NIFL Championship – 22/04/23
By Phillip Bartlett
‘Old Comrades’ Punish Ards
Ballyclare leapfrog inconsistent Ards into 5th after another poor outing for the RABA
The end of the Championship season is nigh as we head into the penultimate game of the season, Ballyclare hosting the RABA in this one. Ards lost out to a late Gary Donnelly goal last time at Dixon Park a 3-2 defeat to level the results of the season, 1 win a piece with a 3-3 draw wedged in between. The previous 3 games totalled 14 goals, a 7-7 aggregate, so this game could well separate the sides over the course of the season, but we’re almost certainly guaranteed goals. Ards come into this one with 4 wins in the last 5 with the opposition grabbing 2 victories in the same period so confidence should be high with the away side, but consistency has been our Achilles heel all season. As mentioned in previous write ups, the Ballyclare side is packed with ex-Ards players who would love nothing more than getting the upper hand over their previous side. I count 6 ex Ards players in the squad with 5 in the starting 11.
Changes again for this game as Ards have close to a full squad for selection, the first time in several games due to injury, suspension and illness with only Karl Hamill unavailable for today. Greg Hall, Ethan Taggart and Cricky Crane were restored to the starting line-up as the Scannell boys both drop to the bench. Johnny Taylor comes back on to the bench as Ards sport a much stronger subs list than in previous fixtures. TJ Murray continues in his new centre half position returning to Dixon Park where he was first drafted into the back line, partnering Greg Hall who returns to the starting line-up. Ethan Taggart will be a welcome sight for the travelling fans, his energy in the park having been missed during his recent absence.
Ards' Ethan Taggart challenging Darious Roohi having been restored to the starting line up after illness
The weather heading in to this one was terrible, the travelling RABA not enjoying the best of conditions of late, but if the weather was bad the performance on the pitch was even worse. The previous games against the Comrades suggested there would be plenty of goals but unlike previous games those goals were pretty evenly split. Ending 5-1 to the home side, it was another rout against an Ards team that have now conceded 73 goals for the season, only Knockbreda at the foot of the league having let in more. 3 unanswered first half goals pretty much sealed the game as a contest by the break, the ex-Ards contingent capitalising on some schoolboy defending as Conal McGrandles, Calvin McCurry and Darius Roohi grabbed the early goals. Ballyclare kicked on in the second half running to a 5-0 lead, McCurry grabbing his second and Conall Doherty converting a penalty late on before Ards top scorer Adam Salley grabbed a consolation deep into time added on.
Ballyclare got the game going but the early pressure was applied by the away side as they earned 3 corners in busy spell in the opening few minutes, Cricky Crane’s delivery proving awkward for Breen in the ‘Clare goal. Opening corner Steele laid it off to Crane whose first-time ball was parried away unconvincingly by Breen for a corner on the opposite side. Crane trotted across to take and his left foot delivery was put in right on top of Breen who again struggled to deal with at his back post, eventually shovelling it out for another corner. Steele this time sent the ball in from the left, it was initially cleared by Higgins, Hunter picked up the second ball in the box firing his first time shot just wide of the post. Promising signs early on for Ards.
Despite the early pressure Ballyclare quickly got on top, dominating the ball and pressing Ards at every opportunity, giving them no time on the ball. Their pressure telling as Alex Moore was forced into a save on 10’ doing really well to get off his line and make a great block at Ferris’s feet. The Ballyclare #18 was in after an Alan McMurtry shot was deflected, and with just Moore to beat he looked favourite, but Alex was brave into the block, taking a knock in the proceedings. Ferris was to be denied again by Moore a few mins later, a Conal Young slip in the box nearly proving costly, but again Moore with a sharp save getting down to his right to smoother the ball. All Ballyclare at this point, more accurately all Ferris as the striker was gifted another opportunity on 19’, how this has not ended up in the net I don’t know. A square ball by Donnelly in the box from the right, Young again misses his clearance allowing it through to Ferris who manages to hit it both high and wide with Moore having already gone to ground. Another let off for Ards but the pressure building.
Cricky Crane doing his defensive duties but it was his set piece delivery that impressed most in the opening 45
Ballyclare did eventually get the breakthrough on 22’ as Conal McGrandles stepped off his marker in the box to calmly head a Gary Donnelly corner past Alex Moore. Acres of space and all the time in the world to finish as the Ards defence reacted too late. A real kick in the teeth for Ards as seconds before Taggart was denied at the other end, through one-on-one with Breen, the keeper came out on top with a good save at the near post. Shocking defending from the set piece at the other end, Ards once again on the back foot with it all to do.
