With the first match day of the new season of the new season over us, this is the first in a series of a team of the week articles over the season. Without any further ado, I’ll start at the back with the goalkeeper.
Harry Doherty had a solid game for Carrick Rangers on his competitive debut against reigning champions Linfield. Despite losing 2-0, Doherty acquitted himself well not having much of a chance of saving the two goals. He also made numerous saves to keep the score down, including saving a penalty taken by Jordan Stewart leading to him comfortably being Carrick’s best player on the day.
Best right back this week was Chris Casement, with what seems to be a lack of real stand out players at right back this week, Casement played his part in helping Linfield obtain the only clean sheet of the twelve teams with a steady defensive showing. He also offered himself as an option going forward and put some good crosses into the box from the right-hand side.
Our centre back pairing is made up of Mark Stafford and Colin Coates. Despite Linfield being largely comfortable in their victory over Carrick, Stafford made two great challenges in the first half to deny the away side any opportunity to get themselves back into the match. Coates, however, who missed a significant portion of last season will have been warmly welcomed back as he offers Crusaders an invaluable presence at the heart of their defence, although is on this team more so because of what he offered going forward this week. His long free kick eventually leads to the equaliser as Ballymena were unable to deal with it before the ball fell at the feet of Paul Heatley to finish. He also secured the victory for the team from the Shore Road as he finished from Jordan Owens header back across goal from a Heatley corner.
Niall Quinn makes the team at left back this week. As well as being mostly solid defensively apart from one error in the second half along with a missed clearance from Josh Robinson lead to Carrick having a golden chance to get back into the match, but it was scuffed into the ground and wide. Quinn’s best abilities, however, lie in going forward as he demonstrated on Saturday with a goal and an assist to his name as he linked up well with Jordan Stewart down Linfield’s left side causing real problems for Rangers.
Moving on to midfield we are started off by Jonny Frazer who would have delighted Ards boss Colin Nixon as he finished his debut with 2 goals. He gave the North Down side an early lead at Solitude before Cliftonville started to show their class to eventually win 6-3 with Frazer finishing the scoring with a consolation goal for the away side.
On the other side of the park would have to be Paul Heatley, consistently 1 of the best performers in the league over the last number of seasons. Heatley is another player who finished the with two goals besides their name in the goal scoring tally after this weekend, including a sumptuous half volley from just outside the box into the top corner as he helped lead Crusaders to a 4-1 away victory.
A Linfield duo of Andrew Mitchell and Robert Garrett make up the middle of the park. Any fears Linfield fans may have had about missing Stephen Lowry due to a suspension, carried over from last season, ended up being unfounded as Mitchell and Garrett dominated the midfield. Mitchell was the deeper lying player of a midfield three; allowing Garrett and team captain Jamie Mulgrew push forward and keep the pressure on Carrick. Playing deeper allowed Mitchell to pick passes into the forwards and he also recycled possession well when needed and covered the back four well. Garrett linked up well with the front 3 of Stewart, Smyth and Millar and was unlucky not to end up with at least one goal or assist.
Joe Gormley announced his return to Cliftonville with a bang as most of the North Belfast’s attacking play went through him, leading to the Striker, returning from Peterborough United in England, bagging himself two goals and possibly unfortunate to not end up with more.
Our final player this week is Curtis Allen who scored twice himself in Glentoran’s 2-1 victory over Ballinamallard, albeit the second being controversial. He equalised with a stylish finish into the bottom corner turning well in the six-yard box. He gave the Glens a late win with a finish from a corner, although being hotly disputed by the United defenders that he had turned it into the back of the net with his hand, the goal stood.