NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 30/09/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Curries’ Portadown Too Hot for Ards
Portadown secure the spoils after a tight affair and Clandeboye Park
Ards head into game day 9 following back-to-back wins for the first time this season but today’s test will be the biggest yet as ex Ards boss Niall Currie brings his new look Portadown side to Clandeboye Park having returned to the Championship last season. Recent form would suggest we are in for a good game as both sides go in on the back of a winning run, Ards running out 1-0 winners against Dundela last Saturday while the Ports defeated the Mallards 2-0. An intriguing contest indeed with ex-managers sitting in both dugouts and plenty of familiar faces across the team divide. Not a lot of context heading into this one, Ards having last faced off against Portadown in a friendly match back in September 2020. Both teams have seen dramatic changes since and both will have reasons to be hopeful heading to the clash.
No changes to the Ards starting 11 going with the same 11 that so comfortably claimed all 3 points away to Dundela last week. 2 changes on the bench as we see a swapping of the Scannell boys, Eamon coming in as Conor misses out. DeeDee McAllister also drops out this week being replaced on the bench by Matt Gorman. The Ards line-up and formation are becoming very consistent, and we have seen the required improvements over the weeks, in no small part down to that level of consistency, as the team gets used to playing alongside each other. Adam McCallum remains firmly lodged in the heart of the Ards back line and in recent weeks has also proved to be a threat at the other end of the pitch having grabbed a headed winner last week against Dundela. Some well-known names make up the opposition, outside of the management teams, with former Ards player Eoghan McCawl starting in the middle of the park and fan favourite former Ards goalkeeper Aaron Hogg named on the bench.
Both sides emerge from the tunnel into pretty terrible conditions at Clandeboye Park
A brilliant team effort from everyone in Red and Blue today but it wasn’t quite enough as Portadown edged out a tight contest 2-1. The Ports went ahead for the second time on the hour mark after a fantastic Eamon Scannell strike early in the second half had brought Ards level, Paul McElroy having opened the scoring for the visitors in the first half. Miserable conditions throughout the 96 minutes of the game, the rain both heavy and persistent making it difficult for both sides. Despite an even opening to the game Portadown struck first after a missed defensive header allowed the ball through for Paul McElroy to run onto and open the scoring on 18’. Portadown could well have extended their lead shortly after, but it remained 1-0 at the break. Ards got back into the game early in the second half as half-time substitute, and interim captain, Eamon Scannell scored from outside the box finding the far top corner from outside the area. Ards’ joy was short lived however, another defensive lapse allowed Ryan Mayse in down the right and the former Dungannon man made no mistake with the finish past an exposed Alex Moore. Both teams continued to strive for more goals, Ards carving out the better of latter chances but were unable to convert and the game ended 2-1 to the visitors after an additional 4 minutes of time added on was played.
Miserable weather from start to finish, the teams having to adapt to the conditions, but both sides played some great football right from the start. Ross Hunter looked lively for Ards out left, and he was the first to see an effort on goal having cut in from the left before releasing a right footed strike. It was deflected out for a corner before it reached Buchanan in the Ports goal, but it had the keeper thinking. Portadown weren’t sitting back watching in the early stages themselves and produced arguably the move of the match in the early stages, but for a slip at the worst moment could well have resulted in the opening goal as early as the 5th minute. Fyfe cut the Ards defence wide open with a simple ball through, Mayse picked it up at the other end and played it across goal for McElroy to strike. It was fractionally behind the Ports #9 and he slipped while trying to adjust and recover the ground that allowed Ards to clear. Great move and danger signs for Ards early on.
The sides traded half chances with neither keeper really being tested before Portadown capitalised on an Ards mistake at the back. A simple ball played over the top and it looked to the world that Ruddy was going to reach it and direct it back to Moore, but the Ards captain misjudged his header allowing the ball to run behind him. McElroy took full advantage running in behind to collect the ball and finish past Moore in the Ards goal. It wasn’t the cleanest of strikes he’ll have hit, but it ended up in the goal which is all that counts. 1-0 to Portadown in the 18th minute. Disappointment for Ards who had been resolute at the back until then. Ards’ did have a piece of good fortune some 6 minutes later as the Ports looked likely to double their lead through Eamon Fyfe. Kenneth Kane managed to get down the Ards right far too easily and under no pressure slide the ball across goal where Fyfe was poised to finish, but he somehow didn’t make the right contact allowing the ball to skid outside the box while the goal was at his mercy. No doubt the weather conditions had a part to play in that one, a relief for Ards who were still rocked by conceding the early opener.
Adam McCallum and George Tipton a picture of concentration and they combine to keep Portadown at arms length
While Ards looked a bit shaky at the back, they were building up some good momentum at the other end of the pitch, especially wide left where Hunter and Maxwell were combining well. It was this pairing that created Ards best opportunity of the game, completing a one two before sliding the ball through for Taggart to latch on to and send a ball into the box. It was a decent ball lifted into the box, one Cafolla was perfectly placed to attack, but the Ports defence crowded him out and cleared the danger. Good attacking intent from the home side, a lot of joy coming from the left flank. Moore was being called into action again as the half wore on, first from a long-range effort made all the more treacherous due to the conditions, but Moore was able to help it over the bar before collecting the ball high in air from the resulting corner. He was back in action just before the break, Kenneth Kane getting the better of Ruddy in the box before shooting for the near post. Moore was in the right position to make a good save getting down well to his left.
That was the last action of an entertaining first 45, Portadown taking a 1-0 lead into the interval. Some great play from both sides but the away side grabbing the only goal of the half.
