Carrick Rangers have been handed the unenviable task of conquering Crusaders on their own patch in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup, writes John Gillespie.
Gary Haveron’s men, who have won their last nine games on the spin, were given a trip to Seaview after they defeated Premiership basement boys Institute 3-1 on Saturday.
They needed extra-time to see off the Drumahoe outfit when Anthony Lagan’s 88th-minute header cancelled out Darren McFadden’s opener.
Miguel Chines then turned the game on its head with a sublime lob before Adam Dick added a third from close range.
It means Rangers will come up against a familiar face in club legend Paul Heatley in the last-eight clash on February 28. Arguably the Irish League’s best player this season, Heatley was instrumental in helping the Gers clinch the Championship One title in 2011, before making the switch to the Crues a year later.
And Haveron is all too aware of the threat posed by the diminutive winger from Glengormley.
“He’s a smashing player,” he said. “Heats was just away from the club as I came in but he has a big legacy here. He’s in our all-time legends team.
“He’s a super player and he’s going to be very hard to combat. They also have the young lad (Gavin) Whyte on the other side. In fact, they have strength in depth all over the park. They arguably have the best players (in the league) in every position.”
The quarter-final will see Carrick make a return to the scene of their Christmas Day Steel and Sons Cup triumph and Haveron is confident his players will do him proud against the top-flight pace-setters.
“Crusaders are arguably the best team in the country on form and they’re flying high,” he added.
“They have two sets of squads, basically. They could change 11 players and still probably be one of the top sides in the league. That shows their strength in depth.
“We gave a good account of ourselves at Seaview in the Steel and Sons.
“We performed well on the pitch, we like the surface, and we have won there twice before this season but it’s an entirely different prospect when we’re playing against the Crues.
“I’m delighted for everyone at my club. I can’t remember the last time Carrick got to this stage.”