Carniny Rangers claimed their first Ballymena Saturday Morning League silverware for almost four years with a dramatic 3-2 win over Harryville Homers in the final of the Mortgage Solutions Top Four trophy.
Robert Young’s side avenged their recent 4-0 defeat at the hands of Homers in the Junior Cup semi-final with victory in a thrilling final at Broughshane.
It was a much-changed Homers line-up from that semi-final, as Robert Duddy used his squad ahead of the club’s forthcoming Junior Shield and Junior Cup finals.
Carniny, too, made changes from that defeat at the Showgrounds as they welcomed back a number of players who had been ineligible for the Junior Cup.
Playing with a strong breeze at their backs Carniny took the game to Homers early on and should have taken an early lead but Ryan Balmer stumbled when the ball fell to him 10 yards out and the danger was cleared. Shane Donnelly then rattled an effort off the crossbar as Carniny again went close to taking the lead.
Homers struggled to get into the game in the opening exchanges but came close to breaking the deadlock on the break when David McWhirter played in Gary Bonnes but his shot was saved by Sean Ward.
Frazer Young then had a free kick well saved by Lee McGavock, before the deadlock was broken on 37 minutes. Zach Barr drilled in a free kick from 20 yards out which bobbled about in the Homers box before Frazer Young swivelled on the ball and fired into the corner of the net.
Almost immediately Carniny doubled their lead when Zach Barr intercepted a cross field ball from Ryan Stewart before laying the ball left to Frazer Young who took a step inside before curling the ball beyond Lee McGavock in the Homers goal from all of 25 yards out and send his side in with a two goal lead at the break.
Homers came out in determined fashion in the second half and got a goal back two minutes in when Sean Ward couldn’t handle a Ryan Stewart free kick and the ball fell to Gary Bonnes who made no mistake in reducing the deficit to one.
This signally a period of sustained pressure from Homers as they went in search of an equaliser, and they almost drew level on the hour mark when Gary Bonnes crashed a header against the crossbar from a Mark McKay corner and the ball came back to Ryan Stewart, but his header was somehow kept out by Sean Ward.
With Homers pushing for the equaliser, Carniny looked dangerous with their pace on the break and on 71 minutes they regained their two goal lead on one of these counter attacks. Frazer Young slipped in Zach Barr in the right hand channel and he played the ball across the box for Robbie Perkins who bundled the ball home from close range to make it 3-1.
This goal looked to have clinched the win for Carniny, but Homers emptied their bench as they pushed to get back in the game and with nine minutes to go they got a goal back. Alan Rainey took a quick throw in deep on the right and it was flicked on by Mark McKay to Gary Bonnes who turned and fired low past Sean Ward to set up a grandstand finish.
Homers threw everything at Carniny in the final minutes but some superb defending from Ricky Culbertson and Alan Norton kept the Homers attack at bay as Carniny held on to win the Top Four Cup.
After the final whistle Alistair Swann of Mortgage Solutions, Mill Street Ballymena presented the Top Four Cup to the winning Carniny Rangers Captain, Ryan Bamber and the celebrations began.
Carniny Rangers – Sean Ward, Jonathan Clarke, Ryan Balmer (sub Tyler Caulfield), Ricky Culbertson, Alan Norton, Craig McCaughern, Alan Fullerton, Ryan Bamber, Zach Barr (sub Darren Kidd), Frazer Young, Shane Donnelly (sub Robbie Perkins). Subs (not used) Ryan Crawford and Macauley Cairns
Harryville Homers – Lee McGavock, Jason McKay (sub Paul McNeill), Ryan Stewart, Marcus Spratt, Steven French, Mark McKay, Jordan Craig (sub Alan Rainey), Gary Bonnes, Justin Rowe (sub Gary Baird), Richard Reid, David McWhirter. Subs (not used): Ian Russell and Jason Logan.
Referee – Mr Roy Willighan; Assistant Referees – Mr Wayne Lewis and Mr William McMaster.