LEAGUE CUP: Call to arms from Carrick captain Surgenor

Carrick Rangers captain Mark Surgenor (right) and former Ballymena United team-mate Allan Jenkins battle for the ball on Saturday in the League Cup final. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
Carrick Rangers captain Mark Surgenor (right) and former Ballymena United team-mate Allan Jenkins battle for the ball on Saturday in the League Cup final. Pic by PressEye Ltd.
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For the second time in three seasons the final whistle of a League Cup final was followed for Mark Surgenor only by regrets and a runners-up medal.

The 2015 final left Surgenor having to reflect on defeat to Cliftonville - last weekend the scenes of celebration centred on Ballymena United.

His previous final featured Jim Ervin, Tony Kane, Gary Thompson and Allan Jenkins as brothers in blue but Saturday’s Seaview showpiece left Surgenor sharing the same pitch but standing to one side, only able to look on as his former Ballymena team-mates enjoyed the rewards as current League Cup champions.

The Carrick captain and Ballymena-based schoolteacher was quick to offer his congratulations to a club he considers “close to my heart” but also keen to emphasise the importance of Rangers learning lessons from the final pain.

“We cannot sit back and start to feel sorry as there are bigger games for us this season,” said Surgenor, in reference to the club’s remaining Danske Bank Premiership fixtures. “If offered at the start of the season a chance to stay up or win the cup then you, of course, want to stay in the top league.

“We have bigger fish over our final 10 league games and the cup run was a bonus.

“Games between Carrick and Ballymena have been tight this season and it comes down to taking chances really, so we need to learn.

“We are better than we maybe have been showing at times and confidence can play a big part in helping us show that quality.

“You think about the difference if we had come into the final off the back of the 4-0 win over Ards compared to a 2-0 defeat to Linfield.”

Small margins often dictate the big games and Surgenor felt Saturday followed that pattern.

“After the warm-up I came into the changing room and said to the players about how rowdy and loud the Ballymena fans had been so we needed to turn that to our advantage,” he said. “If the first goal had gone to us then we could have possibly turned it so the Ballymena fans would maybe get on the backs of the United players.

“That could have been a massive edge but Ballymena scored and that allowed them to drive on.

“It defined the game as we always were wary of Ballymena’s threat on the counter-attack so couldn’t just press on.

“We had to respect that and only got caught late on after pushing people forward in search of an equaliser.

“The timing of both goals proved tough to take but we need to think about adding more quality and showing patience to work the right opening rather than just put it into the box for the sake of it.

“It comes down to risk and reward.

“TJ Murray had a great chance but I can understand how maybe his heart was racing when the ball dropped to him from eight yards.

“You see your name in lights and fire it over when, nine time out of 10, you show that composure and either put it away or make the goalkeeper work.

“Adam Salley also had a great chance with his header and he did the right thing with a little dink over the goalkeeper but it had too much on it.

“We need to learn to take advantage of chances when in the ascendency.”

Surgenor’s manager, Aaron Callaghan, considers the positives a platform on which to build continued progress.

“The players managed to transfer some of that intensity from training over the past few weeks,” he said. “You can see everyone fighting for the shirt in every minute of that final and I cannot fault the effort or application.

“We signed 10 players in the January window as that was my first transfer period to be able to change the squad.

“They are improving communication, verbally and non-verbally, so over time players will start to learn more about each other.

“We had players ruled out and it comes down to changing the mentality but we have been strong.

“When you take into account the players missed as cup-tied or injured, I am confident we can be competitive between now and the end of the season.”