NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 09/02/24
By Phillip Bartlett
Seagulls Swoop Late to Steal Derby Win
Bangor strike twice in time added on to grab the win and take all 3 points in a hotly contested affair.
Part 3 of the North Down derby trilogy is upon us as Ards travel to close rivals Bangor in the ‘big city’ across the A21 under the bright lights for FNF. Bangor currently hold the bragging rights having defeated Ards in their first meeting since their promotion this season, while Ards did improve somewhat to secure a 2-2 draw last time out in the re-established Boxing Day derby game. Ards will be hoping to go one better this time and take the win whereas a win of any kind for the home side will see them rise to the top of the Playr-Fit Championship table, if even for a few short hours. Ards have failed to register a win since their giant killing of Irish Cup holders Crusaders at the turn of the year, having lost twice and drew once in the league while also exiting the Irish Cup at the hands of Institute last time out. While performances have somewhat improved, individual mistakes continue to haunt the side making points and positive results hard to come by. Bangor by the same token have also exited the Irish cup at the same stage thanks to Portadown but in the same time period are unbeaten in the league with 2 wins and a draw. The two sides go into the game separated by 6 league spots and a massive 19 points, something that would have been unthinkable at the start of the season, but here we are. Form books tend to be thrown out the window on derby day, but this will be another tough game for Ards but a Red and Blue win would certainly give the fans something to cheer in a season that has provided very little opportunity to do that.
Derby day part 3
Changes for Ards as we go into this one, making use of some of the recent signings in a somewhat different looking starting 11. Ards reverted to 3 at the back, new signing Odhran McCart making his first start for Ards joining Adam McCallum and Matt Gorman as a three in front of Alex Moore between the sticks. 5 men across the middle with Max Greer providing the width wide right as wing back, with another debutant, Corai Quinn, taking up that position on the opposite flank. Aidan Steele, George Tipton and Eamon Scannell make up the middle 5 while Ross Hunter is partnered up top by another new face in striker Lee Newell from Newry, hoping to make an instant impact in the side. Plenty of well-known names will face up against Ards tonight with Scott McArthur, Reece Neale, Ben Cushnie and Calum Byers having all previously worn the famous Red and Blue Ards colours. With three new players coming to the side the fans will be watching with much anticipation to see what improvements they can bring to the team, and it is some game to be coming in from the start.
Ards new signings in the window: Guillaume Keke, Lee Newell, Ryan Arthur, Josh Andrews & Odhran McCart
Top of the tree for the Seagulls as they finally ran out 3-1 winners in a game where Ards were on top for large spells but as has been the story of the season individual mistakes and failing to take our chances have came back to haunt us once again. After a very shaky opening 15 mins Ards fought to get back into the game and arguably took a deserved lead on 26’ when our new man up top Lee Newell stepped on to an Aidan Steele square pass, finishing well in the far corner of the goal. Ards did well to hold on to their lead, seemingly heading into the interval with the advantage before shooting ourselves in the foot gifting Bangor an equaliser. Rather than play the ball up the field Gorman opted to try and pick out Moore with a backwards header. The ball was completely misdirected going across goal straight to Bangor’s’ McDermott. Having stepped off his line to try and claim the ball Moore found himself out of position and could only watch as McDermott lifted it over him and into the back of the net, once again Ards creating their own problems. Half time break, 1-1, Bangor handed the impetus late in the first half. It was a hard fought second half, both sides having spells of dominance but Ards certainly had the better of the chances in normal time to retake their lead but failed to capitalise. Ards would come to rue those missed chances as Bangor struck deep into time added on to steal the game late on, failing to pick up the run of Francis who calmly finished at the back post on 90+5. After the late sucker punch Ards looked to press high in hopes of salvaging an unlikely point given the context of the game and in doing so left the door open for Bangor’s elder statemen Michael Halliday to walk through and grab a third for the home side to kill off any lingering chances Ards may have had. A terrible way to end a game for the visitors whose performance should arguably have saw them leave the game with a point.
