NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 06/08/23
By Phillip Bartlett
New season, new line up, same old…
Ards up against it on day one as mistakes cost them dearly against 10-man Newington.
The new season is finally upon us, the pre-season is done, lessons have hopefully been learnt and we’re up for what will no doubt be another very challenging season in what is fast becoming a very competitive league. The post season break saw change-a-plenty within the playing squad with no fewer than 11 players moving on to pastures new. With so many departures early recruitment was key to allow the squad to garner as much benefit from the pre-season schedule as possible.
Ards did work fast to tie down several players to new contracts, with Ross Hunter, Aidan Steele and fan favourite DeeDee McAllister all extending their stay at the club. While that work was ongoing sights were set on strengthening in areas we were now lacking depth with several defensive signings completed throughout the window. Today’s starting 11 and squad will be much changed from that of last season.
Ards new centre half pairing getting involved at the back
A home fixture at Clandeboye park to get us started as we host last season’s new boys Newington with a 15:00 kick off. Ards had the edge over Newington last season, but it was far from comfortable, and the home fans were no doubt expecting another similar test in this one. With all the changes in the post season window there was a lot of discussion about what the starting 11 for the first game may be and I’d wager not too many would have got it spot on with the options available to Matthew Tipton as he reviewed his new squad. There were 7 competitive debuts for Ards today with Max Greer, Connor Maxwell, Adam McCallum, Callum Dougan and Jamal Dupree straight into the starting 11. The second half saw the introduction of very recent signings George Tipton and James McLaughlin while the RABA were able to welcome back Michael Ruddy who enjoyed a successful spell with the club some years ago making his second club ‘debut’. A new look back 4 but a more familiar looking attacking line-up with both the Scannell boys in the 11 alongside Salou Jallow and Aidan Steele. The front line was bolstered by new signings Callum Dougan and Jamal Dupree while Neil Shields was in between the posts as Alex Moore continues to recover from an injury picked up towards the end of the season.
Final score and Newington leave Clandeboye Park with 3 goals and 3 points despite being reduced to 10 men with some 20 minutes of the game to go. While Newington worked hard and were very industrious Ards were very much the architects of their own downfall in this one gifting Newington 2 out of their 3 goals with lapses in concentration. Zach Barr was the first to accept a gift finishing well from just outside the box to give the away side an early lead. Ards hit back through new signing Dupree, getting on the end of an Aidan Steele corner to level the game. It didn’t last long as Newington grabbed a controversial second goal through Patrick Downey on the half hour mark to take a 2-1 lead into the break. Not long into the second half Ards were really up against it, a freak deflection from an Adam McCallum clearance striking Darren Stuart seen the ball roll into an unguarded net. 3-1 the score after 57’ and that was how it finished despite Newington losing Paul Donnelly to a second yellow card with well over 20 minutes of the game to go. Ards unable to capitalise as the away team dug in well to protect their lead and see the game out.
Newington got the new season off and running and it was an even start to the game, both teams working the ball well to carve out half chances in the opening few moments but the momentum shifted to the away side early on as they were gifted the chance to take the lead. In total control of the ball Conor Scannell picked it up from left back, looked to play it across the pitch but got it horribly wrong and played it straight to the feet of Zach Barr just outside the box. The forward took one touch to control and get it out of his feet before curling an excellent finish into the top right corner of the goal before anyone in red and blue to get back and challenge. Shields left totally exposed could only watch it fly into the back of the net well out of reach much to the dismay of the onlooking C Scannell. 1-0 the score after 7 minutes.
Ards new boy Max Greer challenges Newington's Robbie Morrow
Ards found themselves under a bit of pressure following the goal, Newington looking to capitalise on their fortunate start, but were unable to really test Shields in the Ards goal again, the defence doing enough to keep them at arms length. It wasn’t until the 22nd minute that Ards properly tested Smyth at the opposite end, a brilliantly hit shot by E Scannell from at least 35 yards out. It was really well controlled strike, managing to get over the ball to keep it low and on target but Smyth had time to see it and get behind it to make the save. Ards finally showing a bit as an attacking threat and it quickly paid off as they were celebrating an equaliser just a few minutes later, new boy Jamal Dupree getting his head on the end of an Aidan Steele corner to beat Smyth and make it 1-1 with 25’ gone. An unusual lead up to the goal, Ards trying something from the training ground as Steele and Scannell both feinted to take the freekick before Steele eventually sent it in. It nearly paid immediate dividends, Adam McCallum meeting it with a great downward header that Smyth just about managed to keep out leading to the corner that earned us the equaliser.
Ards were level for all of 4 minutes when Newington benefited from a controversial decision on the edge of the Ards box. It looked to all and sundry that Dupree had been fouled by Casey in the build up to the goal, crashing into the back of the Ards #19 as he was about to clear the ball, but the officials let play go on resulting in a through ball from Casey to Patrick Downey who made no mistake with the finish, lifting it over the onrushing Shields and into the back of the net. 2-1 to Newington just before the half hour mark, Ards with good reason to feel hard done by on this occasion, however. Ards were on the back foot once again but looked to hit back straight away, Dougan going close from an Eamon Scannell Corner. The new Ards front man challenged with Smyth just in front of goal, he got there first but flicked it just over the bar. Really good movement from the new Ards striker, just a touch unlucky on that occasion.