From bad to worse some 5 minutes later, Calvin McCurry popping up in the box to grab Ballyclare’s second of the game. One of the smallest men on the pitch heading past Moore again unchallenged in the middle of the penalty area. Donnelly’s corner was initially cleared by Taggart only as far as McMurtry, he’s played it wide to Donnelly, the ball lifted back into the box where McCurry has got behind Conal Young to glance his header into the net. Again, poor defending to let him run off the back of this marker. Ballyclare weren’t done there, looking to put this one to bed in the opening 45 and Ards allowing them to do just that. On 34’ Ards gifted Ballyclare another goal, a mistake by TJ Murry laying the ball into Ferris’s path allowing him to pick out Roohi’s run into the box. Roohi takes one to touch to get it out of his feet before sliding it past Moore. Crane tried in vain to get back, but the mistake has caught everyone out. 3-0 Ballyclare, the game already away from Ards.
Ards made a sub just before the break, an injured Cricky Crane leaving the field to be replaced by Ben Mullens. After 1 additional minute the ref took us into the interval, a much-needed break for a beleaguered Ards side. A clinical Ballyclare take a 3-0 lead into the break but arguably could have been more goals to the good.
Ards have been sent out early after the break, eager to get going again. DeeDee McAllister has been brought on during the break, replacing Paddy Cafolla.
A new formation for Ards in the second half and it was quickly proving beneficial as Adam Salley was getting involved much more up top and on the hour mark, we really should have got a foot hold back in the game. Jallow with a brilliant ball into the box, McGrandles got his head to it but managed to flick it on to his own back post where McAllister was waiting for a tap in. Unfortunately, Caomhan McGuiness read the danger and was there to scramble it behind for an Ards corner. Positive response by Ards early in the second half.
Any positivity, however slim, was wiped out just two mins later, Calvin McCurry grabbing his second after being gifted the ball 6 yards out from goal, Alex Moore spilling a simple Darius Roohi ball into the box. Ards once again conspiring to shoot themselves in the foot. A simple ball over the top not dealt with, Mullens clears it up field only as far as McMurtry, Ballyclare work it wide left to Roohi coming inside on the wing, his speculative effort on goal bounces right in front of Moore hitting him in the chest before spilling out to the alert McCurry. Hall doesn’t see him coming round the back giving him time to pick the ball up and roll it past Moore before he could recover. Moore saw the initial shot all the way and really should have done better there, another gift and now 4-0 to the home side. I’m not sure if Alex was carrying a knock from earlier but he was eventually replaced on 66’, Ards making a triple sub with the game seemingly gone. Moore, Hunter and Taggart were replaced by Shields, C Scannell and Arthurs.
Salou Jallow getting the ball down and attacking the Ballyclare box
The game pretty much carried on the same vain, Ards not really offering much up top despite the changes, Ballyclare happy enough holding their 4-0 lead. There was time for more scoring just before the end as Ballyclare were awarded a penalty on 89’ as Ards substitute goalkeeper Shields fouled Conall Doherty on the edge of the box. Tully’s through ball was weighted perfectly for Doherty to run on to, he was travelling wide in the box, but Shields had made the decision to come for the ball. He was never making it, Doherty nicking it past him, but Shields was committed and upended the forward. Nothing the ref could do but award the spot kick. Doherty picked himself up and was given the responsibility, which was never in doubt, he stepped up and calmly slotted it in the net, sending Shields the wrong way. 5-0 as we head into time added on at the end of the game.
Ards did manage to grab a late consolation goal deep into time added on, 90+3 as top goal scorer Adam Salley popped with a header in the dying seconds. Aidan Steele with the ball in from the right, Salley found himself all alone in the box and had a simple job of heading into the back of the net. Ballyclare disappointed not to keep the clean sheet, but the game had been over for some time as a contest.
Ards top scorer Salley added to his tally today, attacking the ball in the Ballyclare box
The ref eventually put Ards out their misery, another miserable day weather wise and nothing on the pitch to cheer up those that had made the journey to Dixon Park, facing yet another disappointing trip home. One game left to go, 4th placed Dundela next on the cards as we head to Wilgar Park on Saturday to wrap up an overall disappointing season.
A Moore, Crane, Murray, Hall, Young, Taggart, Cafolla, Steele, Hunter, Salley, Jallow
Shields, Taylor, E Scannell, C Scannell, Arthurs, McAllister, Mullen