NIFL Playr-Fit Championship – 02/12/23
By Phillip Bartlett
Poor Ards ‘Barr’-en Run Continues
Ards revival well and truly derailed at Inver Park as Newington triumph.
This week Ards make the long trek to Larne to face Newington at their new home for the season, Inver Park having recently had their mini-revival halted Tuesday night at Dixon Park where Ballyclare secured a 3-0 win. Ards went into the rescheduled game on the back of 4 games unbeaten in the league, but an under-par performance saw that run come to an end. We travel today with hope that we can return to winning ways as we’ve demonstrated recently that we have the players and the ability to compete and overcome any side in this league on our day. We’ll need to be at our best again to have any chance of getting a result, Newington having already beaten Ards this season 3-1 in the opening game of the season way back in August. Newington started the season like a house on fire winning 6 of their first 7 games. They’ve been on the end of some tough results following that losing 5 in a row but have steadied the ship of late taking 9 points from a possible 15 in the last 5 games.
Ards have been able to name the same starting 11 for the last 3 games but after a reality check on Tuesday night Manager Tipton has opted to make some changes for this one, making use of a squad that is now close to being fully fit and available. 3 changes in all as we welcome back George Tipton and Adam McCallum to the starting line-up, both having returned after injury setbacks. DeeDee McAllister also starts this one, drafted in to play wide left of a 4 across the middle, with Conor Scannell on the opposite flank. Ards revert to back 4 playing in front of Alex Moore, Ruddy and McCallum in the middle supported either side by Matt Gorman (right) and Connor Maxwell (left). Callum Dougan and Ross Hunter complete the lineup, working on forming a tight partnership with each other up top. Having signed Matt Gorman from Newington in the summer window I’m sure our new centre half, now fullback, will relish the opportunity to play against his old teammates and of course come out on top.
Ards squad getting put through their paces in the pre-game warmup
A first half to forget for Ards, probably the worst half of football we’ve witnessed this season, and there have been a couple of contenders for that throughout. In recent times Ards have set the pace, scored the goals and been in a position to dictate the play in the second half, this time it was roles reversed as Newington cruised into the break with a 4-1 lead. Ards were thoroughly out played, out worked and out thought in the opening 45, welcoming the break and the chance to regroup when it arrived. After a promising opening 15 minutes for the away side Newington took the lead through Jack Reilly, a simple finish at the back post following a Darren Stuart cross. 4 minutes later Newington doubled their lead, Aodhfionn Casey in the right place to convert. 2-0 down with less than 20 mins on the clock, Ards up against it early on. It was 2-1 just 7 mins later, Callum Dougan slotting home on 27’ to reduce the deficit. While I was busy thinking ‘game on’ Newington went straight up the other end reinstating their 2-goal advantage, Zach Barr in on the act this time, just 30 seconds after Ards had got a foot hold back in the game. Chances were limited as the half progressed and we seemed to be heading into the break 3-1 down, but deep into time added on Newington struck again, this time Jack Reilly walked the ball past 2 or 3 challenges at the by-line before crossing for Zach Barr to grab his second of the game and essentially put the game beyond Ards. 4-1 it finished at the break and 4-1 it finished at full-time, Ards making a better fist of it in the second half but unable to pull it back, the damage having already been done.
Ards had the better of the opening 10 minutes, getting in the Newington box attacking well from either side. Conor Scannell and DeeDee McAllister providing the creativity out wide. Callum Dougan had the first real chance on goal, following good combination play between Cafolla and C Scannell. The initial ball in was too deep for the Ards #9 but he didn’t give it up, working hard to keep it in play before attacking the goal in a solo run. The final hit was good but just found the wrong side of the far post. Ards quickly followed that up on the other side, McAllister using his pace to get beyond McAuley, another great ball sent into the middle. The initial ball ran clear of goal, Scannell collected it on the by-line and looked to cut inside and beat Smyth at his near post. The Newington keeper did well to track the ball and claim it.
Ards welcomed back centre half Adam McCallum today following a spell out through injury
Positive signs early on from the away side but unfortunately it didn’t last as we gifted Newington chance after chance to take the game away from us. Having hardly been up in the attacking 3rd early on Newington struck on 15’ to open the scoring, after which they never looked back. A simple ball played over the top on the Newington right by McAuley, Darren Stuart timed his run well, carried the ball to the by-line before sending the ball to the back post where Jack Reilly was charging in unmarked for an easy finish, Moore unable to cover the distance across goal to make the save. 15’ gone and Newington ‘strike first’. The home side didn’t have to wait long before ‘striking second’ as well, just 4 minutes after taking the lead they doubled that lead from a set piece wide left in an attacking area. Corner played in, no one in red and blue took charge allowing Casey to step in and find the finish past a stranded Moore. 2-0 Newington with less than 20 minutes on the clock and long way back for Ards already.
A crazy minute followed where Ards manged to both get themselves back into the game and also throw it away again all within 60 seconds. Credit to C Scannell in the box, moved the ball well to make room for both himself and Dougan, a simple layoff and Dougan did the rest, finding the corner of the goal with a well-placed finish, 2-1 the score on 27’. Ards back in the game for around 30 seconds as Newington restarted the game from the centre spot, went right up the other end and restored their 2-goal lead almost instantly. 3-1 the score on 27’, Zach Barr getting in on the act for the home side. The 3rd goal was a near carbon copy of the 2nd with a simple ball over the top, Stuart once again cutting back from the by-line and a man in green waiting to finish unchallenged in the Ards box. The hard work of getting ourselves back in the game undone mere seconds later.
