NIFL Championship – 12/02/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Mallards pluck victory as Ards get sunk
The Ards FC team, management and supporters made the long trip west this weekend to take on promotion chasing Ballinamallard at Ferney Park in what will be our third away fixture in a row, and three out of four away games in the month of February. Ballinamallard are arguably one of, if not the best, footballing sides in the league and Ards have competed well against them this season thus far, having taken four points out of a possible six in the previous two encounters and leaving Ferney Park last time with a creditable 1-1 draw despite being reduced to 10 men in the second half. While Ards got back to winning ways earlier in the week, the Mallards form of late has been good, if a little inconsistent with five wins, three draws and two defeats in their last ten Championship games. With Newry extending their lead at the top and H&W Welders moving into second in the table with wins on Friday night, both sides will be striving for the win and 3 points to try and regain ground.
Ards were running with the same squad that claimed the 3 points away to Loughgall with a fantastic second half performance, due to injury and suspensions while new signing Benji Magee was in the stands. DD McAllister was recalled to the starting 11 after his winning double on Tuesday and James Ferrin replaced O’Hare in the heart of the defence following his excellent showing after being introduced on Tuesday. Crane and Igiehon will both be available to face Institute next week after serving the last of their three-game ban, but no indication yet as to when TJ Murray will be available for selection as he continues to recover from the injury sustained some weeks ago.
It was a case of old problems coming back to haunt Ards who understandably would have gone into the game full of confidence following the second half performance against Loughgall midweek. A combination of individual mistakes, poor decision making and a lack of concentration at times ultimately cost Ards in this game, giving Ballinamallard a much deserved 2-1 victory, and 3 valuable points in their push for promotion. The Mallards are a very good passing football side and some of their build up play was very slick, seeing Ards chasing shadows at times. The first half was pretty even, with Ballinamallard keeping hold of the ball for long periods, while Ards worked hard keeping them at arm’s length and managing to create arguably the best chances of the game.
Despite all the Mallards play and possession, Ards created several good chances to open the scoring, the first through some great link up play between Donnelly and DD McAllister on 9’. Donnelly started the move deep in his own half, a clever one two between himself and Tully got them up the park. He switched the play quick, pushing DD out wide left, DD took his time and measured his cross into the box towards the back post. Donnelly had continued his run and met the ball but was a fraction late and couldn’t direct his header on target. Signs for the travelling support to be optimistic early on. The Mallards continued to move the ball between the Ards lines but never really made anything out of it while Ards seemed to be the more dangerous of the two teams in an attacking sense. With the score still 0-0 that man McAllister had a double chance to grab a lead on 19’. Ards were patient in the build-up from the back, McGovern playing it into Tully's feet, a one-two between Tully and Cafolla and a lucky break saw the ball reach DD wide left. His first effort was saved well by Jamie Ray in the Ducks goal at the near post, but the ball fell kindly for DD to follow up again. His second effort went right across the goal mouth, it looked goal bound from where we were in the stands, but scraped just past the far post. Cafolla was waiting at the back post but he was unable to react in time to tap it in. Very frustrating moment for the Ards fans, we need to be making more of these chances when they come.
The half continued in that vein, Mallards having most of the ball, but Ards creating more effective chances even with their limited possession. Donnelly had probably the best chance of the half on 37’ and really should have found the net with this one. The midfielder had made himself some room on the edge of the box and played in by Tully, great first touch to get it out of his feet and tried to pass it into the far corner. It was a good move but a tame effort on goal in the end, and the keeper was able to make the save.
As we have seen in the last couple of months Ards have been unable to take advantage and convert chances to goals. With 2 mins to go in the half it was looking likely that both teams would get into the changing rooms and regroup at 0-0 but as happens all too often this season Ards were punished again, be it a lack of concentration, pressure from then opponents, who knows, but on 43’ Ballinamallard benefitted and took the lead. A simple ball over the top from Clarke played in Ferry and the race was on between him and the Ards keeper. Lemoignan met the ball first, but it wasn’t a clean gather, he fumbled it and the ball fell perfectly to Ferry. He had all the time in the world to control the loose ball and fire it past Dinu on the Ards goal line, who had dropped deep to cover the advancing keeper. Ards probably didn’t deserve to go behind, but as we have seen all to often, when you don’t take your chances, you get punished.
