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Ards 2 Bangor 2 – Match Report

NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 26/12/23

By Phillip Bartlett


Hunter Swoops to Ground Seagulls

Honours even following boxing day’s most significant ‘Big Two’ clash for years.



We arrive at what would easily have been the most anticipated fixture of the season for both Ards FC and Bangor FC supporters following the Seasiders recent promotion back to the Championship, the return of the North Down derby Boxing Day fixture. I’m not sure many would have anticipated the current league placements of the sides when the season started, Ards very inconsistent and underwhelming in 10th, while todays ‘visitors’ currently sit, somewhat unexpectedly perhaps, 4th 10 points above their local rivals and todays hosts. Any football fan will tell you that form goes out the window on derby days, something Ards fans will have pinned their hopes on as Bangor are currently on a 4-game winning streak while Ards have suffered 4 defeats and 1 draw since they last secured 3 points in a 4-0 win against current league leaders Dundela back in November. Having already been beaten by those in yellow and blue this season, the Red and Blue army will be more determined than ever to steal the bragging rights this time round in front of what should be a very healthy crowd.


Strong line-up for Ards despite injury concerns

Plenty of injury and suspension concerns in the build up to this one, Ards having seen 3 key players taken off with injury and another suspended after seeing red during the last fixture away to Institute. The good news on release of the team news was that both Max Greer and Callum Dougan have recovered from their knocks on Friday and are available for selection. Connor Maxwell is not so lucky and will remain sidelined for a while longer following an ankle injury. Somewhat unexpected was the inclusion of Eamon Scannell in the starting lineup following his straight red in the last game. The club have confirmed that they have appealed against his suspension feeling the punishment was harsh and there are grounds for it to be overturned. Having seen the incident, and commented last time, I was of the opinion a yellow would have been sufficient, if even that. With that process ongoing, Scannell was available for selection ensuring Ards were able to name a strong starting 11. No shortage of ex-Ards men making up the visitors squad today with Reece Neale, Scott McArthur and Dylan O’Kane all featuring for the Seagulls. A decent game in prospect for the more than 1,000 fans that turned up on the day.


Very much a game of two halfs this one, or to be more exact a game of 70 minutes vs 20 minutes, that saw the ‘away side’ dominate the majority of the match but failing to kill off Ards, no doubt feeling like they had let 2 points slip at the end. Ards very much the happier of the two sides as they grabbed a point with 2 late goals that cancelled out Bangor’s 2 first half strikes and the game ending 2-2, local bragging rights to be shared for now. Scott McArthur and Ben Arthurs got the Seagulls flying with a quick double in under 20 minutes, Ards really up against it with less than a quarter of the game gone. Bangor kept up the pressure throughout the first half, Ards offering very little as an attacking threat, but were unable to capitalise and extend their lead before referee Mark Dillon took us into the interval. Second half started much as the first ended, Bangor on the ascendancy looking to extend their lead, but they continued to be wasteful in front of goal. Ards were showing a bit more in the final 3rd but didn’t really test Taylor in the Bangor goal until we hit back on 71’, Callum Dougan breathing life into the home side and pulling us back into the game. As a contest it really livened up after that goal, Bangor continuing to press but without the freedom they had in the first half as Ards finally started to move the ball. The hard work and persistence paid off, Ross Hunter grabbing an equaliser at the back post on 80’ to level it up and make the last 10 minutes very interesting, either side still capable of taking all 3 points. Both teams had chances to steal it, but the fairy tale moment for one set of supporters failed to materialise and after playing 3 minutes of time added on Dillon brought the curtain down on the festivities. 2-2 the final score, the ‘home side’ happy to have pulled it back, the ‘away side’ happy to take their point but no doubt disappointed not to have taken all 3 having dominated the play and created plenty of chances to be out of sight early on. 

The Teams are out, Ards being escorted onto the field by members of the Ards FC Academy


Ards got the game going and immediately set about trying to get behind the Bangor back line, hoping to catch them out with a quick start. Hunter and Dougan combined well in the opening 10 minutes, the Ards #9 getting in behind the Bangor lines on a couple of occasions but unable to make the most of the situations as he smashed an effort into the side netting having been played through by Aidan Steele. That was the best of it for Ards for some time as Bangor regrouped and turned the screw, pressing Ards back deeper and deeper and it didn’t take long for the pressure to tell. Scott McArthur used his pace to great advantage stealing in to nick the opening goal of the game and give Bangor the lead on 11’. Ards had chances to clear the danger well before the goal game, Ruddy and Arthurs in a battle wide right that earned Bangor a throw in high in Ards territory. R Neale took it, picking out Sean Brown to send a dangerous ball into the box. It was met by an Ards head but not cleared properly and seemed to hang in the air for a long time with no-one challenging it. McArthur didn’t waiting around though nipping in to slide it beyond Moore as he came out to try and gather the ball. There wasn’t much power on the effort, and it slowly trickled towards the goal line before a last-ditch Matt Gorman attempted clearance. The ball had already crossed the line however, the goal awarded, and Bangor up 1-0.


