Ards 2 - Crusaders 2
By Jana McCabe
The last game before the split saw in-form Crusaders visit the Bangor Fuels Arena. With just one point between Ards and twelfth placed Newry, points for Ards were crucial in the relegation battle.
In the opening seconds of the game, skilful play from Eamon McAllister gave Gareth Tommons a good opportunity, but his shot was blocked, before, in the third minute Ronan Hale’s strike from distance was well saved by Sam Johnston. In the seventh minute Craig McClean made a crucial clearance off the line after a scramble in the area, before a nice run and ball from David McAllister gave Darren Henderson a chance but his header was saved by Sean O’Neill. A clever knock-down from Jordan Owens fell to his brother Kyle but his strike was over the bar in the thirteenth minute.
Ards opened the scoring in the twenty fourth minute when Eamon McAllister’s cross eventually found Mark Kelly whose shot took a deflection and found the back of the net, with the goalscorer celebrating in some style.
In the thirty fifth minute story Hale’s strike was convincingly saved by Sam Johnston, before the last chance of the half fell to Crusaders when Matthew Snoddy’s close-range attempt was cleared after a scramble in the box following a fumble by the Ards keeper, with the half ending 1-0.
At the start of the second half Ronan Hale’s close range shot was wide of the right hand post. In the fifty first minute Ards were awarded a free kick for handball, with Craig McClean's accurate strike from the edge of the area finding the top corner to make it 2-0 to Ards.
Ronan Hale continued to look dangerous for the away side when his shot found the side netting in the fifty seventh minute before, in the sixty second minute, his strike from inside the box was well saved by Sam Johnston. Crusaders started to have majority of the chances and again came close when Jordan Owens’ left-footed shot curled just wide of the left hand post. Then in the sixty eighth minute Gareth Tommons produced a great block to deny Crusaders a goal scoring opportunity.
However Crusaders did score in the sixty ninth minute when Declan Caddell’s header beat Sam Johnston to make it 2-1. Seconds later Eamon McAllister's strong shot was well blocked by O’Neill with Mark Kelly unable to bundle in the rebound. In the seventy ninth minute Jordan Forsythe’s free-kick deflected off goal-scorer Caddell and was well saved by Sam Johnston. Then Reece McGinley’s strike from range was also saved by Sam Johnston. However in the eighty third minute the game was all square when Ronan Hale's beautiful shot from range found the back of the net to make it 2-2.
In the dying seconds of the game it could have been a repeat of previous encounters with the Crues this season when the away side almost left the Bangor Fuels Arena with all three points but a great reflex save from Sam Johnston denied David Cushley’s header. The game ended 2-2 with goal scorer McClean picking up Man Of The Match.
A bit of disappointment for Ards as Crusaders come away with a point even though they were 2-0 down. However taking into consideration Crusaders's form and Newry losing, this point could play a crucial role in the relegation battle. No football next weekend but the following week sees the first, and arguably biggest, post-split game as Ards travel to the Newry Showgrounds.
XI: Sam Johnston, Adam McAleenan, Callum Byers, Craig McClean, Johnny Taylor, Eamon McAllister, David McAllister, Gareth Tommons, Josh Kelly, Darren Henderson and Mark Kelly.
Used Substitutes: Michael McClellan (for Darren Henderson) and Kyle Cherry (for Mark Kelly).
Unused Substitutes: Brendan Bennett, Jonathan Smith, Eoghan McCawl and Matthew Davidson.
Yellow cards: Josh Kelly.