Despite the absence of several regulars through suspension and injury, Ards returned to the top of the table with a hard working but well deserved 3-1 victory over in form Ballinamallard on Saturday evening. They actually share top spot with Newry City, both teams have identical goal difference and identical goals scored but alphabetical order means John Bailie's men can claim top spot.
The early stages of the game were even, but there were signs that the visitor's defence were going to have trouble with the speed and trickery of the Ards attack. There were a couple of near things for the home side before they broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when a quick cross field move found Scannell whose first touch beat his man and allowed him space to hammer the ball high into the net over the advancing keeper.
The lead was nearly increased when Jallow put a great ball in from the right and it just evaded Reynolds at the far post. Another chance went begging when a clever free kick routine left Cafolla with an opportunity but he was denied by a last ditch goal line clearance. Ards were then pegged back, against the run of play when a mishit shot fell to Josh McIlwaine and his fine effort from the edge of the box beat Neeson for the equaliser.
Ards were not deterred and continued pressure saw O'Hare put a header just wide as the Red and Blues looked to regain the lead. They succeeded in this just before half time when another flowing move led to a despairing lunge from a visiting defender and the referee had no doubt in awarding a penalty, Reynolds stepped up and there was no doubt about the outcome either, 2-1 to Ards as the half time whistle blew a few minutes later.
The second half opened much like the first with neither team really on top, but the hard working home side denied the visitors any clear cut chances and the pace of Salou Jallow in particular caused the visitors problems. Indeed it was Jallow's run and fine cross ball that caused confusion in the Duck's rearguard and McCurry stepped in to make it 3-1 to the Red and Blues. Almost immediately McCurry could have added to the total but his shot on the turn went over the bar and the chance was gone. There was one final chance to put the gloss on a good team performance when Reynolds found space in the box but his free header was directed straight at the keeper. As the game drew to a close, John Bailie made a number of substitutions, partly to run down the clock but maybe in recognition of the fact that the team had run their socks off and some fresh legs were needed.
So Ards extended their 100% home record in the league with their sixth consecutive win, but what really pleased the fans who stayed behind to applaud them off the pitch was the work rate and togetherness that has been so evident, particularly in the last couple of games.
Once again there were a number of contenders for man of the match but match sponsor Alex Gibson chose Daniel Reynolds for his non stop display.
Starting eleven : Neeson, O'Hare, McGrandles, McGovern, Dinu. Scannell, O'Kane, Cafolla, Jallow, Reynolds and McCurry.
Subs used : McMillen, Brown, Calderwood, Glover and O'Neill for Reynolds, Scannell, O'Kane, McCurry and Jallow
Subs not used : Ethan Carry and James Ferrin.
Yellow cards : McGrandles, O'Kane and Reynolds.