NIFL Championship – 17/09/22
By Phillip Bartlett
High flying Ducks sink Ards….
Ards were once again back in league action after attention switched temporarily to the local cups with games against both Queens and Ballymena over the last couple of weeks. Ards have not played a league fixture in a fortnight following the cancelling of all sporting fixtures due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, that last outing being a defeat away to Warrenpoint and a long miserable trip home. Another long trip on the cards for this one, heading out West this time to take on Ballinamallard at Ferney Park, with hopes of a better result. Going into the game Ards were sitting 2 points clear of their opponents and following a spirited performance against Ballymena midweek, fighting back from 2-0 down, there was good reason to be hopeful.
A familiar shape to the starting 11 saw Cafolla and Taggart playing together in league action in the middle of the park for the first time since the opening day win away to the Welders alongside the ever-present captain TJ Murray. Ross Hunter leading the line-up top, supported by Reynold and Scannell. Septembers POTM Alex Moore continues to be a reassuring presence in the Ards goal. I also had the dubious pleasure of being joined in the stands watching the game by Adam Salley, DeeDee McAllister and Conal Young, my preference of course seeing them available for selection and in the match day squad. Hopefully it won’t be long until we see the guys back in action.
There was a minutes silence before kick-off as a mark of respect following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II which was impeccably observed by both sets of players and fans.
Excellent conditions for football, sun was shining, and the Mallards pitch looked in great condition as they got us under way in the first half. The first 45 was as equal a half of football as you’re likely to see, ending 1-1. Both sides had chances but neither side dominated in any meaningful way. A 4-1 score line at the end of the game would suggest that Ballinamallard were on top throughout which was not the case. Heading into time added on at the end of the game Ards were 2-1 down and pressing for an equaliser which can often leave you exposed and Ballinamallard capitalised grabbing 2 very late goals to make it a much more flattering score line, a welcome 3 points for them regardless.
Respectful moment of remembrance for Her Majesty the Queen who passed away recently
The early stages of the game won’t live long in the memory as both sides tried to play themselves into the game, with little success. Ards were looking to pass their way through the lines, zipping the ball around quickly and on 13’ it opened the door for Scannell to have the first proper chance of the game. Calderwood and Reynolds were working well together wide right and started the move, after a few quick passes it was played into Hunter who carried the ball across field and laid it off to Scannell in the box. He delayed his shot, and it gave the defender time to get out and make the block. It was a great move and deserved a better finish at the end.
On 15’ Ballinamallard opened the scoring with a brilliant finish on the edge of the box through McAleer. No matter how good our attacking play may be, we always get caught out with the basics at the back, same story on countless occasions. Calderwood at right back had plenty of time to put the ball out but was closed down as he tried to turn and play the ball up field. The ball fell kindly for Edgar who played it out to McIlwaine in space. He saw the run of McAleer and rolled a perfectly weighted pass right into his path setting up the first-time strike. It was hit sweetly and put right into the top left-hand corner of the Ards goal, Moore no chance.
Hunter was up for this game today, always on the move making himself available, closing down the opposition defenders giving them no time on the ball and wasn’t afraid to get stuck in with a tackle or two when called for, so it was no surprise when he popped up in the middle of the box and netting Ards an equaliser within 90 seconds of going a goal down. The goal came from the Ards right, the returning Taggart taking the ball to the by-line and seeing off his man, he laid the ball back to Calderwood who sent in a first-time ball across goal. Reynolds attacked the ball, but it evaded him but found its way to Hunter who turned it into the net. Excellent bit of play by Hunter, drifting into the box unnoticed by the defenders picking up a good position for the cross, 1-1 the score and a quick reply sees Ards back on level terms.
Reynolds celebrates as Hunter hits back immediately
Hunter seemed the most likely for Ards at getting another goal, showing a bit of class and trickery on 32’ to completely bamboozle defender Maguire, Hunters fast feet had him turning in circles. Having found a bit of space he got a shot away, but it took a nick of another defender, and all the pace was taken off the shot allowing for an easy collect by Lynch in the Mallards goal. Hunter was determined to get on the sheet again and just 60 seconds later went agonisingly close to doing just that with a shot across goal that just grazed the wrong side of the upright, again getting the better of Maguire to find room for the shot.
The Mallards had the remaining chances of the first half going close on 30’ when McAleer got into the penalty area and tried to lob Moore towards his back post. A simple ball played high into the Ards left back area was met by Crane but instead of heading up the pitch it dropped inside straight to McAleer. He took his time and tried to lift it to the back post, had it dropped under the bar I don’t think Moore would have made up the ground. Fortunately for the travelling fans it hit off the cross bar and dropped over for a goal kick. Far too easy again, should have been dealt with more effectively but we got away with it.
