NIFL Championship – 26/12/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Ards Red faced and with the Christmas Blues after boxing day defeat
Back in action after an enforced break due to the elements Ards start their festive programme away to bottom side Knockbreda at Breda Park. Ards have enjoyed some great wins over their hosts on previous visits, a standout score line of 8-0 chief among them. Travelling fans will be hoping for more of the same having already grabbed a 4-1 win earlier in the season. Knockbreda come into this one with a shoestring squad, unable to fill the bench with only 3 being named, Ards should head in very confident indeed.
TJ Murray returns to the starting line-up for this one, taking back the captaincy from Paddy Cafolla. Ben Mullen continues his run of starts in the heart of the defence alongside Greg Hall and it’s a familiar attacking line with Salley returning to the starting 11, joined up top by Ross Hunter and Eamon Scannell. Salou Jallow finds himself back on the bench after a recent run of good performances, but will no doubt be involved in some fashion today.
Ards captain TJ Murray back in from the start for this one
Two second half goals from substitute Ross Arthurs were not enough to salvage anything from another questionable Ards performance, the Kircubbin man the only one to emerge from the match with much of any credit. The first half provided very little entertainment for the away fans outside of one moment where the crowd thought an Adam Salley effort had found the corner of the net. It had unfortunately gone the wrong side of the post and hit the side netting. Knockbreda were the much more likely to open the scoring the first 45, Alex Moore making several decent saves to keep it goalless at the break. The second half certainly provided more to cheer about as an attacking contest, where goals were concerned, but Ards defending for all 3 of Breda’s goals left a lot to be desired. Knockbreda opened the scoring just after the break, Barry Moore given two chances to convert, taking the second with a decent finish at the back post. Arthurs hit back within 5 mins with his first of the game giving us hope that we could kick on to get the win. That hope lasted all of 60 seconds as Knockbreda went right up the other end, Max Greer eventually converting to give Breda the lead for a second time. Arthurs grabbed his second of the game on 65’, equalising again for Ards but we couldn’t get on top, our defensive frailties again letting the home side in to take the lead for the 3rd time, Ewan McCoubrey netting the last goal of the game on 70’. That was the end of the scoring, Ards unable to find a way back for a 3rd time, a very valuable three points going the way of the home team.
It took until the 16th minute of the match for anything of note to happen, a couple of half chances for Hunter and Salley notwithstanding. TJ made the creator with a first-time ball switched to the right, Salley controlled well and cut inside before releasing his shot. Fry had it covered as he watched it round the post, but a lot of the crowd mistakenly thought it was in and were up cheering until the cold reality finally set it. Still 0-0 but positive signs. After that Knockbreda kicked on and had the best of the half but unable to take advantage thanks to Alex Moore once again in the Ards goal.
Ross Hunter trying to hold the ball up and get people involved
Breda captain Cillin Gilmour looked the most dangerous, causing trouble with his set pieces and delivery all afternoon. On 20’ he went really close, hitting a fine freekick from wide left just outside the box. Alex Moore was equal to it, making a decent save tipping it over the bar. A save you’d have expected him to make to be honest. Ards were struggling deal with Anthony Burns’ physicality up top, the Breda #17 making a real nuisance of himself, and it was good work between him and Montgomery that created a great chance for McDermott. A quick 1-2 just outside the box, Burns shot across goal and McDermott was inches away from making contact at the back post. Moore had covered the ground well and may well have reached it had there been contact. Ards were on the back foot and just about keeping it goalless but they weren’t helping themselves at the back. Crane under no pressure played a blind pass towards his own goal picking out no-one but a yellow shirt. Thankfully for Ards McGreevey, who collected the ball, couldn’t find a decent cross into the box and Ards were able to clear.
36’ gone and Knockbreda had the ball in the back of the net, Burns with the finish past Moore, but it was brought back for an offside as the attacker had made is run a bit early. Correct call, even obvious from the side-line. That was the last of the action before the ref called time to the first half. We had played one additional minute at the end of the first 45.
The teams were back out for the second half, Ards bringing on Ross Arthurs at the break replacing Ross Hunter.
