NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 25/08/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Dividends Divided as Dougan Delivers
Ards extend their unbeaten run after Titanic struggle at Clandeboye Park
Match day 4, Ards host H&W Welders at Clandeboye Park under the Friday night lights and should be heading into this one with renewed confidence after earning a hard-fought point away to the league leaders Annagh United last week. Differing fortunes for the two sides the Welders winning their opening two fixtures but tasted defeat against Dergview as the Tyrone side secured victory deep into time added on. Ards haven’t covered themselves in glory in the opening fixtures, but there is hope that the tide has turned as we look to get our season back on track after a much-improved team performance. Ards had the advantage over the East Belfast side last season winning 2 of the 3 fixtures with the Welders getting a modicum of revenge with a 1-0 win on their last visit to Clandeboye Park in February.
For the first time this season Ards have gone into a game with an unchanged lineup running with the same starting 11 that worked so hard to earn Ards their first point of the season. The back 4 has been consistent throughout the season with Alex Moore supporting them in goal for the last 3 fixtures. The holding pair of Aidan Steele and George Tipton will look to protect the back line as they did last time out, adding much needed stability to the side. Ross Hunter continued in his lone striker role having worked so hard and covered so much ground last time out. Changes on the bench sees Matt Gorman and James McLaughlin miss out as Karl Hamil and Salou Jallow are recalled to the squad. Plenty of ex-Ards men turning out for the Welders as well so it should be another competitive fixture in a season that promises to be full of them. Ex Ards front man Michael McLellan is named in the starting 11 along side Jamie Glover while Jonny Frazer is named on the bench.
Ards name an unchanged line up for this one for the first time this season
A veritable game of ‘two halfs’ with a single goal in each half, the teams trading goals resulting in a creditable draw for both teams when they look back and reflect. The Welders had the better of the first half, capitalising in the 12th minute to open the scoring, ex-Ards front man Michael McLellan coming back to haunt his old club with an easy finish in front of goal. The Welders looked certain to add to their lead as the half progressed, but Ards dug in and managed to keep them at arm’s length. While being resolute at the back there was little to be positive about in an attacking sense as we struggled to retain the ball for any meaningful time. The second half Ards came out and played more as one would expect of the home side, taking the game to the Welders in a much-improved showing. As the half ticked by it looked like those efforts would be in vain but in the dying minutes Callum Dougan was in the right place to finish off a DeeDee McAllister knock down getting Ards a deserved equaliser on 87’. That was how it finished as the ref brought the contest to an end after the allotted time added on had been completed.
A fast start to this one with both teams going close to opening the scoring within the first couple of minutes, frantic end to end stuff to get us going. Ewan McCoubrey showing his intent flashing a shot over the bar within 30 seconds. Ball played over the top beating Maxwell at left back allowing McCoubrey in on goal and with just Moore to beat he blazed his shot over the bar. Early escape for Ards. Not to be outdone, Ards went right up the other end to threaten through Ross Hunter. Hunter received the ball in the box and did well to hold it up, turn to face goal while under pressure from Barr. The shot, while on target, was never going to challenge Mersin in the Welders goal but an entertaining start to the game and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Ards' Ethan Taggart with another tireless performance in the middle of the park
Naturally the game did settle down as both teams found their feet and tried to dictate the tempo. The Welders were getting on top, playing some great football getting through the Ards lines a bit too easily for the home supporters liking, Ewan McCoubrey posing a constant threat down the right. It wasn’t long before the pressure told, the away side opening the scoring on 12’ with McLellan in the right place at the right time to finish after McCoubrey’s initial effort came crashing back off the upright. A poor goal to concede from an Ards point of view as we had opportunities to clear the danger before the ball was crossed into the box and then again after the initial attempt on goal. 1-0 the score, the Welders very much on top and deservedly go in front.
Ards were holding firm at the back despite being put under increasing pressure by the Welders, their forward players giving Ards players little to no time on the ball. Ards were not helping their cause however with some poor passing when they had possession of the ball, ceding it back to opposition almost immediately. Ards had a further setback on 23’ as Paddy Cafolla had to leave the field after picking up a hamstring injury while stretching to reach and Ethan Taggart through ball. Cafolla was replaced by Dupree who went out to the right while Ethan Taggart reverted to a more central position.
