When Cliftonville exited the League Cup at the Quarter-Final stage in November, it was guaranteed that the League Cup would be leaving North Belfast after residing at Solitude since 2013. When it was announced that Seaview would be the venue for this year’s final, the trophy would be metaphorically and literally leaving North Belfast.
It wouldn’t be leaving too far, a short journey up the motorway to Ballymena or Carrickfergus.
Carrick were hoping that my presence would inspire them. I’ve been something of a good luck charm for them in recent years, being there when they won the Steel and Sons Cup Final, at Seaview funnily enough, in 2014, and for their penultimate game of the season in 2015 against the PSNI, a vital win which set them up for promotion if they won their final game, which they did.
The early minutes saw Ballymena pressure but nothing come of it. Despite that, there was still no opportunity for Carrick to relax. They didn’t help themselves, creating pressure for themselves when a clearance hit one of their own defenders and put them back under pressure. Later on, Brian Neeson punched a corner away, hitting one of his defenders. Fortunately for Carrick, the ball bounced out for another corner.
Allan Jenkins had Ballymena’s first attempt at goal when his header went over. It was Carrick who had the first real chance of the game when TJ Murray fired over from inside the penalty area when unmarked. It wasn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity but he should have done so much better, keep it low and at least make the keeper make a save.
Ross Glendenning was eventually forced into a save from a long range shot from Carrick’s other Murray, Martin. It was one of those saves usually referred to as a “Photographer’s save”. He did get lucky that there were no Carrick players close enough to capitalise on his parry, as he picked up the rebound.
Ballymena’s first real attempt on goal came when Johnny McMurray’s long range shot had to be tipped over by Brian Neeson. McMurray’s next attempt at goal was a snapshot that went just wide.
It looked like being a frustrating evening for Ballymena, until Willie Faulkner ran at Carrick’s defence to create space to get a cross in, which was finished by Allan Jenkins to put Ballymena 1-0 up. For the second successive Saturday, Carrick found themselves going in at half-time to a goal in the final minute of the half.
Carrick, who were set up to win 1-0, now had to win this 2-1.
Carrick actually made a good start to the second-hal, knocking Ballymena off their stride. Despite that, it never looked like an equaliser was inevitible.
There was more frustration for Ballymena when McMurray, Kane and Jenkins all missed chances to score. A 2-0 lead, no matter how long was left would have been enough to secure the trophy. Jenkins miss was the worst of the lot, firing over from close range when, like TJ Murray in the first-half, all he had to do was keep it low and get it on target.
It looked like Ballymena were going to be made to pay for it when a header from a free-kick fell to Adam Salley. He got enough to header it over the onrushing Ross Glendenning, but not enough for the ball to loop in. That was Carrick’s big moment. It never looked like Carrick were going to get another chance like that.
It was another set piece which provided Carrick’s next chance, a low shot from a free-kick teed to Nathan McConnell was saved by Ross Glendinning when it looked like it was going to sneak in.
Unsurprisingly, as the team trailing 1-0, Carrick had a lot of the ball in the final minutes of the game, but Ballymena always looked like holding firm, despite their unusually high amount of goals conceded this season for a team in the top half.
The biggest moment of worry for Ballymena came when TJ Murray went down in the box. I was not far from the incident and didn’t think it was a penalty at the time. Looking back at the incident, i’ve seen them given. If you’re Carrick, you’ll scream for it, if you’re Ballymena, you’d be fuming if it was given against you. It’s a decision that would be easier for the referee to give if the ball was in the middle of the park.
The Ballymena defender did just enough to get his body in the road to stop Murray getting through.
As the game approached injury time, Ballymena got a second on the counter attack when Conor McCloskey was played through and smashed it home from a wide position. It was a goal that deserved to have Alan Partridge commentary.
Carrick’s players were fuming as the game wasn’t stopped in the build-up for TJ Murray to get treatment for an injury sustained in the tackle which won the ball for Ballymena to counter.
For the second successive Saturday, Carrick lost 2-0 as a result of goals in the final minute of each half.
Interesting day in the Glendenning household, with Ross winners medal being trumped by Reece’s hat-trick for Linfield Swifts earlier in the day.
Ballymena fans celebrated their first major trophy since 1989, and now both teams turn their attentions to the rest of the season. Ballymena fans dreaming of Europe either via winning the UEFA Cup Play-Off Final or the Irish Cup. Carrick aren’t dreaming of Europe, but rather Linfield, Glentoran, Ballymena and all the other top flight clubs they will be hoping to visit for League games next season.