Ballyclare 0 Ards 1 – Match Report
NIFL Championship – 15/04/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Big Ben strikes as Ards take all 3 points
Two down three to go before the curtain comes down on a disappointing season for Ards. That’s three games left for those Ards players to show new boss Tipton that they want, deserve and are able to play for this club for the foreseeable future. There will no doubt be big changes come the end of the season but there is no doubt we currently have quality players on the books, whether they have showed their full ability over the recent months is debatable.
This is the fourth time Ards will have faced Ballyclare this season, going with a 100% record, which they will be looking to maintain. While Ards are pretty much safe in 7th, Ballyclare will have one eye over their shoulders and would have gone into this one trying to get the points they need to ensure no late season drama. Ards made one change from the last 11 that were sent out against Dundela last week with Bam Neeson replacing Jack Lemoignan in goals. There were some changes on the bench with youth player Luke Thompson getting a call up. Jay Boyd retained his place on the bench, and we saw the inclusion of Sam Dinu and Benji Magee. McGovern and McCurry were not involved among several others due to injury.
The signing of Dergview man Benny Igiehon in the recent transfer window was a cause of renewed hope for most of the RABA due to his scoring record and his imposing size and strength up front. Most would agree his return hasn’t been what we had hoped for, but he was on the mark last night grabbing the only goal of the game and clinching 3 points for Ards. He’s definitely stepped up his game in the last few fixtures, most notably against Dundela last time out where he gave their back two a torrid time. Last night was very much more of the same, the big number 16 working tirelessly until he was replaced by Joe Tully on the hour mark.
Ards bossed this game for most parts but early on in the first half you could argue we were caught out by the quick start to the game by the hosts. In the first 5-10 mins Ards could barely get their foot on the ball with Ballyclare dictating most of the play from which they should really have capitalised by taking a lead on 9’. After some early pressure on the Ards goal Ballyclare switched the ball wide left, a high cross into the box was met by the Clare striker, who was standing in acres of space, but his header was high and looped just over the bar with Bam stuck on his line. Ards got away with that one early on. The teams traded further half chances in the first 20 minutes of the game but neither keeper was overly bothered. After that initial 20 min mark Ards took charge with wave after wave of attacks. The build up play was excellent with everyone playing their part, but in true Ards fashion this season we were lacking the killer instinct and that finishing touch to get the ball over the line.
Igiehon made the difference when on 37’ (or was it Paddy Cafolla? 😉) when he slotted into an empty net. Arthurs' ball over the top from the right fell in Igiehon's path, he was under heavy pressure by McCart but he seemed more interested in holding up the big striker rather than winning the ball. He tried to let it run through to the advancing keeper but as Purcell reached it, he made a hash of gathering the ball letting it get past him. It was a real mess between the defender and keeper allowing Benny to score one of the easiest goals of his career. It was just what the big man deserved and was welcomed by those Ards fans that had made the journey up the M2. I expect there was a hint of relief in the celebration as Benny arguably should have got on the score sheet before he converted that chance. On 27’ the Ards fans could hardly believe that this chance had gone over the bar. Reynolds worked so hard to protect the ball wide right and put in a really dangerous ball into the box. Benny was tangling with Ballyclare centre half Ryan Arthur and either of them could have easily diverted the ball into the net. The final touch was off the Ards man, deflected onto him off Arthur and put over the bar. Ref pointed for a goal kick and the chance was gone.
Two minutes before that Arthurs had an excellent chance to open the scoring. TJ Murray’s high ball was missed by McCart in the Ballyclare defence allowing Arthurs through on goal, but Purcell was really quick off his line and smothered the shot. Arthurs has been putting in some excellent performances of late in this new line up, another goal yesterday would have been thoroughly deserved. It finished 1-0 to Ards at the break, fair score line on the balance of play.
No changes for Ards at half time, the players emerged after the break and Ards got the second half underway.
It was a really positive start from Ards as they picked up in the second half where they left off in the first. Scannell was getting a lot of joy down the Ards right and his early ball caught out the Ballyclare defence, but unfortunately it caught out the Ards front men who were on their heels early on. The Ards left winger was at it again on 58’ when he sent in another dangerous cross from the left. The low ball was flicked on by Arthurs to Igiehon in front of goal. His first touch took him away from goal and the best option seemed to be to play in Reynolds who was in space at the back post screaming for the lay-off. The striker, being high on confidence, saw the chance for his second goal of the game and held on to it, turning while under pressure but his shot went high over the bar. Excellent chance for Ards to double their lead, not taken.
Ards first sub of the game came on 61’ with the introduction of two ex-Ballyclare men that Ards signed in the recent transfer window as Tully and Donnelly replaced TJ Murray and Benny Igiehon. Ross Arthurs took the captains armband off TJ following his substitution. It only took a few minutes for the two new boys to get into the game. They combined really well in the middle of the park with Donnelly being released on goal one-on-one against Purcell. His shot was hard and low, but the keeper had anticipated well and got down to make a smart save. Disappointment in the crowd as it seemed easier to score and with all these chances going begging, it’s difficult to not think of the worst case. Donnelly went close again on 72’ but it seems that on this night that Purcell in the Clare goal had his number as he came up with another good stop to deny his former teammate.
Ards really on top now and the build-up play from midfield was brilliant, seemingly able to create goal scoring chances with each attack. Cafolla got in on the act this time with a brilliant run through the middle, taking 2 or 3 opposition players out of the game. He laid it off to Tully who played in Scannell, coming in from the left, his shot was well off target, but the offside flag had gone up as his run was just a touch early. There was a great moment on 82’ as youth team player Jay Boyd replaced Conal Young to get his first senior team appearance at the age of 18. He fitted in wide left with Scannell dropping back to left back and the remaining backline sliding over to cover. He certainly didn’t look out of place and was straight in on the action with a good hit from about 25 yards out. The effort was on target, but the keeper was behind it all the way and made the save.
While Ards controlled the game throughout the second half Ballyclare did have a couple of chances towards the end that made the travelling support fearful and on 90+2 the away crowd held their breath as it looked like they would grab an unlikely late equaliser. Kyle Beggs had done brilliantly to get the ball to the bye line and cut it across goal. Defender McCart lunged for it but couldn’t make any contact. Any touch at all and it would have been a certain goal, but it just missed his boot and Ards were able to scramble it clear and breath a sigh of relief.
That was the last goal mouth action of the half but there was still time for a dreadful tackle on Crane in the last minute of time added on. It could easily have been a red card for Beggs but the referee showed leniency and awarded a yellow. Once Crane was patched up by Ards Physio Sam, the game resumed for one final kick before the ref brought it to a close. An entertaining game and a Good Friday indeed but still unsure how we only ended up with one goal. A valuable clean sheet too that will please everyone but concerns remain about how we only claimed one goal despite creating so many gilt-edged chances. Something that will need to be addressed for next season if we really hope to challenge.
Ards next match is a home fixture on Easter Tuesday when we welcome Institute to Clandeboye Park. Another evening match and hopefully another 3 points. Ards are pretty much guaranteed to end the season in 7th so the points won’t necessarily be the priority, more a chance to evaluate the players, and hopefully if they perform to their ability, the points will take care of themselves.
Neeson, Young(82), McGrandles, Calderwood, Crane, Reynolds, Murray(61), Cafolla, Scannell, Arthurs(90+3), Igiehon(61)
Lemoignan, Thompson, Dinu, Magee(90+3), Tully(61), Donnelly(61), Boyd(82)