Ards prepare for historic final with comfortable win over Annagh United
When you are looking forward to one of your most significant matches in two decades, it is handy to get yourself into a nice bit of form as the big day approaches. And, a week before Ards take on Cliftonville in the JBE League Cup final, that is exactly what they did at the Bangor Fuels Arena on Saturday, thumping four past Annagh United without reply.
Nevertheless, as happy as he was the victory, the Championship One-leading side’s manager Niall Currie didn’t want to get carried away with the importance of the result in the build-up to their showdown with the Reds.
“Of course it’s good to get some momentum going,” he stated after the game, “but there are times when you ask yourself ‘where did that come from?!’
“Our boys were on it today, and the plan is to take some of that into the Cliftonville game. But I just want them to enjoy it. If we apply ourselves like we did today, we’ll give them a game.
“I thought we were outstanding in our hunger and desire out there. The clean sheet was important too, against a good side – I thought we were dominant and subdued them well. It was as well as we have played in a long time.”
It was indeed a dominant display by Ards, and they had the ball in the back of the Annagh net within the first minute, with a strike from Ross Arthurs after a darting run from David McAllister, but referee Graham McIlwrath pulled play back for a corner (which came to nothing).
A subsequent shot from Jordan Baker didn’t carry enough power to trouble away keeper Ciaran Fox, and the same could be said of Scott McCordick’s attempt at the other end. Shortly after this McCordick was through on goal again, but fired well over.
Ards’ Craig McMillen could have netted twice in as many minutes, but he firstly lobbed over the bar from inside the box, when really the effort should have been much more controlled, while his in-swinging corner was headed off the line by Nathan Riddle.
Annagh supporters surely expected their team to take the lead when McCordick laid the ball on for Jaime Gardiner, but the latter scuffed his shot from close range.
Ards, at least, gave Fox something to do in the 32nd minute, when a low drive from Craig McMillen had the Annagh shot-stopper at full stretch to keep it out. Then, from the resultant McMillen corner, up popped Denver Gage with a bullet header to nudge his side in front.
Crosses were providing a good source of opportunity for the home side, and with five minutes till half time, a high ball in from David McAllister appeared to be curling out but then seemed to drift towards the top right hand corner, forcing Richard Allen to head clear to remove any uncertainty.
The rain battered down in the second half, but thankfully for the shivering home supporters, it was also raining goals for their side.
Their second of the game arrived in the 49th minute, and was a simple tap-in for Gary Dorrian from a Jordan Baker pass.
The clear reality was that Ards could have been much further in front, and this became yet more apparent as both Gary Browne and McMillen lashed over on the 51st and 53rd minutes respectively. Another five minutes later, and a McAllister cross/shot skimmed the crossbar.
Whether Ards’ second goal had killed off Annagh’s ambition or if it had simply spurred Ards on, there was only one team creating the clear-cut chances, and it wasn’t the side in white.
Debutant Browne should probably have scored in the 72nd minute, when put through by McAllister, but he contrived to blast over.
Yet again, however, Ards showed how clinical they can be from set pieces, when from an 83rd minute Gary Warwick corner, skipper James Cully poked his team’s third into the bottom right corner.
And just to underline the point, they repeated the trick less than five minutes later – this time, Dorrian striking home from a Baker corner to double his tally.
This may have only been Ards’ first league game since their Boxing Day derby win over Bangor, but they showed why - with a four-point advantage over Harland & Wolff Welders - they are the Championship One team to beat.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig McMillen (Ards). Great attitude, and usually involved in Ards’ positive forward moves.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: This game will stick in the mind for the superb spirit shown by both teams to battle through the horrendous conditions either side of half time.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Nathan Riddle’s header off the line from Craig McMillen’s corner, early in the game.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Had Jaime Gardiner tucked away his early opportunity for Annagh, this could have been a very different game.
Ryan Brown: Can be satisfied with his clean sheet. 8
Greg Hall: A reliable display. 7
Denver Gage: Defended well and scored the opener. 8
James Cully: Goal was icing on the cake of a fine performance. 8
Thomas Lambe: Never looked unduly troubled. 7
Gary Dorrian: Two goals capped off a great game. 9
Ross Arthurs: Moved well off the ball. 7
Craig McMillen: Gutsy and determined. 9
Jordan Baker: Showed a superb turn of pace. 8
Gary Browne: Pressed hard throughout. 8
David McAllister: Provided a great outlet down the left. 8
Carl McComb: On for McAllister, 78
David McCullough: On for Dorrian, 53
Gary Warwick: On for McMillen, 68
John Convery: Not used
Aaron Boyd: Not used
Ciaran Fox: Made a few saves. 6
Mark Stewart: Not a standout display. 6
Nathan Riddle: Goal-line clearance was a highlight. 7
Stephen Atcheson: Couldn’t keep Ards attack at bay. 6
Richard Allen: Showed some aerial presence. 7
Philip Craig: Did his best not to let his head drop. 6
Jake Keegan: Promising work-rate. 7
Scott Rae: Made a couple of eye-catching passes. 7
Chris McElroy: Didn’t get much of a sniff. 6
Scott McCordick: Annagh’s most creative player. 7
Jaime Gardiner: Didn’t have his shooting boots on. 6
Adam Neale: On for Keegan, 65
Adam White: On for Stewart, 80
Andy Smith: On for Craig, 73
Ross Wilson: Not used
Mark Whitten: Not used
Belfast Telegraph Digital