NIFL Championship – 11/04/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Under-strength Ards make a big Point
Ards come out on top in their last home fixture of the season in terrible conditions.
Quick turn around for this fixture, Ards having been on the receiving end of another heavy defeat just 3 days ago against table toppers Loughgall. A tough start to the post-split fixtures doesn’t get much easier as second placed Warrenpoint are the visitors to Clandeboye park under the Tuesday night lights. The South Down team currently hold the advantage over their Northern neighbours with 2 wins to Ards’ 1 so far. Ards had a very fast start in the previous home fixture, taking a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes, but ended up losing 5-3 after a very dominant Warrenpoint performance. Ards will be looking to avoid a repeat of that, hoping to put as many points on the board as possible. With opportunities to advance up the league beyond 5th places unlikely, it’s important as we look to next season and those players we can attract alongside retaining players that fit into the clubs plans moving forward.
Injuries and suspensions had a huge impact on the squad on Saturday and 3 days later it proved even worse. Those unavailable for tonight’s game included Kyle Calderwood, Cricky Crane, Ethan Taggart, Johnny Taylor, DeeDee McAllister, Ben Mullen and Chris McDonald. Ards had a limited bench with only 5 named players including two call ups from the reserves. Eamon Scannell continued where he left off in the Loughgall game, covering in at left back while Conor Scannell was brought into the middle of the park to replace Ethan Taggart. Ross Hunter started up top alongside Adam Salley through the middle and Salou Jallow on the other side. Makeshift centre half TJ Murray, who was only able to take a place on the bench on Saturday due to an ongoing injury, was restored to the starting line-up, once again partnering with Karl Hamill in the centre of defence.
Terrible conditions for tonight's game, photo doesn't really do it justice
A single goal was the difference between the sides in this hard-fought tie, played in the most horrible of conditions that didn’t exactly lend itself to flowing football, both teams deserving the utmost credit for the efforts on display. Ards could well have found themselves out of contention in this one before the break, but a commanding display by the Ards #1 Alex Moore kept them in the game and set the foundations for Ards to take a shock lead into the break. Top scorer Adam Salley pounced in time added on at the end of the first half to break the deadlock, grabbing the only goal of the game. While Warrenpoint dominated the first half, it was a much more even second half, both teams creating good chances in the attacking third. Moore continued to deny the travellers while Ards were unable to add to their first half strike. The game ended 1-0 to the home side, a hard earned 3-points for Ards and a disappointing trip home for the visitors who no doubt believed their first half showing deserved more rewards.
It was a bad start to the game for the visitors losing their dangerous right back Steven Ball in the first couple of minutes to injury following a clash with Conal Young. Warrenpoint were convinced a penalty should have been awarded but the officials waved it away. As noted the weather conditions were awful for both sides and it took some time for the game to get going, Warrenpoint on top in the early stages. Ryan Swan was looking very dangerous for the away side, combining well with Luke Slater who was getting early joy down the Ards left hand side. Point combined well to create several chances for Swan to finish and while he looked a cert to get on the sheet tonight, Alex Moore wasn’t to be beaten. On 14’ Swan was played through the Ards lines, finding himself with plenty of time and space to get his shot away, arrowing into the far corner of the goal Moore stuck out a foot and was able to divert it round the post. 5 mins later McKenna played an excellently weighted pass through the middle giving Swan another go but again he found Moore in inspired form, the Ards shot stopper staying big and winning the contest for the second time, getting a strong hand to divert it away from goal. Swan really should have taken that one but Moore had positioned himself brilliantly putting him under pressure and eventually making the save.
Ards were doing just about enough at the back to repel the constant Warrenpoint attacks, but they were getting opened up on too many occasions for comfort. Kealan Dillon was having a big impact on the game in the middle of the park looking to pick out his attacking players. 25’ in and Dillon played the pass of the game in behind Scannell, picking out Salter’s run into the box. He made it to the by-line and tried to cut it back into the box, but Scannell had recovered his position and saw it out for a Point corner. Having had a penalty call waved away in the opening minutes Warrenpoint were again claiming for a spot kick as Dillon went down in the box under a challenge. Again, the ref was having none of it and waved it away, I wasn’t as sure as the ref but happy to see play waved on, another ref on another day may have thought differently.
Warrenpoint very much on top and content to play the ball around the Ards back line looking for gaps, while the home side had very limited possession in and around the Warrenpoint half. Slater and McKenna worked the ball well down the right flank before sending a dangerous ball into the box, it was laid off outside the box and Dillon stepped on to it but sent his shot high over the bar, letting Ards off the hook a bit just after the half hour mark. Having seen two penalty claims turned down earlier in the half for the away side it was Ards turn looking to the officials as Paddy Cafolla was sent tumbling in the box. The best move of the game for Ards as an attacking threat, Cafolla and Salley combing well just outside the box. Salley protected the ball well before slipping it through to Cafolla, spotting the midfielders run. Cafolla collected the ball in the box and tried to wriggle his way past the Point defender before going to ground. It looked like he may well have had a case for a penalty but the referee waved play on.
