NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 09/09/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Comrades Comeback Complete
Ards throw it away late on as 10-man Ballyclare Comrades fight back to claim unexpected point
Ards celebrated their first Championship win, and 3 points, of the season last week against Knockbreda despite a late rally by the basement club and further cemented that result by progressing in the County Antrim Shield defeating Queens Uni 2-1 on Wednesday night. Confidence should be high among the squad and expectations will certainly be raised as we go into match day 6 hosting Ballyclare Comrades at Clandeboye Park. The Comrades have had a good start to the season, having picked up 9 points from a possible 15, and will be looking to carry that form into today. Ballyclare had the edge on Ards last season, inflicting a heavy 5-1 defeat the last time the teams met. Ards looking to avoid a similar score line today.
Ards rang the changes for the midweek CAS game but reverted to the same starting 11 that claimed their first win last week against Knockbreda; never change a winning side and all that. There were a couple of changes on the bench, Conor Scannell and Matt Gorman dropping out and being replaced by Karl Hamill and Max Miller. Paddy Cafolla was present at the game today but was unavailable for selection as he continues to comeback from a hamstring injury. Hopefully we’ll see him feature again in the very near future. Having grabbed 3 goals last week, through 3 different players no less, Ards will be looking to keep racking up the goals and the points with all 3 goal scorers included in the starting lineup. Having lost our top striker from last season, it’s important that Ards have as many chipping in as possible. The opposition certainly has some familiar faces with 3 ex Ards men in the starting line up with a 4th on the bench in Callum Ferris. Ards will be very aware of the dangers both Calvin McCurry and Darius Roohi will pose, we’ll need to be at our best to nullify their threat.
Maxwell impressed at left back today, getting to grips with Ballyclare's Caomhan McGuinness
Easily Ards best performance of the season, on top right from the start, not allowing Ballyclare to get a foothold in the game. How this one got away from us and ended up all square I’m still trying to piece together. 2-2 the final score, but that gives no indication of the type of game we have witnessed. Ards took a 1-0 lead into the break, Ethan Taggart breaking the deadlock on 14’ after good work from Ross Hunter to keep the ball alive. It was no more than Ards deserved after a very assured opening 15 minutes. It was more of the same throughout the remainder of the first half but Ards failed to add to score line despite creating numerous great openings and limiting Ballyclare to set pieces. More of the same in the second half, Ards on top while Ballyclare made do with half chances, but it took until the 72nd minute for Ards to again trouble the scorers, Adam McCallum finishing from a Callum Dougan lay off in the penalty box. No more than Ards deserved for the level of dominance shown so far. Having earlier lost McGrandles to a red card, it seemed a long way back from Ballyclare. The last 10 minutes however proved to be a disaster for Ards as they opened the door for Ballyclare, Callum Ferris pulling one back on 82’. This gave the away side a boost and Ards seemed somewhat deflated but no-one bar those travelling supporters expected what came next. Despite the man advantage Ballyclare completed the comeback, equalising on 89’, Owen McConville heading in the equaliser having gotten a run off Ruddy at the back post. There was still time for a further red card as James McLaughlin saw red for violent conduct deep into time added on to add insult to injury.
Tough conditions for both sides today, the sun blazing from minute 1 but it was the home side that started the hotter, Connor Maxwell combining well with Eamon Scannell wide left on numerous occasions getting the better of McGuinness with ease. The build-up play was great; the final delivery left a lot for improvement, McGrandles and Beverland easily dealing with the balls put into the box, but great early signs. Scannell was the first to test Breen in the ‘Clare goal on 10’, having temporarily switched to the right side. Picking it up on the touchline, he stepped inside and released a fierce left foot shot to the near post hoping to catch Breen out with an early strike. The keeper was on his toes and was able to position himself and make a routine save.
Ethan Taggart converts the opening goal in the 14th minute
Ballyclare couldn’t keep Maxwell out of the game in the early stages and on 12 minutes he was presented with a great chance to open the scoring. An Eamon Scannell free kick was floated into the box from just inside his own half. Maxwell timed his run perfectly, beating the offside trap and finding himself all alone at the back post. He got on the end of the delivery but couldn’t direct it on target, sending it well wide of the post. Ards creating all the chances and on 14’ we grabbed the opening goal of the game, Ethan Taggart well positioned to swivel in the box and dispatch his shot past Breen, no chance for the Clare keeper. The goal game from a corner wide right, Steele and Scannell combining to deliver. Steele took it short to Scannell, the Ards #7 stepped in before swinging a cross to the back post. It looked to all that it was too high, but Ross Hunter did well to get on the end of it and head it back into the danger area where Taggart was waiting to apply the finish. 15 mins gone, Ards 1-0 up.
Having struck first Ards were looking to kick on and take the game away from Ballyclare and on 18’ it seemed Ross Hunter would do just that. Again Ards were playing dangerous crosses into the Ballyclare box, this time Adam McCallum flicked the ball on to the back post, Ross Hunter’s run took him clear and he tried to side foot it into the roof of the net. It was an awkward ball as he had to jump to meet it, it wasn’t the cleanest of hits but was destined for the net until Breen intervened tipping it over the bar. Great stop from the keeper. Maxwell, having been quiet for a while was involved wide left again, having beaten McGuiness to the by line he sent his cross in and rather than hitting the middle of the area it arced towards goal narrowly skimming the top of the crossbar.
