NIFL Championship – 14/01/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Difficult day as Ards ‘Edged’ out
A scrappy John Edgar goal makes the difference on a day suitable for Ducks
Back to the bread-and-butter NIFL action this week having rubbed shoulders in the big leagues in Irish Cup action last week. Our second trip of the season out west to Ferney Park for our 3rd meeting against the Ducks, having been on the end of a 4-1 defeat last time we’ll be looking for a positive result this time round. The Championship is as unpredictable as ever this season with anyone able to take points of anyone seemingly where a few back-to-back wins can have a big impact on league position. It’s certainly all to play for as teams look to strengthen in the open transfer window. Ards themselves bringing in shot stopper Neil Shields earlier this week.
Ards FC taking to the field for the first half
Ards new keeper Shields on the bench for this one alongside Ross Hunter, returning after a short absence due to illness. One change to the Ards starting eleven from last week as Daniel Reynolds is brought into the starting line-up with Eamon Scannell suspended having amassed 5 yellow cards in previous games, a big miss for Ards in this one. Conal Young carries on in his more advanced role after a good display last time out, narrowly missing out on a goal due to an errant offside flag for his strike partner. Ards new signings Karl Hamill and Aidan Steele continue in the side having signed early in the window. Ex-Ards goalkeeper Jack Lemoignan was signed on loan by Ballinamallard just in time for this one and makes his debut for the Ducks against his old side.
A scruffy goal, scored late on by Ballinamallard substitute John Edgar was enough to claim all 3 points for the home side condemning Ards to their 9th league defeat of the season. Ards will have some cause to be disappointed with the result at the final whistle after a much improved second half performance but overall, you’d have to say the better team won on the day. The first half finished goalless, hard to say from the side-lines how that was the case (but I’ll try) as on another day the Mallards could have been 4 or 5 in front at the break. A combination of poor finishing, good defending and a bit of luck ensured it was all square as the ref called time for the interval. A much better attacking showing from Ards after the restart but for all our good play we couldn’t find that killer pass or clinical finish when it counted. Ballinamallard had their chances in the second half, but it was a much more even contest making the eventual winning goal that much harder to take for those that had made the long trip out west. 1-0 win for the home side moving them 4 points behind Ards in the table.
Ards kicked off the first half and that was one of the very few passages of play we had in the opening 45, a dominant display by the home side in the first half keeping Ards penned in on the back foot for the majority. The tone was set early on, it seemed only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken, Mallards striker Patrick Ferry being the most likely of scorers. After several shots across the goal, brushing the wrong side of the upright, Ferry had the ball in the back of the net on 14’. Fortunately, he had strayed offside as Steven Drumm headed on a Coalan McAleer corner towards the back post, the flag up straight away as the ball crossed the line. Five minutes later Ferry was through again, one on one with Moore, slightly right of the goal, he’s dragged his shot wide with only the keeper to beat. A huge sigh of relief by the RABA.
Ards were very quiet as an attacking threat in the first half, barely creating even half chances of any note, the new Ducks keeper not tested once throughout. I remember one ball in from a corner, but it was an easy take for the keeper, perhaps his only involvement of the game thus far. A frustrating half for the Ards front men who were as much spectators as me for most of it.
The ref blew up for the break, much needed interval for Ards and time to regroup. The conditions were not helping but it was the same for both teams.
No changes for Ards at the break as Ballinamallard get the game going again. Conditions worsening as the game progressed.
Hard to appreciate the conditions the players had to contend with during this one...
The second half started as the first half ended, with Ballinamallard on top, Steven Drumm through on goal this time but again sending his shot wide of the far post with the keeper beaten on 48’. Ards hit back showing much more attacking intent, Conal Young combining well with Adam Salley in Ards best move of the game so far. It came to an end through a great defensive challenge by Mark Stafford but finally Ards giving the Mallards back line something to think about. Adam Salley followed that up on 56’ with a well hit freekick. It was about 30 yards out from goal, well hit but Lemoignan was equal to it, getting a good firm hand to tip it over the bar. Positive signs early on from Ards, a huge change of intent from the side.
Ards kept on the front foot Aidan Steele with some dangerous balls into the box testing the home sides back line and only for a brilliant defensive header by Peter Maguire Ards would have taken the lead. Dropping back to his own goal line he made great contact sending the ball away to safety. The Mallards rallied around the 70-minute mark, the Ards goal leading a charmed life. Coalan McAleer tested Moore on 69’, but it was a routine save for Alex in the Ards goal. The best chance of the second half fell to Patrick Ferry on 71’, his effort crashing back off the cross bar with Moore well beaten. It was a brilliant freekick sent in by Shane McGinty, pinpoint delivery, but Ards survive. The Mallards kept up the pressure with no fewer than 4 shots on target in 30 seconds, Ards players throwing themselves in harms way to make the blocks, eventually the ball fell to McAleer on the right, but his shot went wide of the far post and Ards could relax somewhat.
All Ards' hard work and efforts were eventually undone as Mallards substitute John Edgar converted on 79’. A disappointing goal to concede considering the hard work up until that point. A relatively innocuous ball in from the left, Ards didn’t intercept, and Edgar had escaped his man in the middle sliding into convert before Moore cover the ground and gather. 1-0 to the home side.
Despite the disappointment of going behind Ards didn’t give up and created several good chances to grab and equaliser. Cricky Crane found himself in a good position high up wide left and sent in a dangerous ball towards the near post. Karl Hamill was also in an advanced position and challenged but couldn’t get a telling touch before the Mallards could clear. A minute later there were huge appeals for a penalty as Ards substitute Ross Hunter was seemingly felled in the box. It seemed a clear clip but the officials waved it away. Hunter was in a good position in the box so I see no reason why he would go down unless fouled. Ards were quickly running out of time to get anything from this one, but there was one last chance in time added on as Greg Hall flew in at the back post. Ross Arthurs sent in a brilliant ball across goal, the Ards right back was so close to getting a telling touch sliding in at the back but sent it the wrong side of the post.
That was the last of the action, the ref blowing up after playing 3 mins of time added on, Ards losing out 1-0. On reflection the better team won, based on the chances created in the first half, but Ards definitely raised their game in the second half and were unlucky not to take something home. Having managed to get to the break all square it was disappointing to lose out when we were on top. A long trip home in miserable conditions which would quite aptly sum up the feelings of the travelling supporters.
Warrenpoint up next as they travel to Clandeboye Park next week. The Point had a good win yesterday defeating H&W Welders 3-1, the Welders were on a good run of late. Currently in 3rd vs Ards 5th, they have a game in hand and a 5 point lead, Ards victory will tighten everything right up at the top. A bit of consistency will go a long way in this league campaign. The PASC took the opportunity to present Ethan Taggart with their POTM award for December prior to the start of this game.
Premier Ards Supporters Club POTM for December, Ethan Taggart
Moore, Crane, Mullen, Hamill, Hall, Cafolla (C), Steele, Taggart, Reynolds, Salley, Young
Shields, Calderwood, Arthurs, Taylor, Murray, Hunter