Report: Carrick Rangers 1-2 Ballinamallard United
Friday night football. A new age which provokes unanimous uproar amongst avid match-goers across England’s elite leagues. Regular ticket holders are deprived of the pre-match real ale pub ritual, pressured into finding nearby accommodation and left exploring life’s true meaning as their Saturday 3pm slot is replaced with a mindless soap omnibus. All in the name of broadcasters raking in the profits from television rights. This is far from the case in the Irish Premiership however, as Carrick Rangers welcomed Ballinamallard United in not only a Friday night bottom-of-the-table clash, but a Friday the 13th bottom-of-the-table clash. Our luck was in.
Coastal winds whistled around Taylor’s Avenue, chapping the skin of those courageous enough to brave the sub-zero Carrickfergus conditions. The Ballinamallard players posed resolute and ready for the task at hand, although this was somewhat disrupted by one or two losing their footing on the perilous path leading to the changing rooms. The health and safety steward subsequently strode into action, ensuring that the black ice was gritted prior to the arrival of the home side. An amusing hiccup or pre-match mind games? We’ll never know.
The match kicked off with Carrick Rangers granting league debuts to three new January signings, one of which a section of fans resorted to christening “Number 35”. This was due to the restricted readings on the anticipated team sheets, as the ground’s printer found inside the medical hut, had been diagnosed with a frozen ink cartridge.
Ballinamallard knew that a win against their relegation rivals would allow them to put the champagne on ice, or indeed whatever liquor they may see fit to celebrate the survival of their first season at the pinnacle of Northern Irish club football.
Josh McIlwaine was instantly presented with a golden opportunity ten yards from the Carrick goal, which he thumped past the helpless keeper. Within a matter of minutes, Carrick manager Aaron Callaghan’s plans were demolished, and he was prompt to express his anguish towards the players whose previous performance he labelled as “shocking and embarrassing”. Callaghan was by no means citing literature from the top of his livid lungs, but pathetic fallacy soon reflected the manager’s past comments, as the heavens rumbled and Carrick’s survival zeal seemed to be on its last breath.
There appeared to be a strict correlation between the growing frustration amidst the Carrick camp and the pressure forced upon the referee regarding every debatable, and even not so debatable, decision which was to be made. Thick skin is a trait which every official within the Irish Premiership has in abundance, but if not initially, it would soon be acquired by the hail which began to pepper the freezing faces of those in attendance. If only the Carrick possession could do likewise upon the Ballinamallard box, as the home side’s dominance sporadically presented problems in front of the away goal.
Carrick’s lack of attacking penetration was soon punished. With fifteen minutes remaining, Josh McIlwaine was gifted his second goal of the evening. A poor defensive clearance fell kindly to the Ballinamallard striker who once again made no mistake from close range, ensuring an eight point gap between the sides languishing at the wrong end of the league table.
In a desperate display to savour something from the clash, Carrick pulled one back after a miss-hit shot ricocheted off Ryan Morris in the Ballinamallard backline and into his own goal. This was to be all the luck Carrick could cluster however as the final whistle confirmed what felt a fateful Friday the 13th defeat.