Veteran frontman Miguel Chines was the hero for Carrick Rangers as his stunning, last-gasp overhead kick kept Gary Haveron’s men in the Premiership.
Carrick left it mightily late to consolidate their place in the top-flight with Mark Surgenor’s 89th-minute header cancelling out Ivan Sproule’s first-half opener for Ballinamallard.
In the dying embers of the match the 36-year-old Portuguese striker produced the defining moment of magic, sending the Amber Army into raptures.
With just two points between the sides before kick-off this game had been billed as ‘Survival Saturday’, and it’s Haveron’s men who live to fight another day. Whitey Anderson’s Mallards now face a play-off against Institute.
Carrick finished the day in 10th place on 35 points. The Mallards collected 34 points and were second-bottom, pipping relegated Warrenpoint on goal difference.
For a long time it looked as though Sproule’s goal - his first for the County Fermanagh club - would send Carrick down with a whimper. And so fine were the margins before the weekend showdown that Haveron admitted after the game he would have quit the club had his men had failed to win.
“I’d have gone; 100 per cent I’d have gone,” he said.
“They talk about ‘Aguero time’ but we will never see that sort of finish happening again. With six minutes to go we’re out of the league.
“I did say to the boys at half-time that if we get one we will get two, but I didn’t think we would leave it as late as that!
“If you look at the goals and you break them down, they were quality.”
Asked if it feels better than last year’s treble winning season with Carrick, he added: “Yeah, all day long. We were written off early doors and nobody gave us a hope, and maybe rightfully so. We didn’t have much to work with - in fact we had virtually nothing to work with. We’ve ran our race and we’ve been good enough to stay in the Premier League. The result is justification for all the late goals we have conceded.”
Match-winning hero, Chines added: “I’ve never scored a more important goal and I don’t think I ever will. It seems like a dream to me! It’s never over until it’s over. As soon as Surgy equalised we knew there would be another chance.”
Surgenor, who came to Carrick from Ballymena in the summer, commented: “After I scored there was a real belief and they started to panic. Then Miguel pops up with an overhead kick. He has that quality. He’s a goalscorer and you always keep him on the pitch for that.
“It’s been a great season. It was topsy-turvy one. There have been highs and lows but it ended on a high and that’s the main thing.”
Mallards boss Anderson said he went through every emotion on the day: “I wasn’t happy with the way we capitulated in the last five minutes. It wasn’t good enough. People switched off, didn’t do their jobs and let’s just say they heard that and they know it now.”
The Mallards now face Institute on Friday at Drumahoe in the first leg of the play-off.
“There’s a lot to play for and we’ve a chance, so we have to take it. I genuinely don’t feel that group of players should be in the Championship. I feel they are a good enough group of players to keep us in the Premier League.
“But the table doesn’t lie. There have been things that have happened over the season, internally, which just didn’t help us. We ironed them out as best we could.
“Now we’ve got a serious second chance and I don’t think we’ll ever get a chance like it again. We’ve got to take it and we intend to take it,” Anderson added.