NIFL Championship – 09/04/22
By Phillip Bartlett
All square at ‘The Hen Run’ as Ards fight back twice
“It’s not the race we wanted, but it’s the one we’ve got”. Checking the table heading into today’s game seeing Ards sitting in the ‘top spot’ didn’t fill me with joy knowing that it is unfortunately the top of the bottom six post-split. Alas, this is where we now find ourselves and if anyone involved with the club was under any misapprehension about the size of the task ahead then the last outing against the Welders should have cleared up any doubt. That last result may well have played a big part in the recent 2-year contract awarded to new boss Matthew Tipton, the understanding being that change will not be quick and those in the position of bringing around said change will need both time and stability to do that.
Ards have faced Dundela 4 times this season already, 3 league fixtures and an Irish Cup tie, with the Duns holding the advantage with 3 wins* and Ards 1. Dundela have had a remarkable turn around with ex Ards boss Currie in the hotseat so this tie should be as unpredictable as the rest of the season. Lots of changes going into todays game with only six of those who started against the Welders two weeks ago retaining their spots in the team. Neeson, McGovern, Donnelly, McAllister and Jallow missing out, replaced by Lemoignan, McGrandles, Young, Igiehon and Arthurs. TJ Murray retained the captains armband and there were places on the bench for youth players Jay Boyd and Jacob Duckett.
The phrase “a game of two halfs” was probably coined as result of a game just like today. Dundela dominated the first half, with Ards offering very little in an attacking threat, and deservedly took a 1-0 lead into the break. It was role reversal in the second half with Ards starting really brightly, grabbing an early equaliser, and dominating the ball throughout the 49 mins played. The teams traded further goals later in the half with Ards grabbing a deserved equaliser for the second time, and while the game itself won’t live long in the memory, I doubt too many will argue about the fairness of the result.
The Duns took the match to Ards right from the very first kick, moving the ball quickly, getting high up the pitch into threatening positions but failing to really test Lemoignan in the Ards goal. Ards tried to reassert themselves in sporadic periods and surprisingly against the run of play had the first clear effort on goal through Benny Igiehon. The big striker collected Youngs’ throw from the right touchline, used his size and strength really well to protect it while making a bit of room for himself to turn and get a shot away. Unfortunately, it was well wide of the target. A good chance for Ards, one of very few they created throughout the first half. The Duns quickly hit back nearly taking the lead on 9’ as Fyfe lined up and shot from distance. He was afforded far too much time and space in the middle of the park to pick his spot. Lemoignan tracked it all the way and was well positioned to collect without trouble.
The Duns number 10 was not to be denied for long as he opened the scoring on 15’ despite the best efforts of Ards young keeper. Jack made a brilliant one-on-one stop just inside the 18 yd box after a great Duns through ball, the goal bound effort deflected off the keeper falling kindly for Fyfe who stroked it into the far corner of the net, sending the home crowd bananas. Jack had initially done his job well stopping a near certain goal but needed a bit of help from his teammates after his initial intervention. Five minutes later Ards probably should have been 2-0 down when a clearance by McGrandles went straight to a Duns midfielder. Two quick passes later and they were in on goal but thankfully for Ards the shot across goal was well wide of the post. Ards nearly shooting themselves in the foot once again. The referee brought the half to an end with the score 1-0 to the Duns, and that was thanks to Lemoignan again in the Ards goal. 41’ Ards once again caught napping as Fearon easily beat the offside and was picked out in acres of space at the back post. His first-time effort on goal was blocked by the Ards keepers legs having quickly recovered his ground. Great work by the young keeper, keeping Ards in the tie.
No changes for Ards at half time, the players emerged after the break and Ards got the second half underway.
It was a really quick start from Ards and in less than 90 seconds we had an equaliser through Ross Arthurs. Igiehon had been a handful for the two Dundela centre halfs in parts during the first half and was once again using his size and strength well keeping the ball alive in the box. Eventually the ball fell to Arthurs whose deft touch put the ball past Matthews and into the back of the Duns net. A quality finish and richly deserved after their good start to the half. The equaliser gave Ards a much-needed boost in confidence and just 2 mins later Scannell went close to a second sending a freekick just past the post. The kick was awarded about 25 yards out just to the right of the 18yd box. The kick was put round the wall, but it also beat the near post passing missing by inches. Positive signs for the travelling fans.
Ards continued to press and had chances through Reynolds and Scannell but both efforts were well saved by the Duns keeper Matthews who was looking assured between the sticks. McGrandles arguably had the best chance of the half at the back post meeting a brilliant cross from the right, it lacked the power to beat Matthews at the near post and he was able to hold clearing the danger. As we have seen so often this season, Ards are always vulnerable when on top and today was no different. Despite dominating the half for 35 minutes, and grabbing an equaliser, Ards found themselves 2-1 down on 81' when Annett burst through down the right and scored at the near post. It was a well struck shot, but I expect the keeper to be disappointed at being beaten at his near post. Additionally frustrating as he had performed well throughout the game. Similar feelings rippled through the crowd, seen it all before, Ards on top in the game but behind on the scoresheet. What was promising today however was that Ards didn’t give up and on 84’ equalised for the second time in the game. This time Reynolds was on the spot to finish at the far post. It wasn’t the cleanest of goals, but neither the Ards players nor the fans were worrying too much about that, happy to take any kind of goal offered at present.
I’m not sure either team deserved all 3 points from the game today, but Ards went closest to grabbing them through Calderwood on 89’. Scannell floated a great ball in from the right, Calderwood rose highest meeting it in the air but there was little power on the effort and Matthews was able to grab it snuffing out the danger. There were 4 additional minutes played during which Ards were awarded a very late free kick on the edge of the 18yd box. The set piece didn’t trouble the Duns keeper and when the ball was next put back into play the ref blew up and brought the game to an end.
Ards played the whole 94 minutes without making a single substitution throughout. A testament to those starting or an indictment of those on the bench we can only speculate. Ards will have been happy to have shown some fight and endeavour after the last outing to the Welders and there was plenty of that throughout the game form everyone on the pitch. On another day that game could have gone either way so I expect both teams will have left content enough. Four more games before we bring the curtain down on a season that has raised many questions but provided few answers.
Ards next game is a Friday night fixture as we travel to Ballyclare, team selection will be interesting again in this one as Tipton continues to make changes and assess those he has available to him.
Lemoignan, Young, McGrandles, Calderwood, Crane, Reynolds, Murray, Cafolla, Scannell, Arthurs, Igiehon
Neeson, McGovern, Duckett, McCurry, Tully, Donnelly, Boyd