It was the late, late show at Stangmore Park as Dungannon Swifts finally got their season up and running against Carrick Rangers. Just as fans were contemplating another night of frustration, along came Conor Forker and then Shea Campbell to end Swifts’ profligacy and sweep away the gloom. The pair have scored many goals for Dungannon down the years, all the way back to when this fixture was contested in the second tier of Irish football. Yet few will have been as important as the ones which snatched victory in the dying stages of Friday night’s match. An early howler from Niall Morgan had gifted Carrick the lead, while his counterpart Chris Keenan pulled off a fine penalty save to preserve that advantage to the interval.
But Dungannon upped their performance in the second half and midfielder Johnny Topley, by day a postman, delivered the equaliser with a first-class strike. And then a match which had been a story of two goalkeepers became one of two substitutes. Forker had only been on the pitch five minutes when he put Dungannon in front for the first time, finishing off Campbell’s sweeping cross at the back post. Then in stoppage time Campbell himself drove forward and unleashed a shot which was diverted past the ‘keeper by defender Michael Deans. Defeat was cruel on Carrick who for long periods had seemed on course for a second successive away win, but Irish League football can be a very unforgiving place. These three points lifted Dungannon off the foot of the league and above Carrick. And while few will pay any attention to the table at this early stage, Dixie Robinson will be mightily relieved their brief sojourn at the bottom has ended. Yet for much of this match it seemed it would be another frustrating evening, with a blunder from Morgan literally handing Carrick the opening goal. The young goalkeeper allowed Johnny Montgomery’s defensive header to slip from his grasp, and Stephen O’Neill slotted into the empty net. Philip Donnelly, one of three players drafted into a changed line-up, occasionally created moments of promise, but wasted a great chance later in the half. Set up by Michael Ward’s enterprising approach play, the teenager miscued his shot when a clean strike would surely have posed problems for Keenan.. No matter. Dungannon continued to press and probe, and another venture forward from Donnelly handed them a lifeline in the 32nd minute. An innocuous challenge by David McAlinden resulted in a penalty. The decision was harsh at best, but justice was done when Dermot McCaffrey’s kick was parried away by Keenan. Carrick remained a threat and Paul Heatley had a chance to double their lead soon afterwards. Sent through on goal, he opted for a second touch when it wasn’t needed, allowing Morgan to intercept. Another of the recalled players, PJ Lavery, and Ward both had sight of goal towards the end of the half, albeit neither could take advantage. The same two tested Keenan in the early stages of the second period. Ward’s angled strike on the hour was easy for the ‘keeper, the thumping 25-yard strike from Lavery moments later less so, but still dealt with.. The pressure was building, however, and in the 71st minute it finally told. Ryan O’Neill played a free-kick across to Topley and his 30-yard effort flashed past Keenan, perhaps a little too easily given his earlier heroics.. It breathed new life into Dungannon’s challenge. Robinson, not content with a point, dispatched three attacking players from the bench. Stefan Lavery had an instant impact, supplying a cross for Ward to head wide. He also played a big hand in the goal which gave Dungannon an 88th minute lead. His pass released Campbell, who advanced forward before sliding the ball across to another substitute, Forker, who converted with a neat finish. The goal floored Carrick, and their night took another disappointing turn when Deans turned Campbell’s shot into his own net in stoppage time. DGN SWIFTS: Morgan, O’Neill, McCaffrey, McClean, Montgomery, Fitzpatrick, PJ Lavery, Ward (C Forker, 83), Topley, Donnelly (Campbell, 72), McGerrigan (S Lavery, 62) Subs not used: A Forker, Murphy CARRICK RANGERS: Keenan, Murray, Hogan, Hutchinson (Deans, 67), Lagan, McAlinden, Owens, Anderson (Smith, 80), O’Neill, McDowell, Heatley Subs not used: Valko, Harmon, McClean Referee: Mervyn Smyth (Belfast)