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  • Writer's pictureMichael Barritt

Loughgall 2 Ards 3

NIFL Championship – 08/02/22

By Phillip Bartlett

Dee Dee at the Double as Ards return to winning ways

Mid-week action for Ards as we returned to league action following the Irish Cup defeat away to Newry last week, Loughgall playing hosts at Lakeview Park. A tough start for new Ards boss Matthew Tipton, who has only been in post for 48 hours. High flying Loughgall currently in 2nd place, with 5 wins and 3 draws in their last 10 league games, would be considered heavy favourites with Ards recent woes very well documented of late. The sides have met twice in league action this season with one win apiece.

Ards fielded the same squad as in their last fixture against Newry but there were two changes to the starting line-up. Eamon Scannell and Calvin McCurry were brought into the starting 11 with DD McAllister and Salou Jallow taking their places on the bench. Christopher Crane and Benny Igiehon continue to serve their bans for the red cards collected against Queens and TJ Murray is still out recovering from injury.

A DD McAllister brace in the second half helped Ards claim their first win in five league games along with picking up three very valuable points in a half of football that will arguably go down as some of the best the team have played all season, resulting in a fantastic 3-2 win for the North Down side. There were assured performances all over the pitch, mixed in with a bit of luck that Ards have perhaps been missing for the last month or two. The first half will go down as ‘more of the same’, Ards losing an early goal, failing to create much worthwhile in an attacking sense and being somewhat questionable at the back. Loughgall definitely benefitted from some sloppy Ards defending taking a 2-1 lead into the break, but it was a different Ards team we saw take the field in the second half, a team we hope to see more of in the coming weeks.

Once again Ards defensive frailties came back to bite as Loughgall took an early lead on 4’ when Nathaniel Ferris benefitted from some poor decisions at the back. An unnecessary freekick given away on the Loughgall right, Ards had chances to clear the ball but they were half hearted and fell kindly for Ferris, his effort on goal was deflected and flew past Lemoignan in the Ards goal. Another early setback in a game that was going to be tough enough already. Ards did respond after going a goal down but despite creating a few half chances they didn’t trouble Turker in the Loughgall goal. McGrandles was having a huge impact on the game and along with making several chances for others, found himself on the end of one of Ards best chances of the half. Ards enjoying a good spell of pressure with several set pieces in and around the box. Scannell eventually sent in a wicked cross from a corner which Loughgall only managed to half clear, the second ball fell kindly for McGrandles who saw his effort on goal diverted up and over the ball with the help of a Loughgall boot.

The equaliser came on 25’ from a Donnelly freekick wide on the Ards left following a clash of heads involving Scannell, which eventually resulted in the winger being replaced shortly thereafter. Donnelly played the ball in and it was inadvertently turned into this own net by Loughgall’s Ferris, who was under huge pressure from O’Hare. The striker had now scored at both ends of the pitch, finally a wee bit of luck for Ards that no-one wearing red and blue in the crowd were complaining about. Ards had lifted themselves in the period leading up to the goal and it was fully deserved. Shortly after the goal Ards had a brilliant chance to take a lead but Cafolla’s shot across goal went agonisingly wide of the post. The midfield man done everything right, received the ball in the box, protected it well with his back to goal, he was able to turn and get a powerful shot away. From the side-lines it looked in all the way but just scraped past the post.

Smiles quickly turned to frowns as once again basic mistakes at the back were punished. A Loughgall corner, a simple ball, far too much space, an easy headed finish, Loughgall were back in front with Ben Murdock finding the bottom corner on 38’. Loughgall grabbing a 2-1 lead and that was how the half ended, but not before an excellent block from Conal Young at the back post prevented Loughgall from extending their lead even further.

