Substitute Josh McIlwaine rescued Ballinamallard United’s league survival hopes by plundering a late equaliser in the basement battle against Carrick Rangers at the Loughshore Hotel Arena.
Gavin Dykes’ boys appeared to be heading for their 19th defeat of the Danske Bank Premiership campaign until McIlwaine’s late party piece.
It looked so good for the Mallards when skipper James McKenna shot them into a first half lead, but a quick double whammy after the break from Michael Smith and Denver Gage set up Rangers for three priceless points, but they failed to see it out.
The game wasn’t without incident as both managers, Davy McAlinden and Dykes, were dismissed during he break after an ugly brawl erupted as the teams left the pitch at half-time.
The game was untidy, error-riddled and certainly not easy on the eye.
It was the visitors who forged ahead on 31 minutes. Jonathan Leddy’s corner kick fell invitingly for Michael Smith’s whose low shot was saved by the feet of Harry Doherty, but McKenna pounced on the rebound to fire an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net.
His immediate reaction was to rush to the Carrick bench to seemingly gesture towards McAlinden.
Things erupted for all the wrong reasons when the players made to way to the dressing room at half-time when McAlinden appeared to reap a little bit of revenge on McKenna, which led to an ugly brawl.
When the dust settled, referee Steven Taylor dismissed McAlinden and Dykes.
Rangers were back on terms on 52 minutes. Substitute Andrew Mooney, introduced for the second half in place of Edger, crossed form the right for Smith to arrow his header past Brush.
But Rangers were not to be denied. Just on the hour, big Gage strolled forward to meet a McAllister corner kick and his powerful header fizzed into the net.
Battling United came storming back and levelled seven minutes before the final whistle. McKenna’s cross was squeezed home at the back post by substitute McIlwaine, who had just replaced Clarke.
CARRICK RANGERS: Dohery, Larmour, Edgar (Mooney 46), Gage, McNally, Chapman, Surgenor, Morrow, McAllister, Suarez (Roy 83), Smith.
Unused subs: McMullan, Maybin, Hassin.
BALLINAMALLARD UNITED: Brush, Britton (Burns 60), McLoughlin, O’Reilly, Smyth, McKenna, Leddy, Clarke (McIlwaine 76), Taheny, Armstrong (McGinty 68), Curran.
Unused subs: Martyn, McCartney.
REFEREE: Steven Taylor.