A terrible start to the second half for Ards, Barry Moore opening the scoring on 47’. There was a warning 30 seconds before from the same player, a Gilmour corner from the right was met well by the unmarked Moore inside the box. His looping header was heading for the top corner before Alex Moore, again proving his worth, reached it with a fantastic full stretch save to send it over the bar, another corner for Breda but this time from the left. Ards had learned nothing from the previous 20 seconds, Cafolla allowed Barry Moore to drift off him again towards the back post and the defender made good contact with the outside of his left boot, managing to keep it low and under the body of the Ards keeper. 1-0 Breda, 47’ gone. Ards had men covering the posts as well, not sure how it wasn’t dealt with?!
Ards could have found themselves 2-0 a few minutes later as Anthony Burns found himself beyond the last man running onto a speculative ball over the top. His shot across goal was well wide. Narrowly avoiding going 2-0 down, Ards instead broke up the other end of the pitch and equalised through half time substitute Ross Arthurs on 52’, a cool finish at the back post after good work down the left by Scannell. Ards back in it and renewed hope to kick on. Alex Moore started the attack, sending his goal kick long, a great flick on by Ethan Taggart found Scannell on the left. His first-time ball across goal was perfectly weighted for Arthurs, who finished at the second attempt, Fry having made a decent block from the first. Ards back in it 1-1 after 52’.
Ross Arthurs with his 1st of the day, getting Ards back on level terms 1-1
Any joy the away fans had, lasted just shy of 60 seconds as Knockbreda hit back almost immediately through Greer on 53’ and regaining their lead. Another Knockbreda set piece, another Knockbreda goal. Barry Moore once again involved, the corner was played in from the left and the defender found himself free at the back post once again. His header puts the ball back into the danger zone and Greer stabs it towards goal. Alex makes the initial save with his feet, but Greer persists and manages to poke it home at the second or even third attempt. There were 6 Ards players, including the keeper, around Greer yet he somehow manages to get several chances to convert at the near post. Breda 2-1, any joy Ards had at equalising was very short lived.
Ross Arthurs was brought on at the break to add a bit of presence up top and to get goals and the Ards #9 was at it again on 65’, getting his and Ards’ second of the game, tying things up once again 2-2 the score. Cricky Crane’s header in from the left was flicked on by Salley, Arthurs laid it off to Cafolla who shot from distance. Fry in the Breda goal could only parry it to his right picking out Arthurs who had kept moving and finished well under the keeper. Good team goal, working hard to keep the ball alive and getting the rewards. 25 mins left, Ards back on level terms for a second time.
While we managed to keep things on level terms for a bit longer, which we were lucky to have done so as Anthony Burns really should have converted just 2 mins later, the eventual result was the same. Sloopy at the back, gifting the opposition goals. Cillin Gilmour again given time and space to pick out a pass from the middle of the park, Anthony Burns running beyond the back 4 and playing the simplest of balls across goal finding McCoubrey’s run at the back post. A tap in for the 3rd Breda goal, Ards defenders were diving in scrambling all over the place to clear. Ards had been unable to deal with Gilmours passing all day and Burns’ strength and running at the back seemingly terrified them the whole game.
Ards Cricky Crane marshalling Burns, who was a thorn in our side all day
It could have been worse for Ards as on 76’ substitute Matthew Munn lifted an effort just over the bar when through on goal. Ards had a few half chances towards the end, a Scannell freekick going narrowly wide and a couple of corners played in, but Fry wasn’t to be beaten for a 3rd time and after 3 mins of time added on where up the ref brought the game to an end. Ards at sixes and sevens at the back, easily opened up time and time again with only Moore in the Ards goal offering any sort of resistance but even he can only do so much. Arthurs can hold his head up high, getting Ards back into it twice but again, he can only do so much when around him others aren’t up to par. This was not a full strength Knockbreda team, who we would still have expected to beat, this was a patched-up team with a 3-person bench.
The good news is games come fast this time of the season, so we have a chance to put things right quickly, the bad news is we welcome high flying Dundela to Clandeboye Park on New Year's Eve. A very stern test, one in which we will have to play a hell of a lot better than we did so in this match.
Moore, Crane, Mullen, Hall, Young, Cafolla, TJ Murray (C), Taggart, Scannell, Salley, Hunter
McKendry, Taylor, Calderwood, Jallow, McVeigh, Reynolds, Arthurs