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  • Writer's pictureMichael Barritt

Institute 3 Ards 2 – Match Report













NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 22/12/23

By Phillip Bartlett

 

Festive Fury as ‘Stute Steal Late Win

Institute pile further pressure on the Wee Ards in advance of the North Down derby

 

 

Bangor FC ‘at home’ looms large for Ards as the festive football programme gets underway with the long trek to the Northwest to take on Institute at the Brandywell, and the recent form makes for perturbing reading as we prepare to face our closest rivals on Boxing Day. With just 1 point collected out of a possible 12 the home side will be confident of taking all 3 points, but we also know that this Ards team are capable of beating anyone in the league on their day, it really rather depends on what team shows up. Those hardy souls who make the trip should have reasons to be positive as we seem to pull something out of the bag when our backs are really up against it. Sitting well above Ards in the table the hosts themselves aren’t having the best of runs having only collected 2 points from a possible 12 in comparison to Ards 1, but of course their record over the season is quite impressive having already beaten the RABA 3-2 back in October. An interesting game ahead.


The impressive Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium looking well for this game

 

Ards have been struggling with injuries, especially across the back, this season and tonight was more of the same, the starting 11 listed 2 natural full backs in a defensive back 3 alongside Matt Gorman in front of the nearly ever present, and always reliable Alex Moore in the sticks. 5 across the middle with a familiar central 3 as Aidan Steele is recalled to the side having missed out against Portadown last week. He’s joined in there by the tireless Ethan Taggart and Paddy Cafolla looking to be creator for the forward duo of Callum Dougan and Ross Hunter. Callum Dougan was recently voted the PASC POTM for November grabbing 5 goals in that period. Not too many familiar names for those Ards supporters in the Institute side, but memories from the last game show us that there is plenty of power and pace among their squad. Something we’ll need to be aware of and deal with accordingly.

 

Where to start with this one, a really good game with two teams competing that was ultimately decided by some questionable decisions going against the visitors. Institute struck in the dying seconds to claim all 3 points with a soul crushing 3-2 win, striking on 90+6 to run out victors, the same scoreline they beat us by in the reverse fixture a couple of months back. Ards struggled with the speed of the home side, combined with some swirling weather conditions, Institute edging the first half and taking a deserved 1-0 lead at half time, Kirk McLaughlin breaking the deadlock on 15’. Ards could consider themselves lucky to only be 1-0 down at the break, ‘Stute creating much the better chances in front of goal. With the break came the change in halfs, Ards now with the favourable weather and it certainly made a difference, Ards turning the game round in the opening 15’ minutes as Callum Dougan grabbed a brace to put us into a 2-1 lead. The lead didn’t last long, Institute hitting back from the penalty spot just 3 minutes after going behind, Tiarnan McKinney converting from the spot after a Connor Maxwell foul just in the area. The two sides battled back and forth, plenty of goal mouth action and excitement for both sets of fans, but it all turned on 86’ when Ards stand in captain Eamon Scannell was shown a straight red card for a challenge on Ryan Morrow. There was much consternation among the Ards players, coaches and fans as it looked to be very harsh, perhaps not even warranting of a yellow let alone a straight red. Ards fought admirably with 10 men, having lost 3 of the starting 11 through injury as well but the sucker punch came really late on, Kirk McLaughlin heading in a winner with the last touch of the game in 90+6. A real kick in the teeth following a game where Ards really deserved something following a much improved second half.



PASC POTM for November Callum Dougan carried on his recent run of good goal scoring form grabbing another 2 goals

 

 

Changeable conditions throughout the 90 minutes made for a tough night for both sides the wind and rain swirling all over the place. The home side started the game with the wind at their backs and immediately put Ards under pressure, the pace of Michael Harris proving difficult to handle as he moved from side to side. Despite a good start from the hosts, it was Ards with the first sight of goal, Max Miller cutting inside to test Muldoon in the ‘Stute goal early on. It was a tame shot under pressure and there were half hearted appeals for a penalty as Miller went down under pressure, nothing doing from the officials. That was 1 of very few chances Ards created in the first 45, most of the action taking place at the other end of pitch.

