Rovers Dispose of Champions to Reach FitzSimons Cup Final
Carrick Rovers AFC entertained newly crowned NEFL Division 2 Champions Rangers FC to the Ballybay Road on Sunday morning for a semi-final of the FitzSimons Cup. Rangers were coming into the game on the back of winning the League the previous week to gain promotion for the third season in a row and would have been confident of progressing to the Final at the South Monaghan side’s expense but the home side still had a lot to play for themselves with a promotion play-off game on the horizon, so this was always going to be a tight affair.
The opening encounters were strappy with neither side being able to play any fluent football with the County Louth outfit probably shading possession in the opening 20 minutes. Mickey McDermott in the Rovers goal was the busier of the two Keepers and had to be off his line smartly on a number of occasions to thwart the Rangers attackers. Niall Babington was drafted in to play alongside Stephen Carroll in the heart of the Carrick defence with Craig Fanning and Cian Matthews on either side of them. The Rovers midfield duo of Benny McSkane and Gerard McGeown had to really be alert at all times to deal with the clever movement of the Rangers forwards. Rangers came closest to opening the scoring in the 23rd minute when the ball broke kindly to one of their attackers from a terrific corner kick, but the striker was unable to hit the target. Rovers were living dangerously at this point with some very close off-side awards going their way. The home team had struggled to get any sustained period of possession together up until this point but managed to open the scoring in the 31st minute with their first real threatening attack. Matthews picked a ball up just inside his own half and threaded a ball down the inside channel to Wayne Kerley on the left of the area. Kerley slipped passed his marker before flashing the ball across the area where his brother Brendan was on hand to smash the ball high into the roof of the net.
Rovers could have doubled their lead within 2 minutes when a clever through ball from McSkane released Wayne in behind the Rangers defence with the Keeper racing of his line but Kerley’s clever lob dropped the wrong side of the upright. Rangers kept asking questions of the home defence but it was Rovers who should have extended their lead this time from a Kevin Lambe corner kick from the left which saw McGeown rise highest but his flicked header was just off target.
Half- Time: Carrick Rovers AFC 1 Rangers FC 0.
Rovers, although ahead had been second best in the first half and came out with a point to prove that they deserve to be playing at the same level as the County Louth counterparts. Ciaran Flanagan, who had to spend most of the opening period defending, began to get more of the ball at was able to run at the Rangers defence, causing them all sorts of problems. On the other flank Lambe was also becoming more involved and he almost fashioned a second goal for the hosts in the 58th minute when McSkane and Wayne Kerley combined to release Lambe on the right. The pacey winger raced to the by-line and flashed the ball across the Rangers 6 yard box but no Rovers player come add the finishing touch to the move. The game became scrappy again at this point with neither side dominating possession. McDermott had been relatively quiet in the second period but had to race of his line in the 63rd minute to clear the ball from danger. Niall Babington was a rock at the heart of the Rovers defence and marshalled his troops around him superbly. Rovers extended their lead in the 71th minute after good attacking work involving Fanning and Lambe lead to Rangers conceding a corner kick. Wayne Kerley whipped a dangerous ball into the danger area and Flanagan raced in ahead of the Rangers Keeper to glance home a magnificent headed goal. Rovers knew that this Rangers team would not drop their heads and they began to show why they are Champions of the Division. They began to force Rovers deeper and deeper and they should have reduced the arrears in the 75th minute when they exposed the Carrick defence on the right wing and the on-rushing striker could only flash his shot wide of the upright under pressure from both McDermott and Matthews. The pressure resulted in Rovers conceding a number of corner kicks and free-kicks in dangerous positions and in the 79th minute they got themselves back into the contest when Lambe could only divert a viscous near post delivery goal-wards and the ball squeezed over the line before McDermott could grasp it. Eamon Lynch replaced Lambe just after this to add some fresh legs to the Rovers attack. Rangers had their tails up at this stage and almost equalised 4 minutes later from another corner but this time the upright came to the rescue before McGeown hacked the ball clear. Paddy Larney replaced Flanagan with time running out and he had a great opportunity to seal the victory after great approach work involving Lynch and Wayne Kerley saw the ball drop at Larney’s feet some 15 yards out but his shot was blocked and cleared by the Rangers defence.
The game entered injury time and Rovers thought that they had done enough but with 3 minutes over time played they conceded another corner kick. Rangers threw everything at the delivery and the ball bobbled about the Carrick penalty area before somehow being forced over the line for a dramatic equaliser. This was virtually the last kick of the ball and forced the tie into extra-time.
Full Time Carrick Rovers AFC 2 Rangers FC 2.
Rovers although having lost a two goal lead still believed that they could overcome a now buoyant Rangers side. The first period of extra-time was a cagey affair with neither side creating a clear-cut opportunity. Barry McNally replaced an exhausted Carroll midway through the half and slotted in beside Babington at centre-half. The first period ended with no added scoring. Rovers seemed to get a second wind as they began to control the game from the restart and limited Rangers to only occasional adventures forward. The home team began to play the better football now and the telling moment came midway through the second period of added on time when McGeown won possession before finding McSkane halfway inside his own half. The midfielder lifted his head and found Larney on the right wing. Larney cut inside before threading a ball through the eye of a needle into Wayne Kerley’s path just outside the area. Kerley still had work to do but beat his marker with ease before slotting a ball across the on-rushing Keeper and into the opposite bottom corner. A goal to win any game. Rovers still had work to do and Shane McDaniel entered the contest for Brendan Kerley who had ran himself to a standstill. Rangers tried to press for an equaliser but Rovers weren’t going to be denied this time and saw it out until the final whistle to advance to the Final of the Final.
Full Time: Carrick Rovers AFC 3 Rangers FC 2 aet.