NIFL Championship – 12/03/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Ards ‘Fourtunes’ dip as Newry claim easy win
Ards fans and team undoubtedly made the trip 'Down South' in high spirits after last week’s brilliant result and equally brilliant attacking display, but with the understanding that Newry would pose a much tougher test that last weeks opponents Ballyclare. Ards have struggled against ‘City’ already having taken only 1 point in the two previous leagues meetings this season and being put out of the Irish cup on our last visit to the Showgrounds. Newry had reclaimed top spot in the Championship earlier this week with a thumping 5-1 win against Knockbreda while Ards remain in a fight to finish in the promotion group with only 2 games left to play after this one before the split is decided.
The Ards team sheet read the same as last weeks, the old adage of ‘never change a winning side’ coming to mind. Ross Arthurs retained the captaincy after an excellent performance leading the line last week. While the same team was out on the field Ards couldn’t expect to have the same amount of possession as they enjoyed last week so a more defensive discipline would be required.
If last week was a perfect day, this week was the definition of an imperfect one, ensuring a miserable trip home for the travelling fans. With the score line 4-0 after 70 minutes, Ards were lucky to see the game out without Newry adding yet more goals. Ards really struggled to cope with Newry’s attacking threat throughout the game and were very ineffectual in front of goal themselves. We did put together some really good passing moves in both halves of the game, that got us into really threatening positions, but the final pass or final delivery was lacking quality and very easy for Newry to deal with.
The pattern of play was established early on as Ards carved out the first chance of the game on 3’. Donnelly's ball found Reynolds in space wide right and he attacked the box but his attempted cross was seen out as the Newry defender was quick to close him down, putting it out for a corner. 60 seconds after that chance Newry went up the other end and really should have taken the lead, but for a poorly placed Donnelly header that went just past the post. I’m still not sure how he missed, acres of space just 8 yds or so out. The teams shared chances and possession, with Ards very much in the game for 30 mins, after which we just seemed to switch off. Having done so well to limit the opposition it was a very disappointing goal to concede, Newry taking the lead on 33’ through Phil Donnelly. Ards had several chances to clear the danger before the front man converted. After that, things went downhill, Ards were at sixes and sevens with even the simplest of passes going astray. Newry were gifted a second on 44’ as Donnelly misread a pass in the middle of the park giving it straight to a man in blue and white. The ball was played through to Teelan and he did the rest, evading a lunging Dinu challenge before calmly putting the ball past the onrushing Bam into the far corner of the goal with the outside of the boot. It was 2-0 just before the break but the hosts had a great chance to extend that lead further 2 mins into time added on, but for a brilliant block by ‘Cricky’ Crane that stopped an almost certain goal.
After the 2 mins of time added on were up the ref brought the half to a close. Ards headed off to the changing room, no doubt in for a few harsh words from new boss Tipton, as we were in a game for those first 30 mins after which Ards seemed to switch off and or lose concentration. You can get away with those momentary lapses against other sides, but Newry have proved most of the season that they will punish you for any mistakes or weaknesses.
No changes for Ards at the break, the 11 that were responsible for the score line at the break given the responsibility to go back out and try to make amends. For the first 10 minutes of the second half, they certainly played with that intent. Ards controlled the ball and had lots of possession in the Newry half, even forcing the opposition into unaccustomed mistakes. Alas the good pressure and build up play applied by Ards amounted to very little goal scoring threat as the final ball was wasteful and easily dealt with by Newry even when we did manage to get behind their back line. The rest of the travelling RABA and myself were wondering exactly where the clinical Ards of last week had gone to. After 10 mins of weathering the Ards storm Newry strolled up the other end and made it 3-0, scoring with their first chance of the 2nd half, John McGovern finishing in front of goal after a very simple move down the Ards right. Long throw by Healy to Forde on the by line, he held off two Ards challenges and laid it off to an unmarked McGovern in the box. Far too weak at the back again from Ards, and Newry were not letting these chances slip by punishing Ards yet again.
At 3-0 down and the game more of less gone, Ards made a triple sub, introducing with it a more attacking line up in a bid to force Newry on to the back foot and hopefully get themselves back into the game. Arthurs, McGrandles and Reynolds were replaced by Jallow, Igiehon and Tully just on the hour mark. 30 minutes left to try and press Newry and salvage something from the game. Unfortunately, while Ards had a more attack minded approach to the game, their defensive frailties were still there for all to see and on 67’ the referee pointed to the spot after a rash challenge by Young in the box. Quick feet and a smart turn by the Newry forward McGovern had the Ards defenders going in circles, Young dived in to make the challenge but instead caught the Newry man sending him to the floor. It seemed harsh from the side-lines but there were few complaints from the Ards players in close attendance. McGovern stepped up, scoring his 2nd and Newry’s’ 4th of the game from 12yds.
With over 20 mins still to play the feeling in the crowd was that this could be 5 or 6 before it finished but evidently Newry were happy with the 4 and that’s how it finished. The ref blew the final whistle having played only 1 minute of time added on, which was more than enough for today. One thing that the Ards fans were happy to see today was the return to action of midfielder TJ Murray who has been out for several weeks following injury. Was good to see him get 20 minutes again today and hopefully he'll be pushing to get back in the starting line up having recovered.
Throughout the 90+ minutes I’m struggling to remember a shot on target from an Ards player, despite having decent possession in the early stages of both halves, and I’d say Maguire in the Newry goal would also have difficultly remembering a game where he had so little to do in a game. Far too wasteful with the final ball after good build up play, dead balls not beating that first man, passes in and around the box not finding a teammate, making it very very easy for Newry to deal with.
Up top Ards were lacking that final decisive ball, but at the back there was a lot more to be worried about. Newry, on another day, could easily have scored 7 or 8. Some excellent last-ditch blocks and challenges from Ards players stopped that from happening, but it was worrying that they were able to create so many chances that easily. There were similar signs at the back in last week’s comprehensive win over Ballyclare but some great saves by Bam and some poor finishing by Ballyclare papered over those cracks on that occasion. Today however Newry exposed those defensive frailties, some food for thought for the manager around the new defensive line up used in the last couple of matches.
Despite today’s result Ards remain favourites to claim a top six finish, with closest rivals Dergview falling to a 3-1 defeat away to Ballyclare this afternoon, we retain our 3-point advantage over the Castlederg side, but they do have that game in hand, so it’s still all to play for going into the last 2 games. It must be said that at this stage, while quite unlikely, Dundela are still in the mix for a top 6 spot as well and are on a great recent run.
Next up for Ards, a home game against Knockbreda and then a final away trip to the Welders before things are settled and we have our next five ‘split’ fixtures confirmed. This one is now done; all we can focus on is the next 2 games and what points we can realistically get then see where it takes us.
Neeson, Dinu, Crane, Calderwood, Young, McGrandles (59), Cafolla, Donnelly (73), McAllister, Arthurs (59), Reynolds (59)
Lemoignan, McGovern, Murray (73), Tully (59), Jallow (59), Igiehon (59), Scannell