I’m not sure what was said at half-time, by either the new management team, or perhaps the players themselves as there were some strong words shared as they were leaving the pitch. Whatever was said clearly had an impact as Ards came out and looked a different side right from the whistle. The attacking intent was clear form the start with McCurry on one side and DD on the other providing willing support to Tully who was leading the line up front. The big number 27 was a handful all night, physical and aggressive, giving the Loughgall centre halfs a really tough time. Ards pressure was rewarded on 51’ when DD McAllister grabbed his first goal of the game, and Ards equalising for the second time in the game. A brilliant ball in from the right, a deft touch with the outside of the foot, perfect placement across the keeper into the far corner. A really clever goal and nothing more than we deserved following a positive start to the second half.

If the fans were happy with that, they were ecstatic some 2 minutes later when that man DD McAllister once again found the net to turn the game around and give Ards a vital 3-2 lead. Tully once again showed great strength to advance up field with the ball, under extreme pressure from the Loughgall defenders. He linked up well with Donnelly in the box, who waited for the right moment and slid a perfect through ball to an unmarked McAllister. The winger made no mistake with the finish, giving Turker no chance, and the Ards fans were celebrating once again. Twice Ards were behind, now Ards were in front, the comeback completed but still with close to 40 minutes of the game remaining we couldn’t afford any complacency. A double sub shortly after the winning goal, in my opinion, went a long way to securing the victory. Reynolds and Ferrin replaced McCurry and O’Hare, and despite only being on the pitch for roughly 40 mins, Ferrin put himself in the running for man of the match. Several well-timed challenges, along with a calm head, settled the whole team down and allowed the attacking players freedom to kick on. Most of the chances in the second half fell to Ards, who on another day may well have got a couple more goals. Gary Donnelly had a couple of excellent chances to extend Ards lead, first from a freekick that went narrowly round the far post with the keeper beaten, and another with a smartly struck shot inside the box. Again, it was just off target. Ards were awarded the rarely seen indirect freekick when Turker was adjudged to have picked up a controlled back pass. Arthurs took the freekick, laying if off to Cafolla who hit it low and hard. It was on target, but Loughgall had packed the goal line and were able to clear.

While Ards dominated the second half and held out for the win, they didn’t have it all their own way. Loughgall did have a couple of half chances, the best of which falling to Caolan McAleer but he couldn’t find a way past Lemoignan. The young keeper covered his near post well and turned it round for a corner. Loughgall can consider themselves very lucky to have 11 men on the pitch come the end of the game. There were several occasions where the referee could easily have issued more cards, but he seemed determined to keep them in his pockets. After 3 additional minutes were up the ref brought the game to an end and the celebrations could begin. Joy mixed with relief, 3 points and a nice drive home for a change.

An excellent start to life under new boss Tipton, while not without issues the team have shown some of the resilience that was present earlier in the season and should give everyone reason to be hopeful. ‘Turned a corner’, ‘back on track’, ‘back to winning ways’, pick your football movie cliché but no-one will be getting ahead of themselves. It’s one game, with some excellent football on show and lots of reasons to be optimistic, but the Championship is a really competitive league this season and we’ve seen already that anyone can beat anyone on any given day. Hopefully we can indeed put a run of results together and start to make some tracks. The gap to the top spot is now 13 points, with everyone having played the same number of games, but 2nd down to 6th is separated by only 5 points and a playoff spot remaining a very real possibility.

Some mileage being covered in February for the team and supporters with the Mallards up next at Ferney Park. Currently sitting in 3rd, 5 points ahead of Ards, the Ducks have picked up 5 wins and 3 draws in their last 10 league games. Having played twice already this season, Ards have won one game a picked up a draw in their last visit. New boss Tipton will no doubt be looking forward to getting some time on the training ground with his new team in preparation for this fixture.

Starting eleven:

Lemoignan, Dinu, McGovern, Ferrin, Young, McGrandles, Scannell, Cafolla, Donnelly, McCurry, Tully

Subs used:

Arthurs, Reynolds, Ferrin, McAllister

Subs not used:

Neeson, Calderwood, Jallow

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