Things eventually went from bad to worse for Ards as Newington looking to press home their advantage and capitalise on an Ards side that were at sixes and sevens across the park in the first half. On 33’ minutes it could well have been 4-1, but for a great reaction save by Moore at the near post. The ball in the box was not dealt with properly and fell for Stuart at the back post, a tight angle but it was arrowing into the goal before Moore reacted to put it round the post with his boot. Another close call and another great chance for the hosts to put the game to bed. Ards mustered very little in an attacking threat as we neared the end of the half, just happy to get in and get a break and have a rethink. Newington had other ideas however and did indeed extend their lead further in time added on at the end of the first 45, Zach Barr grabbing his 2nd and Newington’s 4th of the game. Another poor goal to concede as we allowed Reilly to cut inside, run past 2 or 3 challenges before laying it off to Barr for the easiest of finishes in the middle of the goal.
Bright spark in a dark night, Callum Dougan grabbing Ards' only goal of the game
Hard to believe but in the time remaining in time added on there could well have been a 5th for Newington as their captain Richard Gowdy got on the end of another corner, a free header in the box, but he couldn’t direct it on target. In the context of the game, he really should have done better. That was the last action of the half, the ref blowing up to take us into the interval. A first half to forget for Ards, time now to reflect and make some changes for the second half.
Double sub for Ards at the break, James McLaughlin and Eamon Scannell being introduced, replacing Ross Hunter and Adam McCallum as we revert to the more familiar 3 at the back with the 2 wing backs either side of a 5 across the middle. A welcome sight with Eamon Scannell being introduced, some eyebrows having been raised at his omission from the starting line-up.
Ards have recently come back out to face a barrage in the second half having taken a considerable lead into the break, the tables were turned today so they knew exactly what was required of them as play resumed. The changes in personnel and shape definitely had a positive effect on the team, looking to play on the front foot, a lot more energy in the middle of the park, as Ards piled on the pressure in the first 15 mins after the restart. There was some good play to work opportunities, but Smyth remained very much untested in the Newington goal despite all the possession and chances. Ards needed to find some of that clinical finishing we’ve enjoyed recently but were guilty of being wasteful while in positive positions. 3 back-to-back corners going unpunished, Newington easily dealing with each delivery before eventually breaking up the pitch.
Ards with the restart after the break, knowing exactly what they need to do
Ards did eventually have the ball in the back of the Newington net for a second time as Conor Scannell slipped the ball under the advancing Smyth, but it was quickly chalked off for offside, the wide man making his run a fraction early. Positive signs but with 30 mins left and still 4-1 down, time was quickly running out for Ards to get any sort of positive result. Following that move the Ards manager made a further double sub as both Steele and Taggart were brought on, replacing McAllister and Tipton. That change did seem to spark something in Ards as they fashioned probably their best chance of the game bar the earlier Dougan goal. McLaughlin the creator, looking to play in his strike partner Dougan with an angled ball through the Newington lines. Dougan timed his run, collected the ball and drove into the box. He tried to lift the ball goalward, but it was a bit heavy and lifted just over the bar. The first time Smyth looked troubled for some time in the game.
With 20 minutes left, and time really running out, McLaughlin found himself in space in the box, wide of the goal. A tight angle the Ards man has tried to lift it over him and nearly caught him out. Smyth ended up having to tip it over the bar to avoid it dropping over him and into the back of the net. Good foot work by the keeper and a clever effort from McLaughlin. With the score line firmly to their advantage Newington were happy to sit back and soak up the pressure while looking to hit on the break when the opportunity presented. With 15 minutes left on the clock Newington found themselves in the Ards final 3rd, Jack Reilly on the ball wide left. His cross was dangerous looking for the run of Darren Stuart, it was a well-timed run and a brilliant ball but fortunately for Ards Stuart’s glancing header scraped millimetres wide of the far post.
Into the last 10 minutes of the game and while Ards have offered much more in this second half it was always going to be a big ask to get any sort of result. Having to push forward we left a lot of gaps and it seemed only a matter of time before Newington extended their lead such the number of chances created towards the end of the game. Ards were first rescued by the offside flag having let the Newington centre half Casey run half the length of the pitch unchallenged before slipping the ball through to Donnelly. The man in green was through on goal but had made his run a bit early and pulled back. Zach Barr followed that one up just moments later, looking to complete his hat trick late on. He was played in far too easily as Ards pressed high up the pitch and with just Moore fronting him up he’s tried to cut it across the goal but Moore was able to gather it on the ground.
Getting a bit heated towards the end as both teams come together
Having given us 5 goals in the first half there were none to be had in the second as the game finished 4-1 after the allotted 4 mins of time added on was complete. A brave effort in the second half from those introduced but the damage already having been done in a first half where the old woes were there for all to see. After such a good run, showing the supporters what these players are capable of, it’s extraordinary to once again see ourselves on the end of such a score line. A decent crowd of travelling supporters made the trip to Inver lots of them making their feelings known at the final whistle, the disappointment evident around the ground.
Plenty for the management team to contemplate after that performance with the Mallards next up as we return to Clandeboye Park. They currently sit 1 spot above us, 8th in the table with 1 point between the sides. The Mallards have seen a return to form following a change in management, winning 4 out their last 7 games taking 13 points from a possible 21. There are no easy games in this league, this will be another stern test for us and with inconsistency plaguing us all season I just wonder at this stage what side will turn up?
Moore, Gorman, Ruddy, Maxwell, McCallum, C Scannell, Cafolla, Tipton, McAllister, Hunter, Dougan
Shields, Greer, Miller, McLaughlin, E Scannell, Taggart, Steele