The race for the firmus energy Ballymena Saturday Morning League Division One title took a dramatic twist at the weekend.
Newly-crowned Junior CUp champions Harryville Homers suffered their first league defeat of the campaign as they went down 3-2 to fierce rivals Carniny Rangers.
The destination of the title could now hinge upon Homers’ crunch meeting with Ahoghill Thistle tonight (Tuesday) after Stewart McDonald’s side opened up a four-point gap at the top of the table with a 4-2 weekend win over All Saints Old Boys.
That means victory for Thistle in tonight’s clash would see them wrestle the title from Homers, while the same two sides will also contest the Ace Cup final at Connor this Friday night.
FIRMUS ENERGY DIVISION ONE
Carniny Rangers 3, Harryville Homers 2: Carniny closed their league campaign with a thrilling injury time victory over title chasing Homers and in doing so stopped their 100% league record.
The first forty five minutes provided little in the way of clear cut chances. Jonny Spence came close for Carniny while at the other end Colin McCaughern was almost punished for a loose parry by Jason Logan but the Carniny keeper made amends saving in front of goal at the second attempt.
David Nicholl was introduced for the Homers after the break and his impact was instant. He lost his marker in the box on 56 minutes and headed home Ricky Nicholl’s corner from four yards out.
Twelve minutes later the lead was doubled when Gary Bonnes, with a superb first touch and finish, latched on to a long clearance and found the top corner of the net.
Michael McQuitty almost pulled one back a few minutes later but his well placed header was saved by Alex McCosh at full stretch to his left.
On 75 minutes through centre back James Gracey, one of his side’s star performers, bulleted a header into the net to keep pull his team back in to the game.
With several injuries in their squad it fell to manager Robert Young to make a rare appearance from the bench with 15 minutes to go for Carniny and within minutes of his arrival his team were on level terms. Frazer Young’s neat pass into the box was latched on to by Michael McQuitty who turned and slipped the ball past Alex McCosh for the equaliser.
Carniny completed their turnaround in injury time when Ryan Bamber’s teasing cross turned into his own net by a Homers defender.
While looking unlikely at two down the victory gives Carniny renewed belief with a Rainey Cup semi final imminent, while the Homers will lift themselves for the visit of Ahoghill Thistle on Tuesday which has now taken on greater importance.
Ahoghill Thistle 4, All Saints OB 2: Midway through the first half Saints took the lead when Gavin Burnside turned in the box and pulled the ball back to Stephen Sexton who fired the ball under Steven French in the Thistle goal.
Thistle drew level 10 minutes before the half when George Courtney kept alive a David Drummond corner and Daniel Brown smashed the ball home from 12 yards out.
Two minutes later Thistle had the chance to go in front when they were awarded a penalty when Matt Boyd was wrestled to the ground. Ryan Sands stepped up but his spot kick was well saved by Brian Martin.
Two minutes before the break Saints regained the lead when Gavin Burnside slipped in Stephen Sexton and he fired into the bottom corner to give his side a half time cushion.
The second half started with Thistle on the front foot with Matt Boyd rattling the crossbar with a close range header before six minutes in they drew level. Ryan Sands outmuscled his man on the left and cut in before shooting at goal and the ball room a wicked bounce and found its way past Brian Martin.
It was all Thistle now and ten minutes later they went in front when Paul Aiken flicked the ball into the path of Matt Boyd who made no mistake from inside the box.
With eight minutes to go Thistle were awarded a second penalty kick when David Drummond was fouled in the box. Matt Boyd hammered home from 12 yards to seal his sides victor and give them a massive three points.
This win for Thistle coupled with the Carniny victory over Homers means that Thistle now know if they defeat Homers on Tuesday night they will be crowned Champions for the first time ever.
Clough Rangers 0, Harryville Homers 1: In their first outing since winning the Junior Cup, Homers kept up the hunt for the title with a crucial midweek victory over Clough.
Midway through the first half Clough should have taken the lead when David Gage headed over with the goal at his mercy after he was picked out by a Robbie Sutherland corner.
Homers started the second half as they finished the first with the deliveries from Ryan Stewart causing problems as he found Gary Bonnes and Ricky Nicholl but both headed wide.
At the other end Clough’s Robbie Sutherland and Ricky Dunlop had efforts easily saved by Ryan Martin.
As the game edged towards injury time Jasin Magill headed wide for Homers as they looked to be running out of time, but Ryan Stewart had other ideas as he struck the only goal a minute into stoppage time as he weaved past two men on the left hand side before smashing the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle to win the points for Homers and keep their league defence on track.
FIRMUS ENERGY DIVISION THREE
On the day that Randalstown received the Division Three League Trophy, they suffered defeat at the hands of Sporting Ballymoney who won the game thanks to two goals from Shane Crutchley, with the win clinching them Runners-Up spot and sees them join Randalstown in next seasons Division Two, condemning Cushendall to the playoffs.
Rainey Cup quarter-finals: Cloughmills 0, Carniny Rangers 8.
firmus energy Division One: Ahoghill Thistle 3, Ballykeel 0
firmus energy Division Two: Riverdale 4, Ahoghill Rovers 2; Glenravel 3, Holywell 2; Cullybackey Olympic 1, Lisnafillan Swifts 4
firmus energy Division Three: Cushendall 1, Randalstown 1; Sporting Ballymoney 2, Randalstown 0
Tuesday, May 12 - Rainey Cup quarter-final (7pm): Clough Rangers v Connor (Showgrounds 4)
firmus energy Division One: Harryville Homers v Ahoghill Thistle (Wakehurst 2).
Wednesday, May 13 (7pm) - Paddy Dunlop Cup semi-finals (Division Three play-offs): Woodside v Rectory Rovers (Wakehurst 1); Cushendall v Templepatrick.
Thursday, May 14 (7pm) - Leighinmohr House Hotel Cup semi-final (Division Two play-offs): Lisnafillan Swifts v Galgorm Blues.
Friday, May 15 (7pm) - Ace Cup final: Harryville Homers v Ahoghill Thistle (Connor).
Saturday, May 16 (10.15am): Leighinmohr House Hotel Cup semi-final: Seven Towers v Riverdale (venue to be confirmed).