Several seconds later the referee blew up for the half time break. In the absence of the new manager for this one it was up to coaches D Miskelly and D Phillips to pick the boys up for the second half. On balance a very even first half that looked to be heading to the break at 0-0 but for a costly mistake by Lemoignan just minutes before the HT whistle.
Second half underway and the patterns of play following on from the first was immediately clear. On 50’ a good stop by Lemoignan in the Ards goal kept the score at 1-0. While not a convincing save, the young keeper did enough to clear the danger at his near post and Ferrin did the rest. A few minutes later he was called into action again, putting a powerful shot from distance over the bar. It was another nervy moment for the young keeper as it appeared to break through is hands, fortunately there was enough on it to take it over the bar. The Ards goal was living a charmed life in the early stages of the second half and Lemoignan being put under increasing pressure following his error in the latter stages of the first half. That will no doubt have been playing on his mind, but he’s standing up to then pressure thus far.
Ards were not just in defensive mode in this half though, they did put together some quality attacking moves themselves, reminding the Ducks that they were still in the game, DD McAllister being particularly busy out wide left. On 60’ Ards pressed high up the pitch and Scannell found himself within shooting range, after great control and turn. His effort was well hit, just a little high, and Ray could just see it over the bar. That was Scannell’s last action of the match as he was replaced by Jallow out wide on the right. Ards were awarded a freekick on 68’, which Donnelly took. The crowd were hopeful as we’ve already seen in previous games that Donnelly has a brilliant strike from a dead ball, unfortunately this one was straight at the keeper who was able to palm it down and collect. Ballinamallard all but killed the game off on 75’ when they doubled their lead through McEvoy. From a footballing point of view, it was a great goal, excellent passing move ending with a brilliant finish giving Lemoignan no chance in the Ards goal. What was disappointing is that Ards had chances earlier in the move to break up the attack but weren’t strong enough in the challenge.
At 2-0 and the game seemingly gone, Ards didn’t give up and were pressing for a goal that would get them back into it. They reverted to a more traditional 1,4,4,2 formation, replacing McGrandles and Tully with Reynolds and McCurry, both new boys heading straight up top to run the line. On 86’ Ards had a great chance as McCurry fired the ball across the goalmouth, but it was too far in front of McAllister and he couldn’t make up the ground. Ards kept on pressing and on 90+2 got some reward, a dangerous cross from the right by Jallow, intended for McCurry, was headed into the back of his own net by McCann. It was of little consolation as despite Reynolds quickly grabbing the ball to get the game back underway, as soon as the Mallards kicked off from the restart the ref blew the final whistle. The game ended 2-1, three very valuable points for Ballinamallard.
I know the new management team would have been more than aware of the scale of the job at hand, but today would have been a great reminder that there will be ups and downs along the way. From the highs and elation of Tuesday night to the long miserable drive home following this result we’ve had it all within 4 days.
Some mileage being covered in February for the team and supporters, but we return to home action this coming Friday as we welcome Institute to Clandeboye Park. There’s a full week for the new manager and coaching staff to get to grips with the team, outside of TJ Murray there should be a full squad to select from so there will be options available for Tipton should be opt to use them. Ards will be very aware of the fact that a significant gap has opened up between themselves in 6th and those chasing the promotion playoff spot. Currently on 40 points, we find ourselves 16 behind league leaders Newry but probably more worrying we are now 7 behind 5th placed Welders and 8 points off the trio of teams 2nd through 4th. Still plenty of games to go but we really need to put a win of games together starting next week.
Lemoignan, Dinu, McGovern, Ferrin, Young, McGrandles, Scannell, Cafolla, Donnelly, McAllister, Tully
Jallow, McCurry, Reynolds
Subs not used:
Neeson, Calderwood, Arthurs, O’Hare