In a dramatic last day shoot-out Larne retained their Championship 1 status with a deserved 3-1 win at Dergview, writes PAUL CAMPBELL.
The Reds had to come from behind after conceding an early goal and after the game delighted boss Graham McConnell gave his reaction.
“I am very relieved, relieved it’s all over but not jubilant as it should have never come to this and I blame myself in a big part for that. The four goals we lost at Institute and the three at Coagh in recent games put the players in a position they should not have been in.
“I sent Chris Keenan up for a corner against Coagh and it backfired on us, if we had only lost that game by one goal it wouldn’t have come down to this. I am glad my bad decision making didn’t affect the result at the end of the day.”
Looking to the future McConnell added: “To be honest the last two weeks have been put on hold preparing for today. The club has supported me all the way ... and some weeks it must have been hard, but they never let me down. I haven’t slept properly all week and I am glad it is all over.
“I am looking forward to the two East Antrim derbies next season and I am trying to organise a pre-season tournament in the local area, but, as soon as possible, I want to speak to all our players and get them signed up for next season.”
Dergview started brightly with Chris Keenan saving smartly from Tom Carlin after only two minutes.
Larne then fell behind and things began to look bleak. The ball was played wide to Conor Carlin and his low cross was fired into the net by Gareth Sproule.
To their credit Larne were back on level terms two minutes later. James Moore delivered a corner from the right, the keeper flapped at the ball and Paul Maguire found the net.
The Reds then got their noses in front on the half-hour. A Robbie-Lee Crawford free-kick was fumbled by Stefan McCusker in the home goal and Niall McAllister was on hand to force it home.
A minute before the break the vocal travelling support were in full voice as McAllister once again popped up to apply the finishing touch to a clever free-kick from Crawford.
After the break Larne had chances to add to the scoreline, but had a lucky escape when a cracking shot from Carlin rebounded off the upright.
After that the home side posed little threat and it was a day of celebration for players, supporters and management who all hope they won’t be in that position again.
Larne: Keenan, McClean, Crawford (Monaghan), Todd, McNamee, McAllister, Thompson (J.Wharry), Moore, Maguire (Yilmaz), McGinley, Magill.