Ards struggled with the pace of the Mallards wide man BJ Banda the whole game, regardless of what side he switched to our full backs were having a hard time keeping up with his speed and trickery on the ball and it was no surprise the impact he had on the game, the only surprise being it remained 1-1 at the break. Banda had probably the easiest chance of the game after getting on the wrong side of JT and collecting a perfectly weighted through ball he was one on one with Moore in the Ards goal. Alex stayed big and made a great save despite it being hit with some ferocity. A great stop and it ensured we went into the break 1-1.
Ards made a change at the break with Ben Mullen coming on to replace the injured Kyle Calderwood. Ards had already made a sub midway through the first half as Paddy Cafolla was replaced by McKendry in the middle of the park.
Ards got the second half underway, and it was a quick start for both sides as each team created good chances. Reynolds timed his run perfectly and found himself getting beyond Byrne and racing through on goal following a great ball over the top by Scannell. The forward had the ball under control and should have looked to get an earlier shot away, instead he carried it wide and then cut inside by which time Lynch had made up the ground from his goal line and between himself and the recovering Byrne they were able to squeeze Reynolds out and make the save.
Nearing the 70’ mark and still 1-1, Ards again had Moore to thank for keeping it that way as he made another great save bravely throwing himself in line of the ball and taking a powerful shot right in the face. It was a ball played in from the right, Edgar made the first contact sending the ball to the near post where Mallards' substitute Patrick Ferry probably thought he had a tap in. Moore had other ideas and quickly covered the ground to get himself in the way of it and clear the danger. The game stopped for a couple of minutes after that as Moore got some treatment. Due to illness Ards had no replacement keeper on the bench so there was a nervous wait as the club physio sorted him out. Sam did his work and thankfully Moore was able to carry on.
The game turned on 78’ when Ballinamallard were awarded a penalty after McKendry clipped McAleer as he cut across him in the box. McGinty stepped up and despite saving a spot kick in mid-week, Moore was unable to keep this one out as it was put high into the corner of the net. 2-1 the score going into the last 10 mins. Ards had to press for an equaliser at this point and brought on both Brown and Jallow for the final 6/7 minutes of the game, Reynolds and Crane having ran their race for today. Ards best chance for an equaliser came from goal scorer Hunter on 88’ as he tried to place one into the far corner of the goal. McKendry played a high ball up and credit to Brown for putting the defender under pressure. The clearance was played straight to Hunter just inside the box but his side footed effort was just the wrong side of the far post.
Substitute Aaron Brown tries to make something happen for Ards
At this point Ards probably deserved something from the game but when pressing high up the pitch you often get hit with a sucker punch which is exactly what happened to Ards in this case…..twice!
While Ards were pressing up the pitch the Mallards hit us with two counter attacking goals in time added on at the end of the 2nd half. The first came on 90+1 through Edgar. McAleer was allowed to run with the ball at his feet from well inside his own half and right into the Ards penalty area. After that it was a simple square pass to the feet of Edgar who made no mistake finishing in the bottom corner. At 3-1 down with only 3 mins of time added on to go it was game over for Ards. Unfortunately, it was not game over for Ballinamallard as they went on to claim a 4th goal on 90+4 when McGinty got his second of the game, a great finish curling it into the top right-hand corner of the goal, again a fully stretched Moore had no chance to reach it. Academic at this stage but again Ards had chances to clear the danger as Scannell had initially intercepted Byrnes pass, he dawdled and was caught on the ball allowing it to be played to McGinty and he did the rest.
The ref blew the final whistle once Ards restated from the centre spot, Mallards running out 4-1 winners and taking the points. Ards won't feel it was a 4-1 game on reflection, and there is an argument that we deserved to take something from it, but individual mistakes coming back to haunt us yet again. While no MOTM was picked from an Ards perspective today special mention to Ross Hunter who scored our goal, ran himself into the ground and was the most likely to produce something for us. A great showing by the young man.
Next up is old rivals Dundela who make the short trip from Wilgar park to Clandeboye Park on Friday for another match under the lights. The Duns have been doing well of late, recently putting Crusaders out of the league cup and currently sit 6 points above us in the table with a game in hand. It could be another tough night with old Manager Niall Currie potentially coming back to haunt us or it could perhaps kickstart our season.
Moore, Crane, Taylor, Hall, Calderwood, Cafolla, Murray, Taggart, Scannell, Hunter, Reynolds
Jallow, Brown, Mullen, McVeigh, Arthurs, McKendry, Boyd