NIFL Championship – 26/02/22
By Phillip Bartlett
Stalemate as Ards keep their heads ‘above water’ in the race for a top six finish
Another long journey on the road for Ards and their travelling support as they faced Dergview at Darragh park some 19 hours later than originally scheduled due to residual flood damage. That the match proceeded today at all is a testament to the efforts of our hosts, and the hardiness of their home pitch, and must be applauded. Outside of the top and bottom of the league, this mid-table battle has a lot on the line with both teams straddling the line between ‘promotion group’ and ‘relegation group’ with neither team relishing the idea of finishing in the lower half after the split. Dergview hold the advantage with 1 win and draw in our previous fixtures and Ards were looking to even the record and take the 3 points home and reduce the gap at the top following Newry’s loss the previous night to Annagh. That’s not to even mention trying to keep up with those sides above us some of which have a healthy lead in the battle for the promotion spot.
Injuries and suspensions meant several changes to the starting line-up and the bench, including a call up to the subs for reserve team players Aaron Macrory and Jay Dalzell, who recently celebrated his 16th birthday. Kyle Calderwood made his first start since returning from his temporary loan to Bangor, replacing the suspended Conal Young at right back. New signing Benny Igiehon was starting up front against his former teammates and from the response from the home crowd, it was clear that he was very well appreciated during his time at Dergview. I was (un)lucky enough to be joined in the crowd by our extensive list of absentees including Tully, McGrandles, McCurry, TJ and Young, when we’d have been better served having them available for selection.
Ending 2-2, Ards ultimately cost themselves three points in this game through two moments we’d all rather forget. A rash challenge in the box and a lack of concentration, in very challenging weather conditions, cost Ards two goals in this one, and while those conditions gave us a huge assist for one goal, we just didn’t do enough throughout the 90 to earn the 3 points. Hard to argue at the end that the 2-2 result wasn’t a fair result, but Dergview didn’t have to work hard for their rewards and actually didn’t threaten all that much.
Ards started the game with the wind advantage, but truth be told I think it actually hindered us a bit in the early stages. The kicks from the keeper were running through to the other end, giving Dergview little to worry about, our clearances and passing from the back were rushed and at times aimless resulting in us being under pressure in the early stages. It didn’t get much better with Ards just that second off in their challenges which eventually led to the opening goal for Dergview. Ferrin missed the ball at the first attempt and lunged in to try and win the second ball catching the Dergview man in the process, and the ref didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot. I do think the soft ground made the challenge look worse than it was, but the ref was right on point and made his mind up with little to no deliberation. Matthew Kirk stepped up and hit a great penalty into the right side of the net, Bam given no chance, 1-0 Dergview on 18’. Ards eventually started to play a bit and not 90 seconds after the penalty went in Benny Igiehon hit the post with a smart turn and first time hit. The keeper was caught out with the speed of shot and was beat low down but the post wasn’t and it kept it out and, as Ards luck goes this season, the rebound flew past everyone in a red and blue shirt and Dergview could clear.
Ards kept going and got their rewards on 30’ when Crane scored from wide out left. The full back had been up supporting the attack and received the ball some 30-40 yards out on the touchline. His lofted ball caught out Buchanan and finding the far top corner, much to joy of the RABA who were right behind it. A vital goal for Ards, intentional or lucky, but truthfully, I don’t care, now 1-1. Crane has happily accepted the goal and only he will know if it was a cross or shot 😉. Getting on the score sheet clearly lifted Crane’s confidence as shortly after he had another effort from distance, this time smartly saved by the Dergview shot stopper. On 44’ Crane again fancied it, taking advantage of the wind, but this time his effort dropped just over the bar. That was the last action of the half, and the ref brought it to an end after playing 2 mins time added on.
An even half on the score line, but Ards the architects of their own downfall. Slow to get going, giving Dergview too much space and time and looking a bit out of sorts at the back at times.
Ards got the second half going and this time we had the wind against us, conditions were very difficult and Dergview clearly had the experience being at home and having been there and done it all before. That was emphasised in the early stages when everyone in the ground, outside of McGovern, had a little laugh at the centre halfs’ expense. A simple cross in from Dergview which on any other day would have been an easy headed clearance. McGovern attacked the ball, but the wind caught it, the ball dropped, bounced awkwardly right over his head and he nearly ended up flat on his face. Fortunately, the ball went on through and missed everyone and Ards cleared. A sign of things to come and an indication of just how tricky it was out there.
On 59’ the conditions did indeed hit Ards where it hurt, resulting in Dergview again taking the lead. A seemingly nothing shot from Fielding some 25 yards out was heading straight for Bam. He’d positioned himself perfectly but somehow between collecting the ball and safely gathering it, it squirmed past him and crossed the line despite his last-ditch attempt to reclaim it. Disappointing for the keeper who has recently regained his number 1 spot and was last week, rightly so, named man of the match. He will be disappointed, and while we can point to the conditions, you’d have expected it to be collected without issue.
At the other end Buchanan was keeping his team in the lead with a number of saves from Arthurs, who had been introduced in the 61st minute. A brilliantly taken corner from the Ards left by Cafolla was met by a collection of players at the near post, hard to determine who got the most meaningful contact towards goal. It seemed destined for the back of the net but somehow the keeper grasped it in his midriff and held on to it during the melee. Still trailing 2-1 but positive signs for Ards. Ards did draw level for the second time in the game on 69’ when Arthurs met a perfectly placed cross into the box and steering it past the keeper who this time could do nothing about it. There were huge celebrations from the travelling RABA, and with over 20 minutes to play, hope that we could kick on and claim all 3 points.
Arthurs’ introduction to the game really turned things in Ards favour, Tipton and the Ards bench got this call just right as the big man continued to threaten only to be denied time and again by Buchanan. The best chance for an Ards winner coming in the 86’ minute when he poked an effort towards the near post from close range. The crowd thought it was in, but the keeper made a really smart save getting quickly down to his right and managing to scoop it round the near post. There was a nervy moment just before then when Dergview’s Kirk again had the ball in the back of the net, but it was thankfully ruled out for offside. I calmly advised the striker form the side-lines that it was quite a way offside, but he was less than appreciative of my assistance and gave me some advice that I decided not to take 😊
The ref played 2 additional minutes after the 90 and brought the game to an end. Challenging conditions throughout, that did impact the game play for both sides, but Ards will have left Darragh Park the unhappier of the two teams on the balance of play. Two avoidable goals, disappointment for all those that had made the long trip over. Looking back at the other results today it makes the result look worse as there was an opportunity to close the gap to some of the teams above us who had either lost or drawn their fixtures.
Closer to home next week when we welcome Ballyclare to Clandeboye park for a 15:00 kick off. With them down in 9th new boss Matthew Tipton will be hopeful of 3 points, but as I keep printing/typing/saying, this league is very unpredictable and there have been some unusual results thrown up all season. Hopefully we’ll see some of the walking wounded being available for selection with McCurry indicating earlier today to me that he hopes to have recovered.
Neeson, Crane, McGovern, Ferrin, Calderwood, Jallow, Cafolla, Donnelly, McAllister, Igiehon, Reynolds
Subs not used:
Lemoignan, Scannell, Macrory, Dalzell, Dinu