NIFL Championship – 13/08/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Hall off the Mark as Ards sink Welders….
Once again, the football season is upon us with the return of the Lough 41 Championship with all 12 teams kicking off the new season with their aim firmly fixed on Premier League promotion. Preseason is done, the flags have been laundered and pressed, signings have been made and it’s time to get to work….
Ards first fixture has us take the relatively short trip to Blanchflower Park in East Belfast, a trip that back in March ended with a heavy 4-0 defeat for us, so the supporters will be hoping we right some of the wrongs from that day and get us off to a winning start. There have been plenty of incomings and outgoings for both sides over the summer so there will be a certain level of the unknown at this early stage.
There were Ards debuts handed to Alex Moore (GK), Ethan Taggart and Luke McKendry in todays starting eleven while the returning Johnny Taylor and Greg Hall also started in defence. The Welders squad boasted no fewer than six Ex-Ards players in their ranks so plenty of competitiveness between the sides today. TJ Murray went into the game with the captains armband, carrying on from leading the side last season.
The fans were treated to some glorious weather for the season opener, blazing sunshine and clear blue skies. I’m not sure the players would have been just as happy with the conditions but credit to both teams, there was lots of fight and effort on show. Ards ran out 2-0 winners on the day, a goal in each half securing the 3 points. The first, scored by Hall, was an excellent team goal with no fewer than 15 passes before the killer through ball followed by a tidy finish in the right corner of the goal. Cafolla made sure of the win grabbing a second for Ards with a composed finish towards the end of the game, ultimately ending the Welders chances of getting any kind of result.
Ards started the brighter with both Crane and McAllister having some joy down the left side and getting the ball into the box. New boy Taggart had the first real chance of the game on 4’ when a dangerous ball in from the left by DeeDee was initially cleared by Harris but it fell perfectly to Taggart’s feet. He stepped on to the ball just inside the 18 yd box but hit his shot straight at McCauley in the Welders goal, who made a good save with his legs. Bright start for the new man in the middle of the park and great chance to open the scoring early. The RABA that travelled over for the game didn’t have to wait too much longer for the deadlock to be broken as fan favourite Greg Hall broke through the Welders lines on 16’ and slotted home past McCauley. It was a brilliant team goal played from back to front. McKendry played a through ball into Reynolds feet just beyond the centre circle, the Ards forward played a first-time ball round the corner, having spotted Halls’ run from the right back position. It was a perfectly weighted pass right in his path, he took a couple of touches to get it out of his feet and calmly finished it past the keeper. There were shouts of offside from the home team, but Hall had timed his run perfectly finding acres of space, Ards 1-0 up after 16 minutes.
The Welders’ best chance in the first half came on 28’ from a corner. Moore did really well to get a touch on a deep cross field ball, narrowly beating the Welders striker and denying him a clear chance at the back post. The resulting corner was cause for more concern in the Ards box. Moore tried to come and collect but was blocked off by McLellan in front of goal, the ball reached Dornan whose header was goal bound but Moore had recovered his ground and got a vital touch to the first ball, smothering it at the second attempt right on the goal line. Excellent work despite a potential foul in the build up by the new Ards #1. There were some shouts by the home side that the ball had crossed the goal line, but it was clearly well short, and the ref waved away any protests.
Moore was back in action again on 35’ preventing another Welders attempt. Great play by the Welders moving the ball quick and getting between the Ards lines too easily. A sharp through ball was collected by Barr and he was through on goal. Moore was quickly off his line and got something on the ball to deny the initial chance but couldn’t gather it cleanly. McLellan did well to nick it back and get a shot away, but it went well wide of the target. The linesman did eventually put his flag up for offside for the initial run, but the new Ards keeper wasn’t to know that and showed great decision making.
First half ended 1-0 to Ards, but before the break there was two dreadful challenges made by the Welders, both resulting in yellow cards. First on McAllister and then on Jallow. Fortunately, both were able to get back to their feet and continue.
No changes to either side at the break, the same 22 took to the field with the Welders getting the game going again….
Ards found themselves under some serious pressure in the opening stages of the second half, struggling to even get the ball into their attacking third. Moore had to be on his toes in the opening 10 mins and made another brilliant save, this time down sharply to his left to keep out a Kyle Owens header. The big centre half had made his way into the box and a brilliant ball played in from the Welders left found him. Decent header down but Moore was equal to it and Crane was on hand to complete the clearance and get Ards up the pitch. That wasn’t the end of it though as the Welders continued to pile forward creating decent chances almost at will. Ards were resolute at the back and managed to keep them out eventually getting their foot on the ball and managing to retain a bit of possession in the opposition half.
Ards were back on the attack through Jallow on the right. On 58’ the pacey winger picked the ball up in the wide position and took the left back on. Running at pace he managed to find a bit of space for a shot across goal. It was a tame enough effort that should have been easily collected by the keeper but he needed a couple of goes to claim it. As Ards were finally fighting back a bit in the second a poor touch by new boy McKendry on 77’ gave the Welders an excellent chance for the equaliser. A simple long ball up from the back, McKendry tried to control it on the bounce facing his own goal, it was a poor touch and got away from him allowing Graham to run in and get a shot away at the near post. Moore tracked the striker well across goal and picked up an excellent position allowing him to make another smart save at his near post. Ards got away with that one, McKendry holding his hands up to the initial error.
Ards sealed the game on 82’ when an accurately placed Cafolla effort found the far-right corner of the Welders goal. Ards were awarded a corner on the right, Scannell swung the ball in and it was initially punched clear by McCauley. It was kept alive as Cafolla met the clearance on the edge of the box and headed it back into the danger area, JT again kept it alive with a blocked effort on goal and the ball eventually found its way back out to Cafolla who finished with a calm left foot shot. It was a great time to score as Ards had found themselves under increasing pressure and the second goal was a real sucker punch to the home team.
After an additional 3 minutes were played the referee brought the game to a close, Ards running out 2-0 winners and heading home with 3 valuable points to start the new season.
Ards subs throughout the game also included two new signings with Ben Mullen and Ross Hunter being introduced. It was a great start to what promises to be a very competitive league season. Promotion the ultimate goal but hopefully playing some nice football along the way. Next up sees Loughgall make the trip to Clandeboye Park under the ‘Friday night lights’.
Moore, Crane, Taylor, McKendry, Hall, McAllister, Murray, Taggart, Cafolla, Jallow, Reynolds
Craughwell, Calderwood, Scannell, Arthurs, Mullen, McVeigh, Hunter