NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 11/08/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Seagulls flying high after derby day win
First competitive North Down derby since 2016 ends in defeat for Ards.
Certainly not the start to the season the Ards management, board and fans were looking for last week as we kicked off the new campaign and a home defeat to Newington, but football always gives you chances to bounce back. From an Ards point of view there could be no better game in which to bounce back than a local North Down derby, the first date I’m sure fans of both clubs would have been searching for when the fixture lists were released, Bangor having secured their promotion back to the Championship last season. While there have been plenty of friendly meetings between the two clubs in recent years this will be the first competitive game between the sides since Ards ran out 4-2 winners back in March 2016. Something similar in this one would certainly have been well received.
The familiar and the unfamiliar clash today as Ards, so used to being the hosts at Clandeboye Park, are the guests in this rearranged Friday night contest with so much expectation from both sets of fans in the build-up. An uncomfortable start for Ards last week and with so many changes to the squad in the off season one expects the management team are still working to identify their best 11. With that in mind, there were plenty of changes made for match day 2 with only 5 surviving from the opening game. Late signings George Tipton and James McLaughlin were both handed their first starts while last season regulars Patrick Cafolla and Ethan Taggart were restored to the starting line-up. DeeDee McAllister was brought in from the bench, operating wide left of a top 3, while at the other end of the pitch we saw the return of Alex Moore in goal, arguably last season’s top performer, providing a much-needed fillip for the RABA in attendance. No shortage of familiar faces in the opposing team with no fewer than 4 former Ards players in the Bangor match day squad, not to mention the management team, Bangor themselves looking to bounce back from an opening day defeat.
Welcome sight as Ards #1 Alex Moore is restored to the starting line-up after missing out through injury
A single Adam Neale goal on the hour mark was enough for Bangor to grab all 3 points and take the early season bragging rights in a game that, while very competitive and full of endeavour, lacked in any real quality, perhaps the occasion playing a part in that. Bangor were deserving of the win, doing enough to edge out Ards over the 90 minutes. In truth had Bangor been a bit more clinical in front of goal the margin of victory could well have been bigger, but the main objective would have been the win and the 3 points. Chances were limited for both sides in the first half, Bangor having the best of them but not able to convert, while Ards were limited to half chances, Taylor not really troubled at all. It was a similar story in the second half, but this time Bangor made the most of their chances, McArthur using his pace well to get beyond his defender and get his shot away. It looked like it was going in, but Adam Neale was on the spot to make sure, grabbing the only goal of the game.
Over 1,000 fans turned out to see this one, the anticipation of a return to the North Down derbys proving a huge draw. Ards started quickly, new forward McLaughlin with the first effort on goal within 45 seconds to lift the away fans early on. Bangor were not without their chances in the opening stages, Alex Moore made to work in those early moments as well as Adam Neale got on the end of a Ben Walker cross. As the crowd kept growing so did Bangor’s control of the game and on 20’ they really should have opened the scoring, Tom Mathieson going close at the back post. It was good build up play by Bangor as Jack Henderson lifted the ball over the Ards defence to Mathieson, who ran off his man and was in acres of space. He took one touch to control and with only Moore to beat smashed his shot across goal and past the far post. Ards escape but that should have been the opener, warning signs for Ards.
Ards' Ethan Taggart controls in the box after getting his first start of the season
There was a familiar pattern starting to appear as Bangor made use of their height advantage up top, Ben Arthurs winning most of the aerial duels, flicking the ball on for willing runners in Scott McArthur and Adam Neale in behind. McArthur was close to opening the scoring himself on 24’ as Arthurs beat Ruddy to the ball, flicked it into McArthur’s path. He controlled the ball and eased past Tipton into the box with just Moore standing in his way. It was a tame shot, being a little off balanced when he struck it, and it was well wide of the near post.
In a half of few chances Bangor continued to have the better of them, Ards relying on set pieces to threaten the Bangor goal. While James Taylor remained relatively untested, those balls sent in really did seem to trouble him as he opted to punch clear on nearly all occasions, never really assured enough to collect the ball. Moore at the other end was finding himself with more work to do on 42’ as Reece Neale sent the ball forward from the Bangor left back spot. It was beyond Ruddy as the last defender and having seen the danger, Moore had come off his line to clear on the edge of the box while under pressure from Adam Neale. Moore met it first and was clearly fouled by Neale, but the officials waved play on and Bangor captain Lewis Harrison tried to lift the ball into the back of the unguarded net while Moore lay injured. Fortunately, it was well off target and the ball went out for an Ards goal kick allowing Moore to get some treatment and get back to his feet.
That was the last of the action in the opening 45, the ref taking us into the break having played an additional 2 mins of time added on. Bangor surely going in the happier of the two sides despite the score remaining 0-0.