Bangor got the game going and for the opening 15 minutes it looked like Ards forgot there was a game going on such was the dominance of the home side, Ards barely able to get out of their own half as Bangor hemmed them in. Ards can consider themselves very lucky to be all square following the opening Bangor salvo, the hosts having created several openings to take the lead none more so than ex Ards defender Calum Byers whose near post header was directed the wrong side of the post with pretty much an open goal to aim at as Moore had sold himself early on. As in previous encounters Bangor’s big man up top, Ben Arthurs, was causing all sorts of problems, linking up well with McArthur, cutting the Ards backline open at will. Ards did manage to see out those early scares, finally getting their first sight on goal in the 18th minute as two of the new boys linked up, McCart’s long ball finding the run of Newell and he was in on goal. A heavy first touch on the run unfortunately took it away from him and out for a Bangor ball.
Closing stages of the game, Cafolla operating in the middle of the park
Ards finally making strides back into the game and kept the pressure on through an Eamon Scannell free kick on 19’. Lifted into the box McCallum flicked it on towards goal, Taylor made the initial save, however unconvincing, and the second ball landed at Tipton’s feet. With the goal at his mercy his effort was sent straight back at Taylor who easily collected. The flag was quickly up for offside though so wouldn’t have counted any way. Ards kept the fight back going and were millimetres away from taking the lead as Eamon Scannell’s strike from distance crashed back off the far post and away to safety. So close to breaking the deadlock there, Ards no luck at all. It was all Ards now, the pressure mounting and Bangor the ones under the cosh, Ross Hunter close to getting on the end of a brilliantly whipped in Greer cross. Taylor did well to claim under his cross bar, no room for error there. The signs were there, Bangor were at sixes and sevens as Ards continued to flood forward, eventually making the most of one of their chances. Aidan Steele really has been a top performer for Ards these last few weeks and it was the Ards midfielder who created the goal, setting it on a plate for Newell to finish from around 8 yards out. It was a great run down the left, getting past Mulvenna with ease at the byline before squaring the ball perfectly for Newell. Plenty for Newell to do but he got a good connection on it managing to direct it away from Taylor and into the top of the far corner. 1-0 Ards after playing themselves back into the game.
A hotly contested match already, the goal lifted tensions that bit further after which there was a flurry of tough challenges and a few cards being shown to try and calm things down a bit, Tipton and Bradley both on the end of cautions. Ards were doing well at the back, Bangor not having as much joy as they did in the opening moments, seemingly heading into the break with their lead intact but a disappointing moment on 41’ gifted Bangor a goal to level it all up. Gorman had control and opted to try and get the ball back to Moore but got the touch all wrong and ended up sending it across goal where Conor McDermott was waiting. Moore was in no mans land having came out to try and claim the misplaced ball but was unable to make up the distance and McDermott lifted the ball over him and into the net. A disappointing way to end the half as Ards had been relatively comfortable at the back after taking the lead. That was the last action of note before referee McKenna took us into the break. 1-1 the score.
No changes for Ards at the break, the same 11 take to the field after the interval. Ards get the game going looking to start where they left off at the end of the first half.
Nearly the perfect start to the second half for Bangor, almost a disaster for Ards, as Ben Arthurs goes close to giving the hosts an early lead. Just 2 mins after the restart the big #9 found himself in acres of space inside the Ards box, Reece Neale sent in a brilliant ball, Arthurs had all the time in the world to meet it and direct it goalwards. He’ll be very disappointed with the end result, despite heading it downwards he directed it straight at Moore who gratefully gathered low down. It was a game that was certainly providing plenty of excitement with so much going on during each attack. Couple of questionable decisions by the officials that certainly went against Ards, the first on 49’ following an Eamon Scannell shot towards the near post. Taylor was well placed to make the save but he’s misjudged the pace or flight of the ball and has let it squirm under his body. He reacted quicky diving backwards to reclaim the ball really close to the line. Ards were convinced it was over the line, the Bangor fans convinced the keeper makes the save, unfortunately for us the ref waved play on adjudging the whole ball had not crossed the line. More bad luck for Ards, still 1-1 after a very busy opening 5 minutes.
