NIFL Championship – 23/08/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Last minute winner is very ‘Ard’ to take…
Quick turnaround for Ards after the humiliation at the hands of Loughgall on Friday night past, a good thing or a bad thing, only time would tell. Ards grabbed a late late winner on their last visit to the BMG Arena against the then unknown quantity that was Annagh United, with them having just been promoted to the Championship. Having since going on to finish 2nd in the table, reaching the Premier league play off matches where they came up short against Portadown, Ards were now well aware of how hard a task this game would be, calling for a huge improvement from their last showing.
Ards made a couple of changes from the starting 11 that capitulated so badly to Loughgall on their last outing with Kyle Calderwood and Ross Arthurs getting their first starts of the new season with Jallow and Scannell taking to the bench. Alex Moore keeps the number 1 jersey after countless fantastic saves in the opening two matches, proving what a top signing he has been thus far.
Ards faced Annagh at the BMG Arena first game out last season and were on right end of a dramatic late winner, this time Annagh turned the tables hitting Ards with a late sucker punch as Mullen headed in a winner deep into time added on to win the game 2-1 and lift the 3 points. The first half started out in a similar fashion to the Loughgall game, Ards at sixes and sevens and struggling to find a teammate and get any control or possession of the ball. Once again Alex Moore was to be thanked for keeping the opposition out, making some incredible saves in doing so. Ards improved in the second half, even going on to take an early lead, but failed to hang on to what arguably would have been a well-deserved point.
The first half finished 0-0 but that score line really doesn’t tell the tale of a half dominated by the home team, things only kept on par by another sensational display by new Ards keeper Moore. From as early as the 2nd minute he was called into action, Annagh’s Murray put through early on by Taylor. His cross from the left wasn’t controlled that well by Murray taking him slightly wide but Moore had made up the ground and was able to get something on it and deflect it out for a corner. Annagh had 3 or 4 corners in quick succession as the pressure built but they didn’t make anything out of them.
Ards got their first sight of goal on 7’ as DeeDee struck a free kick from about 25 yards out, but it didn’t trouble Hughes in the Annagh goal. That was one of the very few efforts we had in the first half and it was a wasted one at that. Our biggest goal threat in the first half was coming from the middle of the park through Cafolla who made a couple of driving runs into the heart of the Annagh defence. The second of these runs saw him get a good strike at goal really testing Hughes this time. The keeper was equal to it, making a good save down low to his left. The second ball fell to Arthurs but his effort was hit well over the bar.
Ards made a few more half chances as the game progressed, including an effort from Reynolds on the half hour mark that was hit roughly 40 yards over the bar, but Annagh could arguably have been 2 or 3 up at the break. On 14’ the Annagh players were incensed when the ref failed to award a penalty for what seemed like a blatant hand ball by Johnny Taylor in the box, it wasn’t given and Ards escape with that one. Annagh again went close with a couple of really solid chances within a minute of each other, Mullen first with a headed chance, but the ball was a fraction too high for him. Seconds later Murray really should have given Annagh the lead. A really simple ball played in from the left by Mullen should have been dealt with by either Crane or Taylor but they both missed it allowing Murray to run through unchallenged. He found himself one-on-one with Moore inside the 18yd box, Moore stood his ground making a really good stop down to his left, in reality it was a poor finish by the striker, and he really should have given the home team the lead there but once again Ards have Moore to thank for keeping it level. A busy 20 so far…
Couple more chances for Annagh as we moved closer to the break, with Moore left relatively untroubled until the 41st minute. From an Ards corner Annagh were able to break catching us out with a 3-on-1 advantage. Murray opted to carry the ball and go for goal himself, putting it just wide round the far post, rather than playing in Taylor who was better placed to score. The half was brought an end shortly after that with the score unbelievably still sitting at 0-0.
A notable change was made on 34’ in the first half as Cafolla went off seemingly with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Jallow. Hopefully it’s not as bad as feared and our #8 will be back playing very soon.
No changes for either side as the game got under way again, Annagh United getting us going. It would have needed to be one hell of a team talk during the break to get the team lifted after the first 45.
Just 2 minutes into the 2nd half we got our answer as Ards took a really early lead catching Annagh sleeping after the interval. The work was done down the Ards left with Crane and Reynolds combining really well, Reynolds finding space and sending a brilliant ball into the box. Pinpoint accuracy finding Arthurs head and the big number 9 done the rest, giving Hughes no chance at the back post. On the balance of play, probably against the run of play but no-one wearing red and blue (or black and white for that matter) cared too much as both players and the travelling supporters finally had something to celebrate.
Ards on the up, buoyed by the goal continued to press Annagh, winning a freekick in a dangerous area Jallow tried a training ground routine but it was intercepted and Annagh were able to clear. The home team soon got back into the game winning a succession of corners but Moore was in control claiming the ball well providing some much needed assurance to his back line.
I think in most cases goals against can be prevented, that’s the nature of the game, but the nature of the Annagh equaliser certainly should have been prevented. On 75’ Annagh broke quickly, Mullen hitting a speculative ball up field, Murray and Crane challenged with Murray coming out on top. Having beaten Crane to the ball the striker was able to lift the ball over an advancing Moore and into the roof of the net, 1-1 the score. Crane had the edge in the initial race and from his reaction knew he should have done better.
The game became really scrappy after that with a lot of fouls being committed and the play being continually broken up, it was a tough watch at times. Ards had a fantastic chance to win it late on when on 85’ Scannell found himself in loads of space at the back post. Taylor had sent in a long deep ball, Scannell timed his run perfectly, but got his header all wrong putting it back across goal and over the bar rather than heading it down and going for the near post. The near side lino was kind enough to inform me that there was 3 mins time added on to be played and we were well into that when the sucker punch landed. 90+2 Annagh played the ball out wide right, Crane was slow to get out and prevent the cross, it found a man in a red shirt just outside the 6yd box who finished with a well-directed header into the bottom left corner, giving Moore no chance. Annagh’s hero Mullen ran off to celebrate while the Ards team couldn’t believe what had just happened.
There was barely any time left to kick off again and the ref blew up bringing the game to an end, Annagh 2 Ards 1 at full time. Ards could well have been considered lucky to be in any position to get something from the match going into time added on having witnessed the first half and all the chances Annagh had, but to lose any match in this fashion so late on is just heart breaking. As previously mentioned, Ards were the recipients of a late late winner in this fixture last season, so we’ve saw it from both sides now, I much prefer the other side.
Much improved second half in this one but some of Friday nights frailties were still evident in that first half. The games come thick and fast at this stage of the season with Ballyclare next up on Friday night. Ballyclare coming into this one on the back of a good win against Dundela with ex Ards boys Roohi and McCurry getting the goals. I’m sure they’ll be looking to get on the score sheet against their old team come Friday. Ards have some work to do already being 6 points off top spot, all be it very very early on in the season.
Moore, Crane, Taylor, McKendry, Hall, Murray, Cafolla, Calderwood, Arthurs, McAllister, Reynolds
Craughwell, Scannell, Brown, Jallow, Mullen, McVeigh, Hunter