A Mark Conn hat-trick was the highlight of Ballyclare Comrades Reserves’ crucial win in a ten-goal thriller, that keeps them on course for a Ballymena Junior League Division 1 treble.
Five up at the break at Threemilewater Park, Stephen Hughes’ lads romped to a 7-3 win against Carnmoney, and they now need only one point from their remaining two fixtures to bring the trophy to Dixon Park for the third year in succession.
They trail leaders Castle Star, who have completed their programme, by a single point, but next time out the Wee Reds face an intriguing clash with Mallusk Athletic whose manager is Jonty Watson, who guided Comrades Reserves to back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
This local derby is expected to draw a larger than usual crowd tonight (Wednesday) to Dixon Park where the title could be decided, but Mallusk will be doing their utmost to put a spanner in the works.
Against Carnmoney, the Reserves stamped their authority on the game as early as the third minute, when Jamie McTaggart touched in to the net after Ryan McIlwaine had done the spadework.
A Daniel Ellis double plus goals by Conn and Tyler McMaster stretched the lead to 5-0 at the interval, and the goal spree continued in the second session. After Ellis had been fouled Conn converted the penalty, and then he completed his treble from a Ryan McIlwaine pass.
In the final ten minutes Carnmoney converted two penalties before adding a third from a quick counterattack, to leave the final score 7-3.
Hughes was impressed by the performances of Under 19 XI players, Emmet Nulty and Michael Haskins, who were making their debut at adult level.
However the highlight of the week was the top of the table clash with Castle Star in midweek at Dixon Park, where a late Craig Todd strike salvaged a draw.
In the 88th minute a Mark Conn corner to the front post was flicked across the face of the goal by Daniel Ellis, for Todd to apply the finishing touch that earned a 2-2 draw.
Star started in top gear, and after drawing first blood in the opening seconds, they added a second in the 14th minute to leave the hosts shell-shocked.
The Carrick lads continued to have the edge, with Comrades’ best response being a long range Conn drive that skimmed the bar.
On the half hour a Star striker missed a sitter following a mix-up between skipper Marc Rainey and stand-in keeper Dean Cochrane, and this let-off seemed to inspire the Reds.
Two minutes later an in-swinging free by CJ McIlwaine rebounded off the post, but just before the interval McIlwaine made a second free count, when his angled effort arrowed in to the net well wide of the keeper.
So the Reserves were rather fortunate to turn round only one down, but they controlled the second session.
An Ellis drive flashed in to the side-netting, and a goal seemed on the cards when Conn played Todd in, only for the keeper to pull off a fine save.
With time running out the Star defence was under pressure, and eventually two minutes from time Todd got the crucial equaliser that denied the league leaders all three points.
“Star were all over us in the first half, and we could have been three down at the break, so I was happy to turn round trailing 2-1,” stated Reserves manager Stephen Hughes.
“However we were more clinical in the second half, and had the major share of possession and were well worth the draw,” he reckoned.
Ballyclare Comrades Reserves panel for the two games:Cochrane, CJ McIlwaine, Rainey (C), Higginson, Crowe, McTaggart, R McIlwaine, Todd, McMaster, Ellis, Conn, Thompson, Apsley, Haskins, Nulty, Nicholl, McAllister.