NIFL Championship – 25/03/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Cafolla helps Ards slip into the top half
Goal hungry Ards run riot in superb second half performance.
Ards went into todays fixture knowing anything short of a healthy win would condemn them to another season of playing the remainder of the season in the relegation group. A daunting prospect considering the two previous games against Dundela have been pretty low scoring and close contests. Ards are currently on top in the head to head having triumphed 1-0 back in September and drawing the repeat fixture 1-1 to bring the curtain down on 2022. Those games will mean nothing with the added pressure of a big win required against a Dundela team that, while they have been somewhat inconsistent of late, don’t concede too many goals. While we know what we need to do to reach the promised land of the promotion group, there will be more than 1 eye on the other games featuring our closest rivals as Ballyclare travel to Newington and Ballinamallard take on Annagh at the BGM Arena.
Ards ever-present #1 Alex Moore with some important interventions today
Ards boss Matthew Tipton was able to name the same starting eleven that ran out 4-1 winners against Knockbreda last week with the only change to the match day squad sees Christopher McDonald missing out, replaced on the bench by youth player David Clarke. Striker Adam Salley will be looking to carry on his recent goal scoring run having scored in 3 of the last 5 games putting himself in real contention to be the Championship’s top goal scorer. Karl Hamill has been putting in very consistent performances at the back in recent games and will need to be at it today to keep the Duns at bay. The opposition will be no strangers to many of the travelling RABA with no fewer than 7 players in the Dundela match day squad having previously played for Ards over the last few seasons. Five of which make the starting line-up who will be only too happy to get one over on their previous club, including goalkeeper Sam Johnston who moved to the Hen Run in the January transfer window.
Paddy Cafolla and Jonny Russell swapped goals in the first half, a half that Dundela arguably shaded based on chances created and overall possession. The second half was an altogether different affair, Ards dominating after the restart, grabbing 4 goals to run out eventual 5-1 winners. Ethan Taggart got himself another goal to put Ards back in front early on before Paddy Cafolla added to his first half strike to put Ards 3-1 up and take the game away from Dundela. With the 3 points seemingly in the bag it was all about the goal difference between Ards and Ballyclare and trying to over turn that deficit. Adam Salley popped up with the two goals Ards needed to do just that, the second coming in the 4th of 6 minutes of time added on ensuring Ards will battle the remainder of the season in the top half of the Championship. A welcome relief for the Ards #25 having minutes earlier blazed a spot kick high over the bar missing a fantastic chance to grab that all important 5th goal.
Physical game today as Adam Salley and ex-Ards James Ferrin tussle in the box
Dundela got the game underway from the centre spot but Ards quickly turned over possession and immediately went at the Dundela back line catching them unawares. Scannell with his usual fast feet and trickery working his way through the lines, he slid a pass in to the box for Adam Salley, the striker taking one touch to control and a second to slide it past Johnston into the goal. Ards with the ball in the back of the net after just 15 seconds but it was quickly ruled out by the linesman’s flag indicating offside, Salley making his run fractionally early. The correct call but the away fans were protesting as Scannell had been clearly fouled on the edge of the box after making the pass but before the offside had been awarded, would have been a dangerous set piece but the ref waved away the protests. Dundela hit back to control the opening 20 minutes, creating several half chances but Ards were proving to be very resilient at the back, but a momentary lapse of concentration provided the Duns with a fantastic opportunity to open the scoring on 19’. A Duns throw was laid back to Sam Dinu in acres of space as the Ards back line had dropped deep. Dinu had time and space to pick out Joshua Stewart in the box. Moore, left exposed again, came to challenge in the air, Stewart beat him to it with his head but was unable to find the target, the ball dropping just the wrong side of the post. Ards escape.
Having survived a close call at the other end Ards were soon celebrating the opening goal of the game as Paddy Cafolla converted on 25’, a well worked goal with a somewhat fortuitous finish. Eamon Scannell the provider from the left, sending the ball into the danger area, Cafolla attacked the ball reaching it before Johnston in the Duns goal and diverting it past him into the net despite slipping at the vital moment. Perhaps a stroke of fortune but either way Ards open the scoring leading 1-0. Ards were under the cosh again straight after the goal, Dundela looking to hit back quickly through Dobbin as Moore was called into action on 31’ to deny the midfield man following a mazy run through the Ards back line. The Duns kept pressing, earning themselves 3 back-to-back corners that Ards struggled to deal with, Alex Moore eventually being impeded and awarded a free kick that allowed us to clear the danger.