Ards continued pressing, the defensive line having a relatively easy time thus far with little to no danger, Moore a spectator for the most part. On 39’ Ballyclare had their best change of the game to strike, and Moore was called into action. The ball was played over the top, Roohi was beyond the last man as the ball went into his path, it seemed clear the offside would be called but the signal didn’t come and the race was on. Moore came out on top, just getting enough on the ball to take it away from Roohi and retain possession for the home team. It was a challenge he had to win as any other outcome results in either a dismissal for the keeper or a goal for Ballyclare. Excellent work from Moore, focused and concentrating despite not having much to do in the first half. The 45 minutes were up and there was no additional time to be played so referee Robinson blew up and took us into the interval.
Adam McCallum challenges ex-Ards forward Calvin McCurry
No changes for either side at the break, Ards get the game restarted leading 1-0.
Ballyclare were the first to threaten after the break, Conal McGrandles meeting a Cillin Gilmour corner with his head but was unable to direct it on target. Ballyclare were on the attack just a couple of minutes later, an opportunistic break after an Ards free kick deep in the opposition half. Eamon Scannell took the free kick but was unable to beat the first man. It struck Morgan in the midriff and with most of the Ards team in the opposition box we were quickly under pressure. Morgan recovered enough to chase down and beat Greer to the ball, he then got his head up looking to play in Roohi in the Ards box, but captain Michael Ruddy had raced back to recover and was able the make the interception. Sloppy and wasteful from Ards in such a threatening position but we escaped.
Ards soon recovered and were the better side again, moving the ball better and creating chances, Eamon Scannell involved heavily for his side. The free kicks mounted up, Scannell himself being on the receiving end of some heavy challenges that went unpunished by the officials. Despite all these chances to send the ball in the box Ards were unable to capitalise, Ballyclare doing well to repel the attacks. Trailing by a goal to nil, and with about 25 minutes left on the clock, Ballyclare’s task was made that more difficult as ex-Ards man Conal McGrandles was shown a second yellow card, this one for barging into Eamon Scannell sending him sprawling to the floor. Ards very much in the driving seat now.
Ards extended their lead on 72’ defender Adam McCallum grabbing his first goal for the club giving Ards a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes left on the clock. It was another well worked goal, Aidan Steele at the heart of it again. He took the ball from Scannell in a quick corner routine, skipped past his man at the by line and played the ball hard and low into the box. It was a great ball, picking out Dougan with his back to goal. Rather than try and shift position for a shot Dougan laid a perfectly weighted ball for McCallum to step onto and hit from about 12 yards out. He made no mistake firing it high into the roof of the net, giving Breen no chance. 2-0 advantage, with a man advantage, there was understandable excitement in the home crowd.
Defender Adam McCallum celebrates his first goal for the club, giving Ards a 2-0 lead
Into the last 10 minutes, Ards still with their 2-0 advantage, and the old frailties that have plagued us all season came back to bite. After offering nothing of substance in attack for large parts of the game Ballyclare were allowed to waltz through the middle of the park, end to end, before ex-Ards striker Callum Ferris finished with aplomb, McCallum unable to get across and get a vital block in. Moore left exposed, nothing much the Ards shot stopper could do about that one. Ards found themselves in a similar position last week, having dominated so much of the game, but faltering as the end was in sight. Ballyclare, despite being a man down, were growing in confidence, a free kick awarded wide left after a great run down the wing. The ball was played in by Gilmour but while it was easily defended by Ards, it was another opportunity afforded the away side.
Like most in the ground I had expectation that at 2-0 to the good, a man down and less than 20 minutes to go that we would walk away with another 3 points, but football, as it so often does, shocked once again. 89’ minutes Ballyclare are awarded a corner on their left, having defended so well throughout it was disappointing to have been pegged back in this manner. It was a great ball played in, McConville got the run on Ruddy and met it well in the middle of the goal. 2-2 the score, again nothing Moore could do about it. The comeback complete, the home side and supporters utterly deflated.
There was 5 minutes of time added on to be played after the 90 had been completed, at 2-2 the 3 points were there for both sides but neither team created much of anything in the closing moments. While there was little to no goal mouth action there was time for a second red card of the match, Ards’ James McLaughlin shown a straight red. I didn’t see much of anything that occurred, so my assumption was a red for dissent, the player having said something out of turn to the officials. I have since been advised that it was potentially for violent conduct, an incident involving Calvin McCurry. Either way, red was shown and the ban will have to be served. That was the last action of the half, referee Robinson bringing the game to an end once the additional 5 minutes were up.
Ards' Max Miller looks on as Ballyclare grabbed a late equaliser
Reflecting on last weeks match I can’t help but draw parallels between the Knockbreda game and this one against Ballyclare. In both instances Ards dominated the game, could and should have been well out of sight, but at the first sign of adversity the cracks begin to appear. Despite being down to 10 men and with a 2-goal advantage we couldn’t hold out for the win losing more ground to those at the top of the table. A disappointing end the game which certainly raised tensions among some of the RABA in attendance as the team left the pitch. Plenty to think about for the management team as we approach match day 7 having probably given our best performance of the season up until the last 10 minutes. We created so many opportunities, a more clinical touch in the box would certainly have put this game out of reach.
Ards remain unbeaten in 5 matches in all competitions and while progress has been made our ability to hold on and see out games is somewhat concerning. Next up Dergview make the long trek east from Tyrone to Clandeboye park. The ‘Constitutes’ sit in 11th, one place below Ards having taken 3 points in their opening 6 fixtures, their only win coming away to the Welders at Blanchflower Park. Last season we faced Dergview 3 times coming out on top twice, there are no easy fixtures and I expect this to be more of the same.
Moore, Greer, McCallum, Ruddy(c), Maxwell, Taggart, Tipton(87’), Steele, Hunter(78’), E Scannell, Dougan(78’)
Shields, Hamil, Dupree (87’), McAllister, Miller(78’), Jallow, McLaughlin(78’)