NIFL Championship – 29/10/21
Ards retain top spot after top of the table clash ends all square….
By Phillip Bartlett
Two goals in three minutes last time out against Newry was enough to turn the match in City’s favour and earn them 3 points, so Ards were looking to even things up in the reverse fixture at Clandeboye Park under the Friday night lights. There was a great crowd present to cheer on the Championships’ top two, with the crowd expecting a close game, which they duly got. Ards made several changes from their mid-week league cup fixture with Bam returning in goal and McCurry brought back in after being unavailable for selection against parent club Cliftonville.
Both goals were scored in a first half dominated by Ards, with Newry’s goal coming from a disputed freekick and their only effort on target in the first 45 minutes. Ards fans will definitely feel this was 2 points dropped following an excellent first half display which could have saw the North-Down side out of sight before the break. As we have already seen in this league, if you don’t take your chances when on top, you tend to live to regret it.
Ards deservedly took the lead on 12’ when McGrandles’ perfectly timed run was matched by Cafollas’ pinpoint corner and the big defenders glanced header found the bottom corner of the Newry goal. Minutes before the goal Ards defender O’Hare had gone close to breaking the deadlock but his header was cleared off the line by the retreating Newry defence. It was nothing more than Ards deserved for how they approached the start of the game.
On 28 minutes, and very much against the run of play, Newry equalised from a disputed freekick. The kick was sent towards the back post where Kings’ persistence paid off as he managed to force the ball beyond Bam in the Ards goal. The Ards bench were clearly incensed by the decision to award the foul with manager John Bailie being cautioned for his protestations.
A few minutes after the equaliser the home side had a golden opportunity to retake the lead through McCurry. Ards had been getting a lot of joy down the left flank throughout the half with Crane and Jallow linking up well. In a well worked move Crane found Nelson in the box, the midfield man did well to protect the ball, make some space and fire a low cross into the box. McCurry met the ball cleanly, but his effort went straight into the arms of Maguire in the Newry goal. A yard either side and Ards would have been celebrating their 2nd goal. Reynolds did have the ball in the net again on 38’ but the referee ruled it out for offside following a flag from his assistant. The half ended 1-1 with Newry being much the happier of the two sides heading into the break.
The second half started much like the first with Ards on the front foot and being the more adventurous of the two sides. The early pressure forced Maguire in the Newry goal into a mistake when he spilled a routine ball on 53’. Having dropped the first ball, the keeper regained his composure and gathered at the second attempt before anyone in red and blue could capitalise. Newry built their way into the half and at the end it could be argued that they shaded it on chances. Ards had more of the ball but were wasteful in the final 3rd never really recreating the threat they posed in the first half.
Ards’ best chance of the second half fell to Cafolla whose well struck volley went just over the bar. It was a really clean strike, with the ball dipping, but just a little too late to trouble the Newry goal. Moving into the last 10 minutes, still 1-1, and Newry had two great chances to steal the 3 points, but a sharp reaction save by Bam and a last-ditch tackle by Young ensured the points were shared.
Ards will be disappointed with the result on the balance of play, especially the first half, but also relieved that they didn’t lose it late on. The result sees Ards relinquish their 100% home record in the league but retain their lead at the top of the league. There will be a few eyes on Ballyclare’s fixture on Saturday afternoon against Loughgall as a home win would see them join us at the top on 29 points. As for Ards and John Bailie, attention now turns to Annagh United next weekend. A fixture that no-one will be taking lightly following the opening game of the season that saw Ards scrape a 3-2 victory with a last-minute Cafolla winner.
Neeson, Crane, McGrandles, O’Hare, Young, Nelson, Cafolla, TJ Murray, Jallow, Reynolds, McCurry
DD McAllister, E McAllister, Arthurs, Glover
Subs not used:
Carry, Calderwood, Ferrin