NIFL Championship – 08/04/23
By Phillip Bartlett
5 Star Loughgall Premiership bound
More of the same as Ards suffer 4th heavy defeat against champions elect.
Ards have had a torrid time against top of the table Loughgall this season going into this one with an aggregate score of 14-1 from the previous 3 meetings. Ards have as yet been unable to lay a glove on the side that have led the way from start to end and seem destined to be playing Premier League football next season. The first game post-split and it couldn’t be a harder task for the travelling RABA but we should be going there with a modicum of confidence despite the previous results. Last time out Ards romped to a 5-1 victory away to Dundela to secure their spot in the top six, we would need to put on a similar performance in this one to entertain any hope of getting a positive result.
Significant changes going into this one for Ards boss Tipton today as a mix of injuries and suspensions took its toll on today’s playing squad. Dan Reynolds has since moved on to pastures new as he moves down under, while Cricky Crane and Ben Mullen miss out through injury and suspension respectively. TJ Murray can only make the bench for this one due to a hip injury, having impressed in centre half over recent weeks, replaced by the returning Johnny Taylor while Chris McDonald comes in at left back. The bench is bolstered by the return of DeeDee McAllister and Conor Scannell while Greg Hall is the only recognised defender available if required. Loughgall have pretty much a full squad to select from with 3 ex Ards players in their numbers including forward Benjie Magee and reserve keeper Danny Devine.
Johnny Taylor restored to the starting lineup for this one, keeping a close eye on Ex Ards Man Benji Magee
Ards first game against The Villagers way back in August ended in a 5-0 humiliation and it was more of the same today as the Champions Elect brushed aside Ards with similar ease. They didn’t have it all their own way for the majority of the first half, Ards remaining resolute at the back and creating great chances in attack themselves early on, but late goals for Duke(41) and Magee(45+1) put the hosts in control as we headed into the break. The second half and Ards offered very little in attack and were at sixes and sevens at the back, the swirling conditions causing havoc in the Ards goal mouth contributing to a further 3 goals for the home side. Jamie Rea scored an unlikely goal direct from the corner flag, Aaron Duke added to his first half strike while substitute Andrew Hoey completed the scoring on 77’. With close to 15 mins left and already 5-0 down, the travelling support would have been rightly concerned that an even bigger defeat was on the cards, Loughgall seemingly scoring with every attack, but there was no more goal mouth action, Loughgall content with holding on to the ball and ensuring they gave Ards no opportunities in the final 3rd. The 90 minutes were up, the ref doing Ards a favour by not playing any additional time added on. 5-0 the final score and another long trip home for the RABA.
The day started with an impeccably observed minutes silence in memory and respect of Aodhan Gillen, currently on the books of Carrick Rangers out on loan to Dundela, who sadly passed away earlier in the week.
Unexpectedly Ards were on the front foot from the off looking the more likely to make the breakthrough early on as Salou Jallow had 2 great chances within the first 10 minutes to give the away side the lead. The first as early as the 3rd minute saw a mistake by Cartwright letting the pacey winger in behind with just Turker to beat in the Loughgall goal. The effort lacked composure however as it was skied high over the bar. Jallow was in the spotlight again just 5 mins later, another perfectly weighted ball over the top, Jallow was through on goal again with Turker in his way, he opted to take this one early trying to cut across a high ball and got it all wrong, slicing it well wide of the post. He had plenty of time and space to control the ball and run it closer to goal but opted for the more difficult option. Two early excellent chances both spurned without even testing the keeper.
Ards were given their first warning on 9’ as Duke rose highest at the back post, his downward header proving troublesome for Moore, but the Ards #1 did well to readjust his feet and make a good save, his defenders able to complete the clearance. Early warning signs for Ards and they had to be on their toes again some 10 mins later, Moore again being called into action with two excellent saves at full stretch. Loughgall ball in from the right, Duke again unchallenged wins the header but Moore is alive and tips it over the bar for a corner. The ball in again is not dealt with convincingly by Ards, eventually falling to Loughran who loops a header to the back post, and again Moore reaches it at full stretch to keep it out of the goal. The ball stays in play this time as Rea tries to lift I back into the danger zone but ends up slicing it out for an Ards ball. Serious pressure being applied but still 0-0 thanks to the efforts of Alex Moore in the Ards goal again.
Ards had limited chances in the attacking 3rd beyond the opening ones afforded to Jallow but Salley linked up well with Taggart on the half hour mark to create the best opening since. Taggart penetrated the Loughgall defence with a brilliant pass picking out Salley. Salley ran at the Loughgall backline, carrying the ball wide of the target, it was an optimistic effort trying to beat Turker from that angle, but it was well struck and initially fumbled by the Loughgall #1. Turker was able to collect at the second attempt just before Cafolla, coming in at speed from the left, could make contact and capitalise.
