale, McMillen (Adamczyk 69mins), Anderson, Kelly, Nixon, Smith (Strain 85 mins). Subs: McNeill, McDermott, Coyle, McCauley Gage.
PORTADOWN: Dunne, Hall, McCallum, Finnegan, Thompson, Bradley (Duke 77 mins), Wilson, Mackle (Douglas 84 mins), Carmichael (Salley 85 mins), Braniff, Lavery. Subs: Murphy, Carson, Larkin, Kilmartin.
Referee: Declan Hassan
In the Championship/Premier Intermediate League play-off first leg, PSNI beat Annagh United 4-1.