Ards Patrick Cafolla played a huge part in the middle for the park helping Ards getting this one over the line
As we have seen before in this unpredictable Championship season if you don’t take your chances when on top you are often punished, something that has happened to Ards on numerous occasions. This time Ards were on the other side of things, opening the scoring to take the lead late on in the half very much against the run of play. The last action of the half Ards had a freekick awarded some 40 yards from goal. E Scannell played into the box with pace, Karl Hamill getting his head to it and directing it towards goal. Mitchell, having had very little to do in the opening 45, reacted well to keep the ball out of the net but couldn’t hold on to it, the second ball dropping just outside the 6-yard box. Ards striker Adam Salley hadn’t had much to work with thus far in the half but was on his toes and was first to react smashing the ball into the back of the net to give Ards an unexpected lead as we neared half time.
There was several minutes of time added on played before the interval due to the injury to Ball in the opening moments, after which the ref took us into the break giving both teams a chance to get out of the rain for a short while.
No changes for Ards at the break as the home side get the game going again.
Conditions were no better in the second half than in the first, in fact I’d suggest they may have deteriorated even further as we got going again. While Warrenpoint dominated the first 45 the second period was a much more even contest, Ards buoyed by that goal just before the break.
The second half nearly started perfectly for Ards, Conor Mitchell in the Point goal misplacing a pass directly to Ross Hunter just outside the box, Hunter squared to ball to Conor Scannell, but his shot was deflected over the bar. It wouldn’t have mattered in the end as the lineman’s flag was up indicating Scannell was offside in the build-up. Great opportunity squandered by Ards just after the break. Ards were really up for this in the opening stages of the half and would consider themselves unlucky not to have extended their advantage, both Adam Salley and Paddy Cafolla with great chances. On 49’ Salley was inches away from getting on the end of an Eamon Scannell shot-come-cross across goal. With Mitchell beaten the ball was heading out for a Point ball, Salley was in close attendance, again picking up a great position, but couldn’t get a telling touch to turn it in at the back post. Cafolla made a chance for himself on 53’, having spotted Mitchell off his line he tried to lift the ball over him from just outside the box. There was no power on it and Mitchell was easily able to recover and take an easy catch. Positive signs for Ards after the break.
Warrenpoint soon worked their way back into the game and had several chances to grab an equaliser, but they couldn’t find a way past Alex Moore who was in inspired form. On 56’ Ray O’Sullivan tried his luck from wide right, striking a fierce shot across goal which Moore had to be at full stretch to reach and palm away to safety. Ryan Swan was inches away from getting on the score sheet minutes later, just failing to make contact on a Luke Slater ball to the back post on 66’. Moore was beaten by the pace of the ball but fortunately for Ards Swan couldn’t get the required contact. Point hero Adam Carroll the last time out was brought on as they pressed high up the pitch and it nearly paid dividends early on as he was played into the box by McKenna on 72’. TJ Murray and Karl Hamill did well working together to crowd him out and eventually clear up the pitch.
Alex Moore receiving his MOTM award from George Young after the 1-0 win. Richly deserved for a fantastic performance
Warrenpoint continued to press for the equaliser as Ards dropped ever deeper to their goal line. As we approached the last few minutes of the game Warrenpoint were throwing everything into the box, but Moore was calm and in control, determined not to be beaten and hold on to his first clean sheet since early March against Annagh. The 90 minutes were up and there were 3 mins time added on but Ards couldn’t afford to relax as Point continued to press right up until the end. The last action of the game Point were awarded a freekick right at the death, they sent everyone up bar the keeper hoping for one last rally. The ball was floated into a packed box but thankfully it had a bit too much on it and sailed out harmlessly for an Ards ball.
The referee finally brought the game to an end after playing an additional 4 minutes, Ards taking a hard fought 1-0 win along with the 3 points. A great showing and a brilliant showing to bounce back after the disappointment of Saturdays result. A result made even more impressive considering the amount of absentees and limited options from the bench. A miserable night out for everyone involved but something really positive to cheer about as the final whistle went.
The sponsors MOTM award rightly was awarded to Alex Moore who undoubtedly kept Ards in the contest in the first half as it could well have been out of sight had it not been for a string of excellent saves early on. That was Ards last home game of the season, the post-split fixtures seeing us on the road for 4 out of the 5 games. Annagh United are up next on Friday evening at the BGM Arena, with Annagh having lost 7 of their last 9 games Ards should be confident of getting a positive result.
A Moore, E Scannell, Murray, Hamill, Young, C Scannell, Cafolla, Steele, Hunter, Salley, Jallow
Shields, Hall, Arthurs, S Moore, Duckett