By Jana McCabe
Ards travelled to Solitude to face a Cliftonville side who featured on both the front and the back pages of the local newspapers for much of the week before this clash. Ards handed debuts to a couple of their January signings, with Jonathan Smith and Darren Henderson spearheading a new-look Ards forward line, and Daryl Evans starting in a reshuffled defence.
In the second minute Ryan Curran’s shot from the edge of the box was wide of the right hand post whilst, for Ards, Jonathan Smith’s free kick was wide of the left hand post in the fifteenth minute.
Eamon McAllister’s curling shot was then well saved by Cliftonville stopper Brush in the twenty third minute. Chris Curran’s pass to Rory Donnelly saw his close range header well saved by Sam Johnston.
In the thirty second minute, the home side broke the deadlock when a turn and strike from Ryan Curran (a former Ards mascot) trickled through the arms of Johnston to make it 1-0.
Adam McAleenan’s long ball found Gareth Tommons as Ards looked to respond before the break, but his header was off target in the forty first minute.
In the last few minutes of the first half Stephen Garrett brought down Kym Nelson in the penalty box, with the referee awarding Ards a penalty. Debutant Darren Henderson’s spot kick sent Richard Brush the wrong way and made it 1-1. The half ended seconds later.
The penalties kept coming as, in the forty seventh minute, Ross Lavery was brought down by Ards captain Callum Byers. Joe Gormley stood up to take the spot kick but Sam Johnston saved at his left hand post, also saving the rebound to keep the game level at 1-1.
Liam Bagnall’s shot from outside the box was wide of the right hand post in the fiftieth minute whilst, in the sixty first minute, the busy Nelson was through on goal but the referee blew offside to the irritation of the Red and Blue Army.
In the sixty second minute, Conor McMenamin gave Cliftonville the lead when his skilful play saw him beat a number of Ards defenders, before finding space near the left hand byline and coolly sliding the ball into the top right hand corner.
In the sixty fifth minute, Eamon McAllister’s volley from outside the box was wide of the left post. In the seventy fifth minute Cliftonville went further ahead with an almost identical goal to the second when Rory Donnelly’s shot found the right hand corner to make it 3-1.
A nice one two between Curran and Ryan Catney made Sam Johnston produce a great save before, in the eightieth minute, Cliftonville got their fourth when Joe Gormley’s strong curling shot flew over Sam Johnston to make it 4-1.
In the eighty fifth minute Mark Kelly’s strike from outside the box was saved by Cliftonville stopper Brush whilst, seconds later, goalscorer Gormley’s volley was just over the bar.
In the dying seconds of the game Nelson’s free-kick was well saved by Brush with the game ending 4-1.
A disappointing result for Ards, particularly after reaching the break on level terms, with an impressive personal achievement for keeper Sam Johnston as today’s penalty save was his sixth of the nine penalties he has faced this season. Attentions now turn to Friday night’s league clash with Coleraine at the Bangor Fuels Arena.
Starting 11: Sam Johnston, Adam McAleenan, Daryl Evans, Callum Byers, Craig McClean, Eamon McAllister, Kyle Cherry, Gareth Tommons, Kym Nelson, Jonathan Smith and Darren Henderson.
Used substitutes: Mark Kelly (Darren Henderson) David McAllister (Eamon McAllister) and Eoghan McCawl (for Kyle Cherry).
Unused substitutes: Matthew Davidson, Michael Kerr, Michael McLellan.
Yellow Cards: Callum Byers and Gareth Tommons.