Two changes for Ards at the break as both Paddy Cafolla and Michael Ruddy didn’t come out again due to injuries sustained in the first half. Matt Gorman making an appearance at the heart of defence having replaced Ruddy while Eamon Scannell was brought in higher up the park to replace Cafolla. With both Ruddy and Cafolla off the pitch the captains armband was taken on by Eamon Scannell.
Scannell, having just been introduced, wasted no time in making an impact going close to goal with one of his first touches. The interim Ards captain picked the ball up from Hunter’s layoff and hit a fierce shot at goal, it was on target and would have caused Buchanan some issues, but it deflected off Wilson and put out for an Ards corner before it reached the keeper. The resulting corner was sent in too deep and Portadown were able to clear the ball easily up field. Portadown had been given an early warning of intent by Scannell but failed to take note as the Ards sub scored an outrageous goal from outside the box to draw the teams level on 52’. Taggart had the ball close to the by-line wide left, he played it into Scannell’s feet just outside the edge of the 18-yard box. With his back to goal, he’s dropped the shoulder and went outside the defender to make some space, his left foot shot was high and the ball arced over the head of Buchanan, to the far side of the goal and into the top corner. Something we have seen from ‘Eamo’ before so the question of ‘cross or shot’, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Of course, only one man will really know the answer to that one. 1-1 the score early in the second half, Ards back on level par.
Eamon Scannell was introduced at the break taking the armband from the injured Michael Ruddy
The euphoria around the ground in the RABA members that had braved the harsh conditions was very short lived as once again Portadown went ahead, Ryan Mayse making the most of another defensive lapse on the Ports right-hand side. The ball was played through the middle of the park and Mayse was able to run into a big area all by himself. A great ball played through, but despite the last-ditch attempt to intercept Mayse was clear through on goal and he made no mistake in lifting the ball past Moore and into the back of the net. Ards very much caught out on that left hand side again. 2-1 the score on the hour mark. Portadown resurgent again after retaking the lead with both McElroy and Wilson going close to extending the lead further but good work from Ards at the back kept them at bay. Another tough period for the home side as they tried to haul themselves back into the game for the second time.
Ards made further changes in a bid to try and pull this one back Jallow and Miller were introduced with Hunter and Tipton leaving the field. The introduction of Jallow did spark some life into Ards, picking up where Hunter left off and getting at the right side of the Portadown defence. Salou was pressing and seemed to be the best outlet in the latter stages, his hard and low cross into the box on 82’ causing confusion before Wilson took charge and turned it out for a corner. The resulting set piece was a wasted effort, Steele played it in, but it was too deep and McCallum was unable to get any meaningful contact as Portadown cleared. On 84’ the home fans were on their feet as it looked like we might get our moment after all. Another corner from the left, swung in well by Steele this time. Dangerous ball that Ports did well to clear, but it only went as far as Maxwell about 25 yards out. The left back stepped onto the ball and hit a first-time effort on goal, it stayed low and skidded towards goal where Buchanan got his body behind and made the save. It was a great strike, really well controlled and the Ports keeper was unable to hold onto the ball due to the ferocity. The second ball fell to the feet of Jallow some 6 yards from goal and it looked a certain goal, but the Ards wide man somehow fired it high over the bar. His blushes were somewhat spared by the linesman’s flag, but he really should have found the back of the net there.
Max Greer, ever present right back this season, holds up a Portadown attack
Time was quickly running out but with 4 minutes added on at the end Ards were afforded one last chance on goal, and it fell to Jallow out on the left again. He picked the ball up outside the box and let fly on goal, it was hit hard and low and from the stands looked destined to find the back of the net with Buchanan beat, but it took a nick off a Portadown boot that sent it just wide of the far post. We’re talking mere inches right at the death. The resulting corner was swung in, but Portadown dealt with it convincingly and once the ball was cleared up field the ref brought the game to an end. 2-1 the final score, Portadown running out victors.
Ards on the wrong end of the result but the effort and determination, not to mention some great passages of play, was really appreciated by the RABA in attendance, a far cry from some of the previous games where tensions had previously run high. A real sign of how far the team have progressed and a sign of intent from the players on display. If we play like that for the remainder of the season, we’ll come out on top more often than not. No updates at the time of writing for the two injured parties today, which may result in some enforced rejigging of the team for next week as we face extended travel with two visits to Ballinamallard in 5 days. We face off first in the league cup then back over again for some Championship action. Plenty of mileage to cover but we have the squad and supporters to cope.
Ards FC Academy 2012s leave the field after mascot duties, they also entertained the crowd at HT with a short match
It's shaping up to be a very tight Championship campaign as we now have a 3-way tie at the top of the league all on 18 points separated by goal difference. Ards find themselves in the middle of the pack with positions 4 through 9 separated by 2 points. Any team that puts together a winning run of any kind will no doubt rocket up the table. After 9 games of the season, it’s all to play for with teams consistently taking points off each other. As mentioned, our next league game is the long trip west to take on the Mallards. The Ducks currently sit 3 points below us in 11th place, but we’ll have to be at our best to take anything away from Ferney Park, a ground that has proved a difficult venue for us of late.
Moore, Greer, McCallum, Ruddy(c)(45’), Maxwell, Taggart, Tipton(78’), Steele, Hunter(67’), Cafolla(45’), Dougan
Shields, Hamill, Dupree, E Scannell(45’), Miller(78’), Jallow(67’), Gorman(45’)