Ards Paddy Cafolla wheels away in celebration having given Ards the lead in the first half
The relief was short lived as Dundela equalised on 39, Jonny Russell finally putting the ball over the line at the 3rd time of asking. The first two efforts Ards managed to scramble away, Moore finding himself in trouble just outside his box and having to block the shot with his feet, the next effort he was able to palm it away, but it was far from convincing before Russell finally found the finish he was looking for, curling it past Moore going in off the far post. There was a moment of hope as the ball hit the post and bounced back towards the line, Moore grabbed it in the air and looked to play on but the ref called it over the line and awarded the goal. There was little complaint from Moore so the ref got it right. 1-1 as we near the interval.
There was an additional minute of time added on before the ref blew up, not a huge amount of goal mouth action after the Duns equaliser and we went into the break all square.
No changes for Ards at the break, Ards got the game going again.
A whirlwind half for Ards got off to the best possible start as Ethan Taggart nipped in to put Ards back in front after only 3 minutes of the restart. A moment to forget for Sam Johnston and Jamie McGovern as a break down in communication handed Ards an easy second. Eamon Scannell made the chance with a clever ball flicked round the corner. It seemed as if Dundela had the situation under control, but the miscommunication allowed Ethan Taggart to nip in between the pair, head the ball past them and pick it up the other side to tap into an empty net. A gift of a goal but just rewards for Taggart putting them under pressure.
Ethan Taggart benefitting from a Dundela error at the back
Ards kept pressing, knowing that they needed goals and Paddy Cafolla was on the spot to grab his second and Ards third of the day on 64. There was a element of luck as the ball fell kindly for Ards during the build up but their persistence paid off in the end. Scannell started the move off, setting it out to Taggart on the edge of the box. The midfield man carried it across the box looking for a shooting chance his resulting shot blocked but deflected kindly to Salley in the box. Salley himself then moved across goal looking for space before losing the run of the ball, it feel kindly for Cafolla who stepped on to the ball and fired it past Johnston in the Duns goal, giving him no chance. 3-1 to Ards, the game firmly in the away teams control.
More goals were needed and more goals came, Adam Salley scoring a brace to get the result we needed, but it could have been much more comfortable that it played out. The first goal came from a freekick awarded on 78’, just left of centre of the goal, about 30 yards out. Adam Salley stepped up, picked his spot and fired the dead ball into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Johnston who just couldn’t make up the distance. Within minutes of the restart Ards were presented with a brilliant opportunity to grab that all important 5th goal when the Duns captain Tony Kane was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. The ref wasted no time in pointing to the spot. Salley was given the responsibility of the spot kick and having just got himself on the scoresheet it stood to reason that confidence would be high and he would make no mistake. Inexplicably though he really got under the ball, and it went high over the bar hitting the stadium netting behind the goal, much to the dismay of the travelling supporters.
Another brace today for Ards top goal scorer Adam Salley
Ards threw caution to the wind as we moved into 6 minutes of time added on, necessitated by a lengthy stoppage earlier when a Duns player needed treatment subsequently leaving the pitch on a stretcher. Ards brought on Ross Arthurs and Daniel Reynolds late on as they tried pressing for that 5th goal, time quickly running out. Moving into the last couple of minutes, Salley redeemed himself when he finished at the far post, signalling great scenes both on and off the pitch. 5-1 the score line, the goal difference between ourselves our closest challengers Ballyclare having been reduced to zero and handing us the edge having scored more goals.
The 6 mins of time added on were up and the final whistle sounded to rapturous applause and celebrations on the pitch. We still weren’t quite over the line as the Ballyclare game was still ongoing and any winning score line for them would have left us vulnerable. We didn’t have to wait long for the final whistles to go at all local grounds, the results going in our favour, the 5-1 win being exactly what wee needed to secure a top 6 berth. Unbelievably tense final few minutes pushing for a goal that looked like it would allude us once the penalty chance was wasted. But all forgotten thanks to Salley stepping up when needed. Ards are currently in 5th, level on points and goal difference with Ballyclare in 7th spot. With Ballinamallard still a game to play in before the split games, should they win that they will jump to 5th pushing Ards to 6th and knock Ballyclare into the relegation group.
Ards got what they needed today, and celebrate accordingly at the final whistle
With 2 more games to be played there will be no release of the Championship post-split fixtures until Saturday the 1st until the last league places are confirmed. If the teams finish were they currently are we’ve four aways and one home, but should Ballinamallard win against Knockbreda and swap with Ballyclare we’ll have one more home and only three fixtures on the road. Improvement on last season but it’s been a tense ride.
Moore, Crane, TJ Murray, Hamill, Young, Taggart, Cafolla, Steele, E Scannell, Salley, Jallow
Shields, Mullen, Taylor, Clarke, Reynolds, Arthurs, Hunter