Carrick Rangers’ rise from a summer rebuilding job under Niall Currie could yet produce a fairytale finish as a two-goal victory over Portadown set up a two-leg promotion test with Ards for a spot in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Second-half goals confirmed Rangers’ standing as the Bluefin Sport Championship runners-up by 13 points over Portadown.
Carrick substitute Lukasz Adamczyk was celebrating on 75 minutes when a dangerous cross into the box found the net, with the substitute and Portadown defender Adam McCallum both racing in to meet the delivery at the near post and the ball nestling in the net.
If there was discussion over the opening scorer, there was no question about the second as Stewart Nixon raced on to slot home off Adamczyk’s header for an injury-time second.
Gerry Kelly’s long-range drive bounced off the frame of the goal early on during a blistering start by Rangers - with Lloyd Anderson and Caolan Loughran each firing goalwards from distance.
However, Portadown may have lacked the level of pressure but carved out two clearcut first-half openings.
Chris Lavery dragged his shot from the edge of the box wide of the target then the final talking point of the half, in the final seconds, ended with Kevin Braniff steering his header wide at the far post following a looping Ryan Carmichael overhead kick.
However, Carrick delivered the finishing touch after the break to cement a double date with Ards on Friday and Monday.
CARRICK RANGERS: Hogg, Chapman, Neale, Surgenor, Rodgers, Loughran, McMillen (Adamczyk, 69), Anderson, Kelly, Nixon, Smith (Strain, 85).
Subs (not used): McNeill, McDermott, Coyle.
PORTADOWN: Dunne, McCallum, Finnegan, Lavery, Braniff, Hall, Thompson, Bradley (Duke, 77), Wilson, Carmichael (Salley, 87), Mackle (Douglas, 84).
Subs: Murphy, Carson, Larkin, Kilmartin.
Referee: Declan Hassan.