Bangor kept the pressure up, Reece Neale presented with another opportunity to put the ball in the danger area from the corner flag on 14’. It was a good ball in, whipped with the left boot, but Ards captain Ruddy was there to clear with a powerful header and get the team up the park. Unfortunately for the Ards back line the ball wasn’t being held up effectively in the first half and each time it was cleared possession was overturned and Bangor streamed forward again, pressure building and building. Again, the pressure told, Ben Arthurs grabbing a second goal on 17’ coming in at the back post and sliding the ball under Moore and into the back of the net. Arthurs proved to be a pain all day for the Ards defence, using his size and strength to his advantage. On this occasion he was too much for Greer to handle and the Bangor #9 was through on goal with just Alex Moore to beat. The keeper was quick off his line, stayed big as long as he could, but Arthurs wasn’t fazed and calmly slotted the ball under the keeper to double Bangor’s lead with less than 20 minutes on the clock. Ards firmly up against it now.

Max Greer getting the better of Adam Neale in the Ards left back position


Bangor looked the more likely to press on and build on their early advantage, continuing to create chances and test Moore in the Ards goal. While on the back foot for the majority of the half Ards did create some chances and got themselves into the attacking 3rd on occasion. They went close to hitting back immediately after Bangor grabbed their second goal, Aidan Steele forcing the first save out of James Taylor, a decent save it was too. It was a great hit by Steele, who has scored some important goals for Ards already this season. Still on the ropes as we neared the end of the first half Ards were presenting with a gilt-edged chance to change their fortunes as the referee pointed the penalty spot on 34’, Henderson taking down Ethan Taggart as he made his way into the box. The Seagulls were unhappy with the award, but it was a clear foul in the area. Callum Dougan has been Ards’ go to guy for penalties, having already scored several from the spot this season. He stepped up to this one but was unable to convert, Taylor making a decent save calling the right side, diving to his right to deny Ards a way back into the game. It wasn’t the best penalty Dougan will ever hit, a great chance missed as we near the end of the half.

Bangor, having survived the penalty award hit back quickly, moving the ball with speed and precision through the Ards lines. Ben Arthurs, Dylan O’Kane and Adam Neale combining to create a chance as O’Kane slipped a perfectly weighted ball through for Neale to run on to. Moore was left exposed again by the fast pace move but had taken up a great position and was fast to get out and intercept the ball right at Neale’s feet before he could get a telling touch towards goal. That was the last of the action in the first 45 and after 1 minute time added on the referred took us into the break.


No changes for Ards at the break, the same 11 take to the field after the interval. O’Kane to get the game going for Bangor as they look to protect and build on their lead.


It was a slow start to the second half, Bangor the happier of the sides to let the game drift as they held the advantage, the onus very much on Ards to do the running and force the game. Nothing much of note in the opening 5 minutes after which Ards created arguably their best chance of the game in open play, Ross Hunter with the effort that was well blocked on the line by Reece Neale, saving a near certain goal. Steele and Hunter worked well to create the chance, Steele picking out the pacey front man with a brilliant through ball. Hunter collected and travelled across goal, skipping past a couple of challenges before releasing a shot goalwards. It wrong footed Taylor and was destined for the net, but Neale had anticipated it and dropped back to clear, Ards denied early in the second half.

Ards captain Michael Ruddy carrying the ball up field with Ex-Ards Dylan O'Kane for company


Bangor were the first to make changes introducing the experienced Michael Halliday after the hour mark and he almost made an instant impact curling an effort towards the far post from inside the area. He was afforded far too much space, but Moore picked up the flight of the ball early and was able to palm it clear, diving full length to his left to make the save. Ards were a bit fortunate that the second ball didn’t land at a Bangor foot and were able to clear the ball up field. After that Ards seemed to lift their game as we headed into the last 25 minutes. A slight change in the formation allowed Scannell to get a bit higher up the park and become more influential as an attacking option. On 66’ Callum Dougan was inches away from getting Ards back into the game, benefitting from a clever interchange between Cafolla and Taggart in the middle of the park. The Ards forward was played in with his back to goal, used his strength to hold it up before turning and striking at goal. It was definitely goal bound and would have really tested Taylor, but a Bangor foot managed to deflect it harmlessly away from goal.