No changes for Ards at the break as the home side get the game going again.
Bangor got the game going again after the break, but it was Ards that grabbed the early momentum with back-to-back corners, both sent in by George Tipton. The first ball from the left was flashed in at Taylor in the Bangor goal, again the Bangor #1 opted to punch or palm clear and, while far from convincing, he got enough on it to sent it out for another Ards ball. Tipton made his way to the far side of the pitch to take again, same idea but this time Taylor did manage to collect the ball while under pressure from McLaughlin for Ards. The close attention of McLaughlin proved to be too close, and the ref awarded Bangor a free kick.
Bangor hit back immediately with a chance of their own through Scott McArthur. The ex-Ards man had been very lively in the first half, the Ards back line struggling to live with his pace. Bangor cleared a long ball up field which both Adam Neale and Michael Ruddy challenged for, neither won the ball and it broke for McArthur who used his pace to skip past McCallum and drive into the box. It was a narrow angle, but with only Moore to beat his shot was hit straight across goal and out for an Ards ball. Another warning shot to Ards and another reminder of the pace of McArthur.
It was a warning that Ards did not heed and 5 minutes later they found themselves 1-0 down, Adam Neale tapping in unmarked at the back post. Neale will get the plaudits for the goal, but it was brilliant work between Ben Arthurs and Scott McArthur wide on the left to make it. Arthurs controlled from a throw in, spotted McArthur’s run inside and played a brilliant ball round the corner. McArthur used his pace to get beyond Ruddy and this time was able to side foot it past the onrushing Moore towards the Ards net. The effort was goal bound but with Connor Maxwell racing back Adam Neale took no chances and applied the finishing touch. Ards behind just after the hour mark.
Ards' new striker James McLaughlin challenges with Lewis Francis
Ards looked to hit back with manager Matthew Tipton making a double sub on 65’. McAllister and Dupree replaced by Eamon Scannell and Ross Hunter. The changes seemed to have a near instant impact as Ards had the ball in the back of the net just 2 minutes later, Adam McCallum heading in from a George Tipton free kick. The initial ball in had been flicked on by Scannell but unfortunately for Ards it was by his hand, the goal disallowed and Scannell shown a yellow card for deliberate handball. The cheers in the away side of the ground were quickly brought to a halt.
Ards were awarded a free kick on 70’ after Eamon Scannell had been upended. Scannell picked himself and took the set piece, but it was easily cleared. The Ards #7 picked up the second ball and again tried to deliver but Bangor remained resolute at the back clearing the high balls in with ease. Ards were quickly scampering back to their own box, Bangor having cleared the ball long sending Adam Neale clear. Connor Maxwell did well to hold the Bangor man up until his team mates could recover but couldn’t stop him from cutting inside and getting his shot away toward the near post. Moore was in the right place to make the save, although he could only parry it away, surprised as he was with the pace and flight on the ball. Bangor tried to recycle the ball, but Tipton was there to clear it up the field. Ards really unable to make any impact in attack and seemingly bereft of ideas, retrying the same tactic over and over with the same result, Bangor very happy to sit back, hold what they have, while looking for chances to counterattack.
Bangor's James Taylor put under pressure by Adam McCallum
As we moved towards the end of the second half Ards created arguably their best chance of the game to grab the equaliser on 87’ but McLaughlin couldn’t find the finish. Ruddy lifted the ball towards the box, Hunter controlled really well and laid it off to McLaughlin on the edge of the box. The front man took one touch to get it out of his feet before striking it at goal. It was a weak effort, didn’t catch it well, and it was an easy save for Taylor with the 90 minutes nearly done. The referee indicated that a minimum of 5 mins would be played at the end during which Ards had several chances to equalise but were unable to take any. A freekick some 25 yards out, dead centre was hit high over the bar by substitute Dougan. Dougan was once again involved late on, collecting an Eamon Scannell corner in the box, back to goal. He protected the ball while looking to turn but the Bangor defence crowded him out and eventually cleared the danger.
With the five minutes played the final whistle was sounded, Bangor managed to hold out and claim a deserved 1-0 victory. Lots for the Ards side to think about and work on for the next outing but a hard result for everyone involved with the club to take. Further disappointment following last week’s defeat to Newington in a fixture where the RABA had turned up in force.
Next up, top of the table Annagh who have racked up two wins in their opening two games while Ards have yet to get a point on the board. It will be another tough game in what is shaping up to be a tough season. While everyone understands the task at hand, the volume of changes throughout the squad, we need to turn it around quickly before we get left behind.
Moore, Greer, McCallum, Ruddy (c), Maxwell, Cafolla, Taggart(73), Tipton(82), McAllister(65), McLaughlin, Dupree(65)
Shields, Hamil, E Scannell(65), Jallow, C Scannell(73), Hunter(65), Dougan(82)