The Welders were still proving dangerous and went close to extending their lead on 42’ with Joshua Kee’s effort being deflected round the far post after Finnegans layoff just outside the box. Finnegan swept in the resulting corner, and it was met by Kyle Owens in the box but Ards were able to clear the second ball. That was the last action of the half, the ref taking us into the break after completing the additional 3 mins time added on.
No changes for Ards at the break and the home side got the game going again.
Ards looked a team revived after the break, on the front foot right from kick off and it nearly paid early dividends, Ross Hunter going close to grabbing an equaliser at the near post. Eamon Scannell had been a bright note in the first half, and it very much continued into the second, as he got the better of the Welders defenders wide left. Having wriggled past several challenges he hit his cross hard and low into the box towards the near post. Hunter was alive and made the run across the post and tried to slide the ball past Mersin in the Welders goal. The big keeper did well to make himself big and make a decent save at the near post. The corner was floated in by Steele, but Owens was dominating everything played high into the box, which was to be expected.
Ards were the better side in the second half, much improved from the first 45 minutes creating some good chances but as we have seen all too often the finishes rarely match the build up play. Dupree was guilty of being wasteful just before the hour mark, Eamon Scannell having picked him out at the back post. The ball played over was inch perfect, but Duprees’ first touch let him down and rather than getting a shot on goal the ball trickled out for a Welders goal kick. He really should have done better having got into such a good position and been picked out by Scannell.
Max Greer getting the better Welders Jamie Glover before being forced off through injury
More misfortune for Ards as we lost another player to injury just after the hour mark, Max Greer having to leave the field after a late challenge. That was followed by a huge penalty claim from Ards which was waved away by the officials. It seemed to be a clear hand ball in the area, Aidan Steele adamant that it was a foul, but the ref played on. The referee did little to endear himself to the home supporters moments later when, having just turned down an Ards penalty appeal, he awarded the Welders a penalty for a foul that was clearly committed outside the box. The near side lino was unmoved but fortunately the far side linesman had spotted it and after a couple of minutes of conferring the decision was overturned and the correct award of a free kick on the edge of the box was given. Disappointing officiating as it seemed the only person in the ground to think that was a penalty was the man in the middle.
1-0 the score as we entered the last 15 minutes and it only remained that way thanks to an acrobatic stop by Alex Moore in the Ards goal, Ferguson going close with a well hit strike from distance. The ball was arrowing into the top corner, but Moore was equal to it tipping it over the bar. With time running out Ards were finally rewarded for their persistence, McAllister and Jallow’s introduction proving the difference in attack, the Welders seemingly unable to deal with the pace out wide. The equaliser finally came on the 86th minute, Callum Dougan latching on to McAllister’s downward header in the box, directing the ball into the back of the net. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes he’ll have hit, but they all count, and I didn’t hear anyone in red and blue complaining. 1-1 the score and that was how it ended after a further 3 mins of time added on having been played.
Another hard-fought point earned and a much better showing in the second half but still concerns remain about the first half display. Eamon Scannell with a standout performance who was rightly named the sponsors MOTM and a first goal of the season for Callum Dougan which will hopefully give him a boost of confidence with more to come as the season progresses, both huge positives for the side as we continue to try and climb the table.
Eamon Scannell sponsors MOTM, pictured with members of the Ards FC Academy 2014 squad and game mascots
Next up an away trip to neighbours Knockbreda who, at the time of writing at least, sit bottom of the table yet to claim a point from their opening 3 matches. We won’t be able to go into that one thinking it’s a formality to get all 3 points though, we’ve seen the results of that kind of thinking far too often in the recent past. While they’ve not got the results yet, they’ll be pushing hard for that first win of the season, as will we, and will no doubt see Ards as an opportunity to do just that. There will no doubt be some adjustments within the squad to accommodate those injuries picked up and hopefully both Greer and Cafolla are back fit and well asap.
Moore, Greer(63’), McCallum, Ruddy (c), Maxwell, Cafolla(23’), Taggart, Tipton(75’), Steele, Hunter, E Scannell (75’)
Shields, Hamill, Dupree(23’), McAllister(63’), C Scannell, Dougan(75’), Jallow(75’)