Tennents' Irish Cup, Sixth Round
Saturday, 3 February, 2018
By Jana McCabe
Ards travelled to County Armagh to take on Championship side Loughgall in this Irish Cup Sixth Round tie hoping to avoid a cup upset. During the week Ards had bid farewell, for the rest of this season anyway, to fans favourite Craig McMillen who has followed ex-boss Niall Currie to Portadown, with Ross Clarke joining the Linfield contingent at Ards and making his debut.
After a pitch inspection the game proceeded as planned, with Ards immediately making the best of the trying conditions when a good run from David McAllister found Kyle Cherry who then passed to Josh Kelly, and the youngster's strike from outside the box took a slight deflection to beat the home side's 'keeper. So Ards 1-0 up after just 43 seconds.
Debutant Ross Clarke's great run and cross then found ex-Linfield team-mate Cameron Stewart in the 11th minute but his shot was just wide. Ards fans were then left speechless in the 21st minute when another great run from the impressive Clarke again found Stewart who selflessly passed to fellow striker Guillaume Keke inside the 6-yard-box but the Ards striker somehow failed to put the away side further ahead with his poor effort just grazing the bar on the way over.
In the 28th minute, as Loughgall pressed for an equalizer, there was panic in the penalty box with a penalty the outcome. Familiar face Gary Liggett stepped up to take the spot kick and coolly slotted his shot in to the corner of the net to pull the home side level. Loughgall continued to press for the remainder of the first half, but failed to score again, so the first half ended all square at 1-1.
The second half began with Ards captain Kyle Cherry picking up a caution before, less than 5 minutes later, receiving another yellow for a similar challenge, so the away side were down to 10 men. Stewart was then replaced by Scott Davidson, before McAllister's strong shot was saved in the 56th minute as the 10 men pressed for a breakthrough.
Things then got even worse for Ards when Michael Ruddy - who had taken the captain's armband after Cherry's dismissal - was then shown a harsh straight red card for a 2-footed challenge. With Ards now down to 9 men, Colin Nixon made his final 2 substitutions with the injured David McAllister and the ineffective Guillaume Keke being replaced by Michael McLellan and Nathan Hanley.
In the 73rd minute a bad clearance from Sam Johnston almost led to the home side breaking the deadlock, with Ards just managing to clear the danger. With 2 minutes of normal time to go, unbelievably, Ards went down to 8 men when Ross Clarke was shown a straight red card for a late challenge but, again, this appeared to be a harsh decision.
With all the action now in the Ards half as Loughgall looked to take advantage of their 3 extra men, their moment finally arrived in added time when a shot hit the bar, with the follow-up striking the post before Ricky Copeland slotted home, leading to every Loughgall player celebrating this breakthrough with a 'pile-on' in the Ards 6-yard-box.
The game ended immediately after this late strike with Loughgall through to the next round where they will play Glenavon. Colin Nixon remonstrated with the referee after the final whistle on this day to forget for the red and blue army at Lakeview.
Team: Sam Johnston, Reece Glendinning, Johnny Taylor, Callum Byers, Michael Ruddy, Ross Clarke, Josh Kelly, Kyle Cherry, David McAllister, Cameron Stewart, Guillaume Keke
Subs: Scott Davidson (for Cameron Stewart), Michael McLellan (for Guillaume Keke) & Nathan Hanley (for David McAllister). Unused: Aaron Hogg, Alex McIlmail, A.McAleenan, Jonah Mitchell.