After a match-packed February, March provided a paucity of games and dearth of points for Carrick Rangers. Just three games during the month, all lost, but against teams at the business end of the table.
First up was a visit to the National Stadium, where soon-to-be-deposed Champions Linfield toiled to a 2-0 win. Carrick rarely threatened, but were well drilled defensively. No gain, but no shame for Rangers.
A resurgent Cliftonville team visited the Belfast Loughshore Arena in great form, having recorded two recent wins over their fierce rivals Crusaders: once in the league and then in the Irish Cup. A dour ninety minutes, played in a howling wind-chill laden gale, Cliftonville took the lead in the first half and held out after the break as Carrick pressed with the wind at their backs. A late, nasty leg injury to ‘keeper Harry Doherty, which resulted in him being stretchered off, took the shine off an otherwise very decent, but ultimately pointless team performance.
The month, and pre-split fixtures, concluded with the journey to the North Coast to take on Title challengers Coleraine. Doherty was, unexpectedly, in the starting lineup, and was regularly called upon as he produced a string of fine saves throughout the game. Rangers took the lead late in the first half when Darren Henderson intercepted a miss-hit backpass and slotted the ball home, giving Carrick a lead they held onto at the interval. The “don’t concede early after the re-start” plan ended after sixty seconds, and two further goals put Coleraine firmly in the driving seat. A late Michael Smith pile-driver had home fans’ nerves jangling, but the Bannsiders held on to secure three valuable points.
March may have been a lean month for points, but the performances against some of the top teams in the Premiership provides a glimmer of hope as Rangers enter the post-split set of five fixtures that will determine which Division they will play in next season.
Get strapped in for the April rollercoaster!