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  • Writer's pictureMichael Barritt

Ballyclare 3 Ards 2 – Match Report

NIFL Championship – 14/02/23

By Phillip Bartlett

Valentine’s day heartbreak for Ards

Ballyclare strike late to claim all three points after exciting affair.

The second game in 4 days for Ards as there was a full fixture list to ring in Valentine’s Day, a trip to Dixon Park to take on Ballyclare following defeat in their last game at home to the Welders. Ards currently have the edge over Ballyclare this season, winning the first game 2-1 back in August and earning a useful point in an exciting 3-3 draw in November. Both sides have a similar record of late, Ards without a league win since December while the home side haven’t claimed 3 points since defeating Warrenpoint in the opening game of the new year. Ards, while sitting in 5th, are running the risk of being dragged into the bottom half of the table as several a teams below are putting together a good run of results and making progress up the league. Ards yet to secure a win in 2023, losing 4 and drawing just 1 in all competitions this calendar year.

After a really underwhelming performance at home to the Welders there were significant changes made for this one with no fewer than 4 changes to the team that started against the Welders on Saturday. Ben Mullen was back in the centre of defence as Karl Hamill missed out on this one through injury while Aidan Steele, TJ Murray and Eamon Scannell were dropped to the bench. Ross Arthurs came in to partner Adam Salley up top while there were surprise returns to the starting line up for winger DeeDee McAllister and Salou Jallow as Ards went for a more traditional line-up with two banks of 4. Plenty of rivalry in this one as the Ballyclare squad boasted 6 ex Ards players, 5 of which were in the starting 11.

A welcome sight as fan favourite DeeDee McAllister makes his return to first team action

A great result for Ballyclare, an excellent watch for the neutrals, a further disappointment for Ards as Ballyclare struck late to take all 3 points after an enthralling match at Dixon Park. After enduring a very dull 90+ minutes on Saturday the Ards fans were crying out for a performance to give them renewed hope for the remainder of the season. A fundamental change to formation resulted in a much better showing as an attacking threat but unfortunately the same old defensive frailties cost us in the end. Ballyclare opened the scoring midway through the first half, ex Ards man Darius Roohi with the goal, an excellent curling finish in off the back post. It stayed that way to the interval before an action packed second half during which Ards were forced into a change, Greg Hall being replaced by TJ Murray. The second half started perfectly for Ards, equalising within 50 seconds of the restart as Paddy Cafolla found the back of the net. Darius Roohi put Ballyclare back in the lead while Ross Arthurs headed in a second Ards equaliser before late drama as another ex-Ards man Gary Donnelly grabbed all 3 points for the home side early into time added on to add to Ards misery.

It was a very fast start to the game, Ards getting joy with their wide men getting involved early on, Jallow in particular looking up for the fight having been left out of the squad recently. There were good chances for both sides early on, Arthurs unlucky not to open the scoring as early as the 2nd minute, his headed chance lacking power and easily saved. Ex Ards man Calvin McCurry’s pace and movement was causing us real problems down the left, and he went a whisper of scoring from his own head moments later. But for a fantastic late challenge by Ballyclare’s Berverland, Ards would have opened the scoring on 13’ through Arthurs. Ethan Taggart did really well wide right and smashed his cross hard and low across goal. Arthurs looked to have escaped his man, but the Ballyclare #5 did really well to recover, sliding in to put the ball behind for an Ards corner. Had to win it there too as it was either a goal or a red and the experienced centre half came out on top.

Alex Moore, having been Ards saviour on loads of occasions this season would have been disappointed of late having been at fault for a couple of goals, but the Ards #1 was in inspired form this evening, despite conceding 3 goals, none of which we could have prevented. He was called in to action on 20’ when Liam Hassin lifted the ball over the Ards defence sending McCurry clear. Moore spotted the danger and was quick off his line to make a fantastic block sending the ball to safety, 0-0 the score. It didn’t stay that way for long, Ballyclare making the breakthrough on 27’, Roohi with an excellently curled effort that found the back post and went in off. A great finish but he was afforded far too much time and space to pick his spot as the Ards back line stood off him.

Ards Cricky Crane challenging with Darius Roohi

Both sides traded half chances without really testing the keepers as we ticked towards the interval, Ross Arthurs with the pick of those opportunities on 37’ as he cut across his man to meet Jallow’s cross from the right. He made good connection with the ball but was unable to steer it in at the near post. More positive signs for Ards, the play developing well from the wide areas, looking to get balls into the box.