Lee Newell opened the scoring for Ards, finishing off a brilliant move by Aidan Steele
Both teams traded half chances as they both pressed for the advantage, Ards with the best of them in normal time. Just after the hour mark Newell was sent through on goal, getting beyond the Bangor back line. With only Taylor to beat he’s curled a powerful shot just wide of the far post. Another Ards new boy Corai Quinn went close shortly after lifting his shot just wide of the near post after good work by Scannell wide left created the chance. Newell was looking very dangerous for Ards and I know he impressed a lot of people on the night with his work rate and decision making. More controversy for Ards and the officials after Hunter smashed the ball into the back of the net. There was a clear foul in the build up to the move, but the ref allowed Ards to play on with the advantage as Hunter had picked the ball up. Confusion reigned as Hunter put the ball in the net but the ref pulled the play back for the initial free kick pointing at the offside flag that was raised. Newell had been penalised for being offside after the initial foul, so no advantage was gained but Hunter was the player through and hadn’t been offside so should have been allowed to carry on. It was another poor decision that went against Ards seemingly denying the visitors a perfectly good goal to retake the lead.
The final 10 mins, more of the same, both teams making chances but failing to really test either keeper ensuring we went into the time added on all square. With 5 minutes added on at the end it seemed a draw would be the end result but there was a sting or two in the tail for Ards late on. Bangor were increasing the pressure on the Ards backline as they were determined to find that elusive winner, and on 90+3 Ben Cushnie seemed to have the chance of the game but McCart somehow managed to smash the ball off the line as Moore was on the floor from the initial save after being clattered by Arthurs. Ards recovered just enough to clear the danger and that seemed to be that.
That was most definitely not that as Bangor kept pressing, this time their keeper James Taylor sent a free kick high up the pitch into the Ards box. It was flicked on by a Bangor boot and fell perfectly for Francis who carried on his run into the box. Steele tried valiantly to get back and make the challenge but couldn't get there and Franics had the simplest of tap ins to give Bangor the lead deep into stoppage time and steal all 3 points. An absolute body blow for Ards having put so much into the game and having chances themselves to have taken all 3 points, to lose it that late was awful and you could feel it all round the away side of the park. The heartache wasn’t over though as there was still time for Bangor to inflict further damage as Ards pressed high up trying to save something from the game. That opened the door once again and Bangor capitalised, Ben Arthurs slipping the ball through for Halliday to run onto and finish from close range to seal the game beyond a doubt on 90+7. That was the last action of the game 3-1 the final score, after which the ref brought the game to an end prompting jubilation from the home supporters and more disappointment for the travelling fans.
Not the result we wanted
Another good performance from Ards, along with the introduction of 3 of the new signings all of whom performed well and will give us reasons for positivity as we move forward. Improvement in performance is one thing, but results are important, and we are now winless in 5 with only 1 draw in there. A draw seemed to be very much on the cards as a minimum, but similar failings from days done by where we cause a lot of our own problems have cost us again. If we can get Newell scoring on a regular basis, I expect things can turn around but for now is about making strides for next season.
Bottom of the table Knockbreda come to Clandeboye park next week having garnered 4 points all season, but it must be remembered that they claimed 1 of those points against us last time the sides met. While they have had limited success this season, we’d be irresponsible to take them lightly. A good chance to get some confidence as we approach a tough run of fixtures where we face 3 of the top five sides in our next 5 fixtures.
Special note for Patrick Cafolla who marked his 100th appearance for Ards today coming on from the bench. I think appearance 99 should have been highlighted however.
100th appearance for Patrick Cafolla in the Ards colours
Moore, Greer, McCallum, Gorman, McCart, Quinn, E Scannell, Steele, Tipton, Hunter, Newell
Shields, Cafolla, Dougan, McAllister, Taggart, Andrews, Keke