Carrick Rangers celebrate their play-off victory over Ards (©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton)
Monday, 06 May 2019
Carrick Rangers earned promotion to the Danske Bank Premiership following a play-off victory over Ards at the Bangor Fuels Arena, winning 3-1 on aggregate over the two legs.
It seals Carrick's place in the top flight after a season away but sends Ards back to the Championship after a three years spell in the Premiership.
Already a goal to the good after Friday's first leg, Carrick raced into the lead after just four minutes via Mark Surgenor's back post header after he rose highest to connect with Stewart Nixon's corner.
Ards thought they had levelled on the night just three minutes after that through Gareth Tommons' finish after Mark Kelly had touched the ball into his path but the 'goal' was ruled out offside.
With nerves on edge it was perhaps no surprise that the next effort of note didn't arrive until the 23rd minute when Nixon could only fire wide from the edge of the area.
And just after that Michael Smith was thwarted by a great one-handed save from Ards keeper Sam Johnston just as the ball looked destined for the top corner.
But Carrick did extend their lead just before the half-hour mark. Another corner arrived in the area with Chris Rodgers nodding it on for Ryan Strain to flick a header past Johnston into the bottom corner.
Now trailing by three goals, Ards needed to respond quickly and they duly pulled a goal back on 37 minutes courtesy of Johnny Taylor's glance into the bottom corner after David McAllister had delivered a free-kick to the near post.
Rangers almost restored their three-goal cushion just before half-time but Strain's curling set piece from just outside the box was superbly stopped by Johnston.
Ards were thrown a lifeline early in the second half when, just two minutes in, Carrick were reduced to ten men following Rodgers' dismissal for a tackle from behind on McAllister which warranted his second caution of the game.
Warren Feeney's side needed to make their numerical advantage count. McAllister fired over from the edge of the area, Kelly flicked a header a little too high while Darren Henderson saw one effort saved, another cleared by Surgenor followed by a low drive deflected to safety.
In the midst of those chances Carrick's Caolin Coyle almost found the net at the other end with an impressive run through the home defence before move ended with a shot wide of the target.
Henderson had one last chance to spark a dramatic grandstand finish when, four minutes from time, he found himself in space from a Kelly delivery but could only direct his header straight at Aaron Hogg.
Ards: Johnston, Kerr, Taylor, M. Kelly, D. McAllister, J. Kelly, Tommons, McClean, Nelson, Henderson, McNulty subs Davidson (not used), E. McAllister (replaced Nelson 57), Byers (not used), Cherry (replaced Tommons 35), McLellan (replaced Kerr 70), Shearer (not used), McCawl (not used)
Carrick Rangers: Hogg, Coyle, Neale, Surgenor, Rodgers, Chapman, Anderson, Kelly, Nixon, Strain, Smith subs McAuley (not used), Adamczyk (replaced Smith 70), Turk (not used), McNeill (replaced Chapman 50), McCauley (not used), Weir (not used), Gage (replaced Strain 89)
Referee: Evan Boyce