Ards continued to press and carved out some decent chances in the Newington half but were missing that final pass or the finishing touch needed in the opposition box. Just before the break Maxwell got himself to the by-line up from left back, he sent in a brilliant cross to the back post for Jallow. The winger controlled the ball, played it hard and low into the danger area but no-one in red and blue had gambled making any meaningful run to meet the ball allowing Newington to clear. 4 additional minutes at the end of the half following separate injuries to both Shields and Casey, but no real action to speak of and we went into the interval Newington leading 2-1.
No changes for Ards at the break as the home side get the game going again.
No doubt the Ards players have come out of the changing room with their ears ringing and whatever was said seemed to have had the desired effect. Ards started the second half on the front foot, Steele and E Scannell combining from a free kick to work a half chance in the box, but Eamon couldn’t fully control the through ball from brother Conor allowing Smyth to come and collect at his feet. Ards looked to have grabbed a second equaliser on 51’ but for a clearance off the line by Tiernan McAuley. Aidan Steele had sent a dangerous corner in from the left to the back post, Ruddy met it first sending it back across goal where Adam McCallum challenged in the air close to the goal line. He got there first but his header was lacking any power allowing McAuley the time to react and see it off the line. Ards very unlucky there but reasons to be positive in the opening few minutes of the half.
Jamal Dupree gets on the head of Aidan Steele's corner to bring Ards level on 25'
As they say in the trade, ‘goals change games’ and the 3rd Newington goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Ards team. Again, it came out of the blue, Ards in full control no danger at all playing the ball across the back line. Steele played the ball behind McCallum causing him to have to turn his back to collect but still with plenty of time to lift it up the pitch. He looked to try and cut the ball back to either Greer or Dupree in the middle of the park rather than going long and Darren Stuart has done really well to stick out a foot and get something on it and, much to Ards bewilderment, it has ended up in the back of an empty net, Shields having moved outside the line of the goal looking to offer himself as a support option. A freak goal but one that Ards could easily have avoided, 3-1 the score line on the hour mark.
Trailing by 2 goals Tipton made a quadruple change hoping to spark the team into action, Paddy Cafolla, DeeDee McAllister were brought on alongside the two most recent signings George Tipton and James McLaughlin both making their debuts. Those being replaced were Dougan, Steele, Dupree and C Scannell. 30 minutes left for those introduced to turn the game around. Ards task was arguably made that much easier as Newington found themselves down to 10 men, Paul Donnelly shown a second yellow after catching Cafolla with a high challenge. Ards made their final substitution shortly after that red card, Ross Hunter coming on to replace Eamon Scannell.
Just over 20 minutes left to play, Ards had made all their subs, trailing 3-1 against 10 men but you would have been hard pressed to say which side had the man advantage. While Newington themselves didn’t create much in an attacking sense Ards weren’t exactly throwing a barrage at their back line either. Newington were very happy to concede ground and let Ards have it out wide while defending resolutely in their box. Ards tried to pick out McLaughlin in the area on a few occasions, first challenging Smyth from a Jallow cross which the keeper was able to collect, then from the other side McAllister sent in a dangerous ball, McLaughlin had found himself some space, but the ball was a bit too high and he couldn’t direct it goal wards.
Ards did have one last chance to put Newington under pressure going into the final stages, Adam McCallum, having been pushed forward as an impromptu striker, was put through by McAllister and was one on one with Smyth in the Newington goal. He tried to side foot it past the keeper, but Smyth had closed the space well giving him little to aim at, Smyth making a good save. I can only speculate but had that been Dougan or McLaughlin in McCallum’s positions it may have been a different outcome.
Ards new striker Callum Dougan making a nuisance of himself, not letting the Newington back line settle
The ref indicated that there would be a minimum of 5 minutes time added on to be played at the end of the second half. Ards continued to huff and puff in the dying minutes but didn’t make much of any impact and certainly didn’t trouble Smyth in the Newington goal before the referee blew the final whistle. A disappointing start to what will promise to be a tough, competitive season ahead and it was reflected in the mood of the home fans after the game had ended.
Ards will certainly have to turn up and do better in the next game as we face the ‘auld enemy’ Bangor following their recent promotion back to the big leagues. They also lost out in their first game of the season so both teams will be looking to try and get their seasons off and running as we meet in a rescheduled game on Friday 11th with a 19:45 kick off. While a disappointing start, and much improvement needed all over the park, I’m not sure some of the comments after the final whistle will be of benefit to anyone. 1 game in, win or lose, you wouldn’t be taking too much from it. The team will have to regroup and come out for the next one.
Shields, Greer, McCallum, Ruddy (c), Maxwell, C Scannell (60), Steele (60), Dupree (60), Jallow, Dougan (60), E Scannell (72)
Moore, Cafolla (60), McAllister (60), Hunter (72), Clarke, Tipton (60), McLaughlin (60)