9th May 2018
National League U16
League Play-off Final
Ards travelled to Allen Park for their league decider with Crusaders.
With one win a piece against each other, including a 5-2 Ards win only two weeks previous, this promised to be a great game.
The game started with Crusaders the more comfortable. Although Ards nerves seemed to hinder them during the opening stages, Crusaders were restricted to long range efforts which were dealt with comfortably.
Ards however made the breakthrough when Shearer spotted the advancing keeper and beautifully lobbed the ball into the net from 25 yards out. Momentum seemed to swing Ards way with Bickerstaff, Hollywood and Higginson making some strong challenges.
Ards doubled the lead when Shearer beat the keeper to slot the ball into the net.
Ards nearly added a third when a goal mouth scramble saw the ball hit the post, but ended up in the keepers arms after Bickerstaff couldn't get the required contact.
Shearer hit the post again after causing all sort of problems along with strike partner Munn. Ards lead was halved when Smyth was forced into a good save and a goal mouth scramble, despite the blocks from Mannis and Sloan the ball ended up in the net.
Half time arrived with Ards feeling happy but dissapointed to be only a goal up. Ards knew Crusaders would have to take chances and this would potentially allow a more open 2nd half in Ards favour.
Ards started the second better, and eventually added the 3rd. Heron sent over a corner inch perfect leaving Bickerstaff with a tap in from no more than a yard.
Immediately Crusaders responded after slack defending allowed it to be brought back to 3-2.
The game at this stage opened up with a Hollywood free kick going just over and shortly after Bickerstaff hitting the bar. Crusaders didn't find many openings but when they did open Ards up the forward slashed at the shot, not troubling Smyth. As the game became stretched both teams defenders had to work extra hard, Dunn and Sloan defending well without being overworked and Mannis with his usual solid and steady performance. Keenan on right side of defence was also giving a good attacking outlet as well as his strong defensive qualities. Ards decided to make a change bringing Armstrong on for Hollywood, this nearly paid immediate dividends. Armstrong racing clear and lifting it over the keeper but over the bar.
With tension in the air the next goal was going to be crucial.
It deservedly went Ards way with Shearer making a great run, some thinking he had held onto the ball for too long and the chance gone. He managed to pick out Bickerstaff to finish into the far corner for his 2nd and Ards 4th . McCarthy was then introduced for Munn late on, who contributed by taking the sting out of the game by keeping the ball well and superb positioning. The game still had time for Shearer to nearly complete his hat trick but the shot just going wide.
As the final whistle went confirming Ards as league champions, the scene was set delight for Ards, despair for Crusaders but overall Ards were deserved winners. As the saying goes the league table doesn't lie.