 

The pressure was building on the visitors as Institute settled the better of two, Evan Tweed going close to an early opener, curling an effort on target on 10’. Allowed too much time and space he carried the ball across the area before shooting for goal. It was well struck but Moore had it covered all the way making an easy save. Already under pressure Ards caused problems of their own as Matt Gorman was caught in possession playing out from the back and the attack was on. Fortunately for the Ards centre half Ethan Taggart was able to get back and recover, sending the ball out for a ‘Stute corner. The resulting set piece was punched clear by Moore and Ards survived. Early lessons not learnt are often punished and Ards were quickly punished on 15’, Kirk McLaughlin opening the scoring. It was a pretty simple goal on the back of some poor defending, first not getting out to block the cross, and then allowing both McLaughlin and Mbuli far too much space in the box, either of whom could have scored under no pressure.

 

With the weather not improving Ryan Morrow decided to try and use it to his advantage, hitting an audacious free kick from just inside his own half having spotted Moore off his line in preparation for it. It was a good hit, well directed and made the distance but Moore had recovered his ground to make an easy catch. Bit of improvisation from the Stute full back. Just after the hour mark Ards have both their Max’s to thank for the scoreline remaining 1-0 as both Greer and Miller cleared Kirk McLaughlin goal bound efforts off the line in quick succession. Greer was first, blocking the ball at the near post, the second ball was collected by McLaughlin and with Moore on the ground following the first effort, the goal at his mercy it seemed a certain goal but Miller had dropped back to the line and managed to throw his boot in the way and ensure the ball didn’t get over the line and Ards were able to clear and survive yet again. Excellent work by the new young players ensuring Ards weren’t completely out of this one before the break.


Arguably Max Millers best game in an Ards shirt, crucial blocks at the back, and a constant threat wide right, setting up Dougan's second

 

Ards continue to cause their own problems at the back, Gorman again holding on to the ball for too long and being dispossessed just outside the area. Fortunately, Institute were unable to make it count, flashing a shot into the side netting. 40’ mark, heading into the last 5 before the break and the home side looked to have taken the lead, McLaughlin meeting a Sean Carlin corner with his head in the 6-yard box. From the sideline it looked to be arrowing in but Moore managed to get something on it and Ards once again scramble it clear. Despite being under the cosh for the majority of the half Ards did create some chances the best of which fell to Dougan right on the stroke of half time. Cafolla’s freekick from just inside the ‘Stute half was carried wide by the wind, Maxwell headed it back into the box where Dougan latched on to it first time, a fierce shot that went narrowly over the bar. Brilliant effort that may well have produced a brilliant save by Muldoon, but the ref awarded a goal kick instead.

 

That was the end of the action in the first half, 1 additional minute played, and the teams were taken off the field. Ards still in the game despite not being anywhere near their best.

 

No changes for Ards at the break, the same 11 take to the field after the interval. The hosts got the game going again, Ards now with the wind assistance in the second period.

 

The visitors wasted no time in taking the game to Institute, Hunter close to getting in on goal after just 2 minutes, Max Miller the architect wide right. The Ards #14 used his pace to skip past the ‘Stute defender before whipping in a brilliant ball to the back post having spotted Hunters run. It was a great ball in, but Leppard was there to make the clearance. Ards continued to press after the break and were level after just 5 minutes, Callum Dougan equalising from the penalty spot on 50’. Hunter having already proved dangerous with his pace in the early stages got the better of Leppard, just hanging off his shoulder. A simple ball lifted over the top, the offside trap beaten, and Hunter was in on goal. Shaun Leppard was the closest defender to him and did well to make up the distance, but his challenge wasn’t timed, and he bundled over the Ards forward, clear penalty and the official pointed to the spot and went on to book the Institute defender. Leppard was clearly the last man and there were calls from the sidelines and on field about the colour of the card, the assumption being that a genuine attempt was made to win the ball, thus avoiding a red card. Dougan stepped up and cooly slotted home the equaliser to continue his recent good form in front of goal. 1-1 early in the second half.

 

Just before the hour mark the turn around was complete, Dougan again in the right place to grab his and Ards’ second goal of the game to put the visitors in front for the first time. Dougan with a clinical finish but lots of credit to Max Miller who made the goal with some brilliant speed and trickery on the right flank. Faced up by two defensive players the Ards man jinked around and skipped inside 3 or 4 challenges before coming out on the other side having created the crossing opportunity. With a busy penalty box, the ball needed to be right, and he certainly produced, picking out Dougan around the penalty spot. 1 touch to control and another touch to fire past Muldoon into the back of the net. 2-1 to Ards on the 60-minute mark.

