Belfast Telegraph

Currie lauds Ards' character

By Martin Mawhinney

Ards manager Niall Currie praised his team for their 'bouncebackability' in seeing off amateurs Nortel, in what eventually turned out to be a fairly comfortable Toals Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final for them.

Currie's men were left reeling just seven days previously by a surprise 3-1 league defeat by Knockbreda, but a subsequent midweek victory over Newington YC, added to this latest result, means they are firing on a number of fronts.

Not only does a Belfast Telegraph Championship One title challenge remain a realistic possibility for the club currently occupying third, but they now have a Steel & Sons Cup semi-final against Carrick Rangers to look forward to at the end of November, and a County Antrim Shield semi against Cliftonville just four days later.

The fact that Ards were favourites to win both quarter-finals didn't come into it - Currie was simply pleased that they had got the job done.

"Sometimes these are no-win situations," he explained afterwards. "It can be hard to get any momentum going when you are playing in the league one week, and the cup the next, but it is good that we have put these runs together.

"It was a poor performance against Knockbreda but the boys deserve credit for the way they have responded. We are up there challenging with a brand new squad, so I am delighted. I don't think we have reached our pinnacle yet, we are still a work in progress, but we are getting there."

Ards started the game on the front foot, and in fairness, never really let up. The chances arrived thick and fast for them, but their supporters must have been concerned by the increasing number that were being missed.

In the first 10 minutes alone, there was a header from Mark Burns, a free-kick from David McAllister and a 20-yard attempt from Stephen Hislop, all of which could be described as tame and wide of the mark.

Neill Dougan gave his marker the slip in the 17th minute, and when his cross was headed clear by the Nortel defence, Gary Warwick could only follow up with a shot over the bar. Soon after this, a Gregg Hall effort flew wide of the left post, while Warwick twisted and turned past two defenders before shooting low and hard, only to be denied by a brilliant diving save from Alan Causby.

Ards were surely wondering what they would have to do to score, when in the 30th minute, a Warwick shot was blocked on the line, and the rebound from Hislop met the same fate.

Nortel weren't exactly putting opposition goalkeeper Graham McKibben under a great deal of pressure, a fact underlined by a desperate attempt from distance over the bar from Glen Hand after some neat build-up play from the visitors.

Nevertheless, they would surely have seen it as an achievement in itself to have held the Championship men to a goalless first half... if only they had managed that feat.

Those aspirations were kicked into touch in the 39th minute, when an Eamon McAllister effort was blocked by Aaron Anderson, but the ball fell kindly to the tireless Dougan, who chipped in from close range.

Ards could have been further ahead by the break, but after playing an effective one-two with Warwick, Dougan seemed to carry the ball just a yard too far, causing him to misfire.

David McAllister made a bright start to the second half, first rasping the keeper's gloves with a powerful drive after a lightning-fast run down the left wing, then setting up Dougan for a simple tap-in.

There was still another half hour on the clock, but any slim hopes of a momentous upset was now already gone. The only question was how many Ards would rack up, and a combination of hard work in the Nortel defence and some excellent goalkeeping ensured things didn't get out of hand for the Amateur League Premier Division outfit.

Hislop chested down from a Warwick corner and struck the bar with his volley and Causby reacted well to keep out a shot from Josh Cahoon, who was also denied by a goal-line clearance by Chris Monteith.

Ards had the ball in the net a third time in the 75th minute, but despite the cheers from the home support, referee Shane Andrews rightly ruled James Cully's header from a Cahoon cross out for offside.

But there was no doubt about their next goal when it did arrive just five minutes later. Eamon McAllister beat David Freyne to the ball, before guiding a shot into the bottom left hand corner.

And when Monteith bundled into his own net while trying to cope with a quick-fire cross from Eamon McAllister in the 86th minute, a tough day at the office was complete for Nortel.

Their manager, Ricky Beggs, reflected: "I thought in the first half, we were disciplined and committed. Their first goal was a bit unlucky for us, but it hurt us too. That changes your half time team-talk.

"Then we had to go for it, and that changed the game. Was it a 4-0 game though? I'm not sure.

"I have managed three teams to the quarter-finals of the Steel & Sons Cup and one to the semi-finals, and you always use it as a springboard. We will regroup and it will help us in the league."

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