They may have spent 45 minutes on opposing sidelines, but the managers of Ards Rangers and Ards were united in their bewilderment after an injury to match official Keith Kennedy caused their Steel & Sons Cup game to be postponed at half-time.
Admittedly, Rangers boss Lee Forsythe was the more relieved of the two after the amateurs squandered a promising two-goal lead — but now both teams will be left with an additional fixture to decide who progresses to the third round.
The unfortunate injury occurred a minute before the break when Kennedy went over on his ankle as he rushed over to show a red card to Jamie Patterson for an obstruction on Kyle McDowell – a decision that had already caused consternation on the Ards Rangers bench.
However, Forsythe’s anger subsided when he realised his 10 men weren’t to face the uphill task of getting themselves back into a game that appeared to be slipping beyond their grasp.
“Let’s just say I’m not gutted,” remarked the Rangers manager as news filtered through of the freak postponement. “I am sure Niall (Currie, Ards manager) is raging, but from our point of view, we can’t be disappointed that the game isn’t going to be completed today.
“We haven’t played well since the start of the season, but I knew we would raise our game. I obviously didn’t realise we would be two goals ahead after 10 minutes, but after that good start, we were put under a lot of pressure.
“If Ards had continued at the same tempo they finished the second half, it would have been very difficult for us.
“It’s unusual that there is no back-up plan for such a big game, but we have had our share of things go against us, so we aren’t going to complain about this one.”
Forsythe’s opposite number was naturally frustrated his side weren’t given the opportunity to finish off their neighbours on the day.
Currie fumed: “It’s a joke. There’s no plan B, no contingency plan. There are 300 paying supporters here — if the referee pulls a hamstring after five minutes, what happens? Surely those spectators aren’t going to have to pay again? To be sitting in a position like this in a game at the second highest level of the country is shambolic. This is the Steel & Sons Cup we are talking about here... about 4,000 people turn up to watch the final on Christmas morning, yet we are left with this situation.
“It’s hard for us, because although we started poorly, and gave away two goals, we got ourselves back in it and were getting stronger as the game went on.”
Against the odds it was the lower-placed hosts who came flying out of the traps, establishing a substantial lead quicker than you could say ‘David versus Goliath’.
In the sixth minute, Johnny Hall whipped in a brilliant cross, which fell to Ryan Marsh on the edge of the area and he struck the ball beyond the reach of Graeme McKibbin in the Ards goal. The Championship One side barely had time to compose themselves from the shock of the goal before they were two behind — this time the quick-thinking Johnny Roy knocking forward an early free-kick into the path of Ricky Barr, who knocked the ball through the keeper’s legs.
But, Ards shook themselves and pressed harder in search of a swift response.
They almost pulled the difference back to one goal in the 16th minute when a high ball was floated towards Kyle McDowell at the back post — but he was outmuscled by the domineering Johnny Roy.
Instead, Ards had to wait just six minutes more to open their account. Kyle McDowell found Paul McDowell on the edge of the box, and the latter, in turn, found the back of the net. Rangers, who had at first appeared well organised at the back, now looked at sixes and sevens and could have conceded a few moments later when Kyle McDowell was clean through on goal and preparing to launch when a late tackle from Johnny Roy cut out the danger.
However, they could only contain the Ards threat for so long and in the 28th minute, James Cully rifled inside David Ferguson’s near post to draw the sides level.
When a Kyle McDowell shot from just outside the box took a deflection en route to the net after 36 minutes, it was hard to shake the feeling that there would be no way back for Rangers. That possibility felt even closer to reality when Jamie Patterson was dismissed after blocking a Kyle McDowell surge forward — but then came the series of events which could leave leave Lisburn ref Kennedy sidelined for months.
In response to the perceived lack of referee cover, County Antrim FA secretary Gordon Latimer said: “The problem is that I wasn’t told about the incident until about an hour afterwards.
“We can’t afford to have an additional official at every game, but there can be other options made available if these things are reported at the time. It could have, and should have been resolved and this is a point I will be making to both clubs.”
The County Antrim FA have told the two sides that the game must be replayed before the third round ties on September 22.