Carrick set for crunch clash against Ballymena as NCU Premier League survival bid continues

Carrick captain Iain Parkhill
Carrick captain Iain Parkhill

The NCU Premier League season may not even be halfway through but Carrickfergus captain Iain Parkhill is under no illusions – his team must beat Ballymena on Saturday or their survival hopes will be hanging by a thread.

After five matches, Parkhill’s men are still without a single league victory and defeat at Middle Road to one of their relegation rivals would leave them cut adrift at the bottom.

Some pundits expected Carrick to swim rather than sink on their return to the top flight, but Sunday’s four-wicket defeat to champions Instonians underlined the scale of the task facing any promoted club. Carrick played some fine cricket at Shaw’s Bridge but it still wasn’t good enough.

“We were absolutely gutted that we did not get anything on Sunday, we thought we deserved something out of that game,” said Parkhill. “A couple of things went against us and it’s a tough league. Now we have to pick ourselves and go again.”

A controversial umpiring decision against Jamie Holmes and then Carrick’s failure to catch Andrew White when Inst were still around 80 runs short of their 189-run target were the factors that Parkhill refers to.

But he is refusing to dwell on the negatives ahead of Ballymena’s visit. James Kennedy’s men would go eight points clear of Carrick if they win.

“Without a shadow of a doubt it’s a must-win,” said Parkhill. “We are going in with the attitude that we have to win the game. We have to relax and not feel sorry for ourselves. We had a good practice session on Tuesday night and we will be ready come Saturday.

“If we win it will kick-start our season. We wouldn’t want to lose because we’ve no game the following weekend and we wouldn’t want to go into that Twelfth period without having a win on the board.”

If Carrick are going to win they must solve their top-order batting ills. Holmes and Indrajeet Kamtekar were forced to repair the damage from another poor start on Saturday and too much pressure has been placed on the Kiwi and Indian professional.

On what promises to be a batting paradise, a repeat of the three early wickets that went down for less than 30 runs on Sunday is not something that Parkhill can contemplate.

The last time the clubs met at this ground was in 2012. Carrick batted first and piled up 347 for three but lost by one wicket with two balls to spare after James Kennedy struck a century.

“It will be another absolute smasher on Saturday,” Parkhill added. “The outfield is lightning and it should be a high-scoring game.”

The other relegation candidates, Lisburn, who are four points ahead of Carrick, have home advantage on Saturday with North Down the visitors to Wallace Park. The Comber men have beaten Lisburn twice this season.