The previous Dougan chance may well have been the catalyst for the change in fortunes as Ards hit back less than 5 minutes later, Callum Dougan this time making no mistake as he reduced the deficit with a clinical finish. Taylor with no chance this time after Aidan Steele got on the end of a high ball to head it into the path of Dougan who then did the rest. Steele took a huge hit for his troubles but wasn’t in the mood to complain once the ball was fired home, getting straight up and back in play. Ards right back in it with just under 20 minutes left to play and the momentum in our favour. The last 20 minutes provided more twists and turns than the previous 70 combined as both Halliday and Walker went close to restoring Bangor’s 2 goal advantage. Halliday again afforded far too much time and space in the box as Arthurs made the chance getting beyond Greer in the Ards left pack position. He carried it to the byline before laying it back to Halliday, fortunately for Ards his radar was off today and he sent it narrowly past the far post. Moore able to watch it sail past.

No fear Alex Moore as the Ards keeper throws himself at the ball before Lewis Francis


Walker was next up, his chance much more threatening as it cannoned back off the upright having beaten Moore in the Ards goal. Halliday right in the middle of things, teeing up Walker just outside the box. It was a really well hit strike, Moore was nowhere near it, needed a bit more help from his outfield players in closing down the effort. Walker couldn’t believe he hadn’t found the back of the net, thinking it was in as soon as he hit it but the RABA in attendance were able to breathe a sigh of relief as Ards lumped the ball up the other end of the field away from danger.


Ards were posing much more of a threat as an attacking force in this half, Bangor dropping deeper and working hard as Ards moved the ball well in search of the equaliser as we neared the last 10 minutes. Ross Hunter put his hand up to be Ards saviour, having pressed high and ran himself into the ground the whole game, the Ards #18 popped up to draw Ards level right on the stroke of 80’. A clever finish at the back post while under pressure, Taylor looked like he had done enough to prevent it, but Hunter got the better of him, sliding it under the keeper and into the net. 2-2 the score and a huge cheer from the Ards crowd, you’d have thought he had grabbed us a winner. With 10 minutes left, plus time added on, a winner was now a real possibility with both sides in with a real chance of grabbing all 3 points.


In terms of chances Ards disappointed as they failed to kick on after the equaliser, Bangor creating the better opportunities to take the win as the final whistle approached. With two great chances falling to Halliday and a huge claim for a late Bangor penalty, it was a tense finish to the game. O’Kane did well to feed the ball through two Ards defenders and forcefully challenged when he tried to collect the other side. It was a firm challenge but there was no danger of a penalty as a result. The officials were not swayed and waved play on. There was a real nervy moment as we entered 3 minutes of time added on, Michael Halliday challenging at the near post with a stooped header, trying to nip in front of Moore. The Ards keeper had covered the space and had his near post under control, but the header was sent into the side netting much to the Ards fans relief.

Callum Dougan and Eamon Scannell celebrate as Ards get themselves back into the contest

That proved to be the last action of the game, the 3 minutes time added on were up and referee Dillon blew the final whistle to end the game all square 2-2. Huge cheers from the Ards fans, happy that their team were able to dig in and get a positive result from the game considering the circumstances we found ourselves in with less than 20 minutes to go. A similar scenario to Friday night where we failed to get off to a good start, struggling to get to grips with the game, only to go behind and have to battle back in the second half. Tense times for the supporters but any kind of positive result against your nearest rivals is to be celebrated.


Callum Dougan was named the sponsors MOTM for this one. Despite the disappointment of missing a first half penalty, ‘Dougie’ didn’t let it affect his game and kept work solidly for the 90 minutes and eventually firing to get us back in to the game.


Just the small matter of the league leaders Dundela up next as we travel to Wilgar park for our 3rd meeting of the season. Ards have already beaten Dundela twice this season, home and away, with an emphatic 4-0 at Clandeboye Park back in November following a pretty comfortable 1-0 win on our last visit to Wilgar. A repeat of any of those scorelines will be some achievement with Dundela having won 4 of their last 5. Having dropped 6 points to Ards already this season you can believe they will be up for this one and looking a small slice of revenge at our expense.


Starting Line-up:

Moore, Greer, Gorman, Ruddy, E Scannell, Cafolla, Taggart, Steele, Hunter, Dougan, Miller



Shields, McCallum, McLaughlin, McAllister, Ritchie, Tipton, Bayliss

Photos supplied by Sarah Harkness / Co Down Spectator

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