Niall Currie thrilled as Carrick Rangers clinch a top-flight return
Ards 1-2 Carrick Rgrs (Carrick won 3-1 on aggregate)
Niall Currie has guided Carrick Rangers to the Premiership at the expense of his old club Ards.
In 2016, Currie delivered top-flight football for Ards by landing the Championship title before leaving a few months later to join his hometown club Portadown.
Currie's stint at Shamrock Park didn't go to plan, but you can't keep a good man down. Three years later, he ended Ards' tenure in the top division with a 3-1 aggregate play-off win.
It is a remarkable achievement for Carrick, who won three play-off games in six days to make this promotion a reality.
Currie said: "It's an unreal achievement for me and my players. They have had to play three really difficult play-off games in six days and they have come through it so well.
"We had injuries and a red card tonight, but the players fought so hard. They wanted this promotion so badly and you could see that in their performance. I really can't praise them enough."
After a 1-0 defeat in the first leg, Ards made an utterly shambolic start to the return game and allowed Carrick to pen them into the penalty box for the first three minutes.
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That spell ended, almost inevitably, in a Carrick Rangers goal. A corner-kick from the left flank was thundered home by the head of Mark Surgenor at the back post. He simply wanted the ball more than anyone else.
Ards thought they had equalised in the seventh minute. A flick-on from a Gareth Tommons free-kick found Damien McNulty in a wide position and he headed it across goal for Johnny Taylor, who nodded in from close range. The home celebrations were cut short by a linesman's flag.
It was no surprise when Carrick made it 2-0 on the night and 3-0 on aggregate. Again, Ards completely failed to defend a corner-kick, expertly delivered by Reece Neale. Ryan Strain (left) was on hand to head home from inside the six-yard box.
It was a sweet moment for Strain, who endured an unsuccessful loan stint at Ards in the first half of the season.
Ards boss Warren Feeney had to change things. Off came Tommons and on came Kyle Cherry.
Two minutes later, a Cherry free-kick was headed home at the near post by Taylor to reduce the arrears to 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. Was there some light for Ards?
At the start of the second half, there was more good news for Ards. Carrick centre-back Chris Rodgers received his second yellow two minutes into the new period when he clipped David McAllister on the edge of the 'D'.
This signalled something of an Ards onslaught, yet they never really looked like scoring.
In the 60th minute, a smart short corner gave Mark Kelly the chance to equalise on the night but he headed wide of the post.
Then it was Darren Henderson's turn. He produced a spectacular volley that forced Aaron Hogg into a smart save.
A minute later, the same man had an effort bravely blocked by Neale. Then, in the 64th minute, a low Eamon McAllister drive was well held by Hogg.
The best chance of the lot came in the 69th minute when a David McAllister cross gave Mark Kelly a chance to score, but he missed from four yards.
Carrick held on for a 2-1 win on the night and a 3-1 victory on aggregate. They will return to the Premiership at the first attempt, while Ards will sink into the Championship after three years in the top flight.
Ards: Johnston, Kerr (McLellan 70), Taylor, McNulty, McClean, J Kelly, Tommons (Cherry 35), Nelson (E McAllister 57), D McAllister, Henderson, M Kelly
Subs Not Used: Davidson, Byers, Shearer, McCawl.
Carrick Rangers: Hogg, Coyle, Surgenor, Rodgers, Neale, Chapman (McNeill 53), Anderson, Smith (Adamczyk 70), Nixon, Kelly, Strain.
Subs: McAuley, Turk, McCauley, Weir.
Referee: Evan Boyce