Carrick Rangers and Ards braced for tense play-off night

Although his team’s Danke Bank Premiership survival is hanging by a threat, Ards boss Warren Feeney believes they can beat the drop by defeating Carrick Rangers in tonight’s ‘winner-takes-all’ showdown at the Bangor Fuels Arena.

Carrick's Michael Smith pictured after scoring what turned out to be the winner in the first leg. Picture By:  Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Carrick's Michael Smith pictured after scoring what turned out to be the winner in the first leg. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Niall Currie’s Rangers go into the game protecting a slender one goal advantage, courtesy of Michael Smith’s goal in Friday night’s NIFL promotion/relegation first-leg at the Loughshore Hotel Arena.

Feeney’s team, however, not only missed a series of gilt-edged chances, but came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Aaron Hogg, who produced a number of wonderful saves.

The former Northern Ireland striker is confident his team can repair the damage in front of home fans.

“I was really disappointed with the chances we missed on Friday, we could have been two or three up in the first half,” insisted Feeney. “It was one of those nights the ball wouldn’t go into the net for us. In saying that, Carrick is a difficult venue to visit.

“Darren Henderson hit one right at the end, which I thought was going into the net, instead it went wide – it was a big chance.

“Overall, we had enough chances to win the game, so I’m confident we can do it this time – I’m confident going into every game. On the negative side, was disappointed to concede from a set play, which we worked on.

“But I can’t fault the boys for their efforts. We can turn it around, there is no question about that. I’m confident going into every game.

“If we give it our best and, with a good Ards crowd behind us, hopefully we can make it, although we know it will be a difficult game.

“Carrick have the advantage, but we are confident in our own ability.”

Feeney insisted the performance of Hogg was the difference between the sides on Friday.

“I congratulated big Hoggie on his performance after the game . . . he was magnificent and he was the difference between the teams,” added Feeney.

“We created enough chances to win two games . . . we played all the football especially in the second half. We’ll get the boys dusted down and get them ready to go again.

“Yes, I was disappointed with the result, but I really couldn’t fault their effort and commitment. I’ve no doubt we can turn the tables when Carrick come to Bangor on Monday night.”

Although the pendulum now swings in favour of Carrick Rangers, manager Niall Currie insists his team will be vastly under strength as Craig McMillan, Caolan Loughran and Ashton McDermott all hobbled out of Friday’s clash because of injury.

“The boys were dropping like flies,” he added. “We are really now down to the bare bones.

“Losing Craig was a massive blow, because he is key in how we play. He’s had an on-going problem with the back of his hamstring. We had to change shape after losing him.

“We then lost Caolan, which was another huge blow...his ankle is up like a bap. We then made our final substitution with 25 minutes to go before losing McDermott with an ankle problem.

“He simply hobbled about for the last 20 minutes or so. The boys deserve massive credit for seeing the game out.

“We’ll have a head count ahead of the return leg...we’ll see who available. It’s not ideal, but we are just over the moon to be in this situation in terms of the play-off because I didn’t think we would be near it earlier in the season.”