Ards under pressure towards the end of the first half, looking to keep it tight to the break
Ex Ards man Benjie Magee was causing Ards problems and went really close to opening the scoring on 35’ having managed to wriggle past both Taylor and Young in the box but his shot on goal was wide of the post. He had more time than he realised to pick his spot but seemed to have panicked. Still 0-0 after 40’ Ards were looking to see out the half, but Loughgall stuck late on the take firm control of the game. Aaron Duke had been dangerous throughout and eventually took his chance, finishing calmly at the back post on 41’. As has been the story of the season Ards were given every opportunity to clear the danger but Loughgall did well to keep the ball alive before it was lifted to the back post. Duke took one touch to control and a second to slip the ball under the approaching Moore into the back of the net. 1-0 the score, just a handful of minutes to the break. There was worse to come for Ards before the break as Magee doubled their lead in time added on, escaping the offside trap to latch on to Andrade’s through ball, he controlled well before taking the ball round the stranded keeper and sliding the ball into an empty net. 2-0 on 45+1, Loughgall well in control and a huge ask for Ards to get anything out of this one now.
No changes for either team at the break as Loughgall got the game going again.
After a first half where Ards seemed to compete, only to be caught out towards the end, there was no such showing in the second half as Loughgall dominated the second 45, ensuring Ards had little to no joy in the final 3rd. Having said that Ards did have the first sight on goal in the second half, a very speculative effort from just inside the Loughgall half. Lifted high towards the box by Conal Young, a seemingly easy take for Turker under zero pressure, but the high winds got involved and the keeper missed it only for it to crash off the cross bar, bounce back into the box allowing the keeper to come out and collect at the second time of asking. The conditions playing a huge part in that one, something the Ards defence and keeper should really have made a note of.
It remained 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes of the second half but Loughgall will be left wondering how. Robbie Norton really should have extended the home sides lead further on 54’, Benjie Magee again tricking his way past the Ards backline. He made his way into the box and rather than going for goal passed it square to Norton about 12 yards out with time to pick his spot. With only Moore to beat all those in red and blue were expecting the net to bulge again but he somehow managed to place it wide of the post. A let off for Ards early in the second half. On 62’ Loughgall had the ball in the back of the net again but in the most extraordinary circumstances. Pablo Andrade had the ball wide right and his attempted cross into the box was sliced high and wide and seemingly heading for the balcony behind the goal, but the wind somehow held the ball up and it fell right at the near post before bouncing into the net. Moore was left exposed up against Duke as everyone else thought the ball was sailing out only for its path to be altered dramatically. Fortunately for Ards Duke was rightly adjudged to have fouled the Ards keeper and the goal was ruled out.
Concentration from the Ards keeper who did his best to keep Ards in this one in the first half
The respite didn’t last for long, Jamie Rea grabbing a 3rd for Loughgall on 65’ scoring direct from a free kick, again in ridiculous circumstances. The ball was whipped in high, Moore dropping deep to collect in the air but the high winds held the ball up dropping it in the middle of the box. The spin put on the ball took it into the net on the bounce, missing everyone in black/white and blue. An inexplicable goal as the Ards backline struggled to read the conditions. It went from bad to worse just 3 mins later as Aaron Duke grabbed his 2nd and Loughgall’s 4th of the game. Confusing goal, with a couple of players in blue claiming the final touch on the ball. It was eventually awarded to Duke despite Kelly’s claims at the time, 4-0 with over 20 mins to go, Ards facing another huge Loughgall defeat.
Ards were coming under relentless pressure now and were within a whisker of going 5 down, Karl Hamill doing brilliantly to chase down a goal bound effort and clear off the line with a sliding clearance. The 5th Loughgall goal did however come just 60 seconds later, substitute Andrew Hoey getting in on the action. There was a tussle between Hamill and Hoey on the floor near the Ards penalty spot, Hoey managing to come out on top with the ball and regaining his feet before picking his spot in the far corner. Moore got a good hand on it but it was too close to goal to be able to turn it round the post. 5-0 to the home side with close to 15 minutes left.
That was the end of the scoring, Loughgall content to hold on to the ball and ensure Ards were given no opportunities up top to mar their clean sheet, what would be Turkers’ 18th of the league campaign thus far. The 90 minutes were up, the referee opting not to play any time added on before putting Ards out of their misery. Final whistle, 5-0 again, matching the result of the opening game.
I’m not sure there would have been too many Ards fans expecting much from this one based on previous results, and while there were positive signs in the first half, the capitulation in the second half was hard to take. Undoubtedly Ards were up against superior opposition today, who seem nailed on to be playing Premier League football next season, but playing for a bit of pride throughout doesn’t seem like much to ask for. Overall, Ards find themselves 19-1 down over the 4 Loughgall fixtures, disappointing numbers indeed. Game to forget indeed.
Ards striker Adam Salley awarded the PASC POTM for March prior to kick off having recently been named NIFWA Championship POTM also
The post-split fixtures are well under way now, Ards with only 1 home game left in the 22/23 season. One that promised much but has failed to deliver. Next up is that home fixture against Warrenpoint at Clandeboye Park on Tuesday the 11th. With Warrenpoint pushing for second spot and that pivotal playoff position, it will be another tough fixture.
Moore, McDonald, Taylor, Hamill, Young, Taggart, Cafolla, Steele, E Scannell, Salley, Jallow
Shields, Hall, C Scannell, TJ Murray, McAllister, Arthurs, Hunter