 

The RABA celebrations were cut short just 3 minutes later as Institute were also awarded a penalty, Connor Maxwell adjudged to have fouled just inside the box. It did look like a foul but looked to be outside the box from where I was standing. Of course, the official was standing much closer so benefit of the doubt. Tiarnan McKinney was given the responsibility of taking the spot kick, looking to beat Moore and restore parity and that’s exactly what he did. A well taken penalty not giving Moore much of a chance to prevent it. 2-2 after 62’ a good contest on our hands with both sides looking up for the fight after a quite one sided first half. With just 20 minutes to go Institute came within inches of taking the lead again, Kirk McLaughlin’s shot narrowly deflected around the far post with Moore beaten having just about recovered from an earlier save from the left. Ards under pressure but Moore kept them in it initially and was able to count on his defence to finish the job on the second ball.

 

Ards already strained resources were really put the test as we lost both Max Greer and Connor Maxwell to injury within 10 minutes. Michael Ruddy and James McLaughlin brought in to replace the two defenders with McLaughlin forced into a centre half role for the final 15 minutes rather than his much-preferred attacking position. It was a tense end to the game, tempers fraying both on and off the pitch, both sides getting involved in some unsavoury challenges, but the turning point of the game came on 86’ when stand in captain for the night Eamon Scannell was shown a straight red for a late challenge on ‘Stute full back Ryan Morrow. Of all the challenges we were witness to in the previous few minutes this was certainly not the worst of them and from my vantage point seemed to warrant a yellow card at worst, even that may have been harsh. I’ve no idea what the official saw to brandish the red, but it certainly raised some questions among the Ards players and coaching staff.

 

Ards now down to 10 men also lost their top goal scorer to injury late on Dougan having to leave the field with a blood injury and being replaced by George Tipton for the last few minutes. Already playing with an unorthodox lineup, some players well out of position, and now down to 10 men for the last 10 minutes, Ards fought admirably and held on until the final seconds when they were outdone, Kirk McLaughlin once again causing problems by getting on the end of a decent cross from the right. He’d done well to find himself a bit of room, it was a good ball in, and the downward header was enough to beat Moore in the Ards goal on 90+6. Heart break for everyone associated with Ards in a game where we really deserved to come away with something, a much-improved performance than that shown of late despite all the challenges with personnel. The winning goal was virtually with the last touch of the ball, the ref blowing up just after Ards restarted the game, 3-2 the final score, mirroring the result from Clandeboye park several weeks back.


Another 3-2 defeat to 'Stute' this season, made for an uncomfortable journey home

 

It's safe to say the players involved in recent weeks understand that the level of performances have not been where they need to be and it was more of the same in this one in the first half but it was a different side that emerged after the break. Getting at the opposition early, using their pace and being clinical in front of goal when the chances presented themselves and turning the game around. I’d say both teams would have been happy enough with a point as the game continued but for such a competitive and entertaining game to be decided by questionable decisions by the officials is very disappointing and could prove costly as we move through the rest of the season.

 

Next up, the one we’ve been waiting for all season, the return to the North Down derby on Boxing Day. Ards Physio Sam will be one busy man over the next day or two with the injuries mounting up after this game, 3 different players leaving the field due to injury adding to an already depleted squad. Add to that the red card shown to Eamon Scannell and Ards will have some decisions to make going into this one. Having already lost out to Bangor early in the season the RABA will be looking to get their own back and grab the bragging rights for a short time at least. The Seagulls are currently sitting 4th in the league some 10 points ahead of Ards who languish in 10th and are currently on a 4-game winning streak, here’s hoping we can end their run and begin a winning run of our own come Tuesday evening.


Special mention to Institute Physio Leah McCready who assisted Ards captain Michael Ruddy following a clash of heads in the reverse fixture in October that required hospital treatment.



Physio Leah McCready pictured with Director John Wilton and Ards captain Michael Ruddy. Big thanks for her assistance last time out following a serious head injury

 

 

Starting Line-up:

Moore, Greer, Gorman, Maxwell, E Scannell, Cafolla, Taggart, Steele, Miller, Hunter, Dougan

 

Substitutes:

Shields, Ruddy, McLaughlin, McAllister, Tipton

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