After 1 minute of time added on was complete, the referee brought the game to a halt.

Ards were forced into a change during the break, Greg Hall unable to continue having picked up a knock earlier in the half. At this stage I expect the management team were ruing leaving JT out of this one, Karl Hamill already out injured which resulting in TJ Murray being drafted in to play as a makeshift centre half for the second half.

As entertaining as the first half had been both sides left the best for the second 45, a half that couldn’t have got off to a better start for Ards. Level after just 50 seconds had elapsed, Paddy Cafolla in the right place at the right time to finish off a good move by Ards out wide left. The returning DeeDee McAllister was played through, did really well to take it to the by-line and cut the ball back into the box. Cafolla had found himself room to take a touch and finish from 12 yards out giving Breen no chance in the ‘Clare goal. All square 1-1. Ards were level for 15 mins but only due to some outstanding goalkeeping from Alex Moore who made an excellent triple save before TJ Murray was able to get a block in and eventually clear the danger. Unbelievable from Ards #1 whose powers of recovery were really on show there, Callum Ferris unsure how he hasn’t managed to find the back of the net.

Paddy Cafolla in the right place to draw Ards level early in the second half

Moore was at it again just 3 mins later, McCurry once again getting the better of Crane in the Ards left back spot, just unable to deal with his pace. He tricks his way past, cuts inside and releases a shot to the near post with Alex to beat. Moore again quick off his line to close the angles and was able to get something on it and send it wide of the post. Despite Moore’s heroics Ballyclare once again took the lead, Darious Roohi doubling his tally for the night. McCurry the creator from wide right, goes past Crane easily, takes it past TJ Murray to the by-line and cuts it across goal. Ferris connects well and looks like he's scored but out of nowhere Moore makes a diving save, the second ball falls kindly to Roohi who finishes well as Moore tries to get back up. Really looking to his back line to give him some support but the ball is in the back of the net, 2-1 to the home side.

Ards hit back to level again on 69’ Ross Arthurs, who’d looked dangerous all game, coming up with a glancing header at the near post from Cafolla’s corner. The pace on the ball gave Breen no chance, 2-2 Ards back in it again. Ards were on the up and looked the team most likely to go on and win the game, Calderwood with a speculative effort from distance that nearly caught Breen out but the best chance to claim all 3 points fell to Murray late on. Eamon Scannell had been brought on the replace DeeDee on 71’ and he sent in a really dangerous freekick to the back post. Murray met it unchallenged but managed to put the header wide of the post from a couple of yards out. Really should have done better and gave Ards the lead for the first time in the game.

Ross Arthurs grabbed Ards second goal of the night to draw us level for a second time

Ards have been punished on so many occasions this season it’s starting to become almost expected but this one was hard to take, ex Ards man Gary Donnelly stepping up to steal all 3 points in time added on. An innocuous ball over the top, Donnelly ran on to it, but Calderwood forced him wide. With both Calderwood and Murray covering the midfielder the danger seemed contained, but he was somehow able to drop the shoulder, cut inside and curl a goal bound effort towards the far post and into the side of the net. Nothing Moore could do about that, poor defending once again costs us right at the death Ballyclare taking the lead for the 3rd time in the game, 3-2.

There was little to no time for Ards to hit back, the referee blowing up after playing the allotted time added on. Again, we make the relatively short journey home empty handed. It was great to see both McAllister and Jallow back in the side and the new formation really suited us as an attacking threat but basic mistakes at the back continue to haunt this Ards team having not won a game since back in December 2022 losing 4 out of the last 5 league games taking just 1 point out of a possible 15 and questions to answer

A disappointed Alex Moore with some outstanding saves on the night

It doesn’t get any easier either as we welcome highflying league leaders Loughgall to Clandeboye park on Saturday. A stern test for Ards, I hope we stick with the same formation as there were some positives to take from it, but we need to start winning games and claiming points before we find ourselves in the bottom half of the table post-split, with only 7 games remaining.

Starting Line-up:

Moore, Crane, Hall, Mullen, Calderwood, Jallow, Taggart, Cafolla, McAllister, Arthurs, Salley


Shields, Young, E Scannell, C Scannell, Murray, Reynolds, Steele

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