Ards' Steel Cup win over Barn no gift - but unbeaten Currie still in celebratory form
Toals Steel & Sons Cup third round - Ards 3 Barn United 1
Another year older, another victorious result. And for Ards manager Niall Currie, who celebrated his birthday with a win over Barn United in the Toals Steel & Sons Cup third round on Saturday, that was all that mattered.
It may not have been vintage stuff for the paying supporters, but deep down they too will at least be satisfied at getting the job done and continuing their unbeaten start to the campaign.
The gritty triumph allowed Currie to have a wry smile as he reflected on overcoming an underdog currently occupying 13th place in Division 1A of the Amateur League.
“I’ve just aged about 10 years after watching that,” laughed birthday boy Currie after the game. “Performance-wise it was a disappointment. It was a big day for Barn, and they were first to the ball, and more aggressive than us. I don’t think we played with any fluency… we didn’t move the ball, and I thought we were far too casual.
“But I am all about the results – a performance is a bonus. We are through, and this is a cup that I think we can win, and we want to win.”
The fact that there seemed to be so little to choose between the sides in the first half owed as much to the hard work of the visitors as the profligacy of the hosts.
Barn would not have been expecting many chances at goal, so they knew they would have to make the most of those that came their way. Matthew McDonald was almost opportunistic with a half-chance in the 14th minute, as he nicked the ball off James Cully in the Ards area, only to see the ball blasted away by Denver Gage before he could connect a shot.
Neither keeper was tested in the opening 20 minutes, which was confirmed as Jordan Baker’s shot from Danny McKee’s cross drifted past the far post.
When Barn’s Dean Haggan was finally called into action, he proved to be a reliable shot-stopper, claiming with authority as a Thomas Lambe free kick from just past the halfway line travelled towards Gage inside the box.
The away goalkeeper stood firm in the 28th minute, to deny David McAllister, who was allowed to surge through the defence unchallenged, before shooting on target. He was similarly resolute moments later, as he got to Gage’s back post header from a Lambe corner.
However, Haggan’s best save arrived in the 34th minute, as he dived to his left to keep out a well-struck effort by Aaron Boyd from the edge of the area.
At the other end, a moment’s lapse in concentration almost turned out to be costly for Greg Hall, who mistakenly played the ball straight to Andrew Kane, and was relieved to see the Barn striker fluff his lines with a woefully wayward attempt.
Haggan continued to shine, as he kept out a curling strike from Danny McKee and scrambled the ball away successfully from a close-range Lambe attempt.
The pressure was mounting, however, and unfortunately for Barn, it told with virtually the last move of the half. Haggan collided with Stephen O’Neill as he came to collect from a Joe McDonnell cross, and Ben Browne charged in to smash the ball home. The Barn keeper was vociferous in his claims to referee Graham McIlrath that he had been impeded, but these were waved away.
There was always the sense that this would be the game’s crucial turning point, and so it proved. Ards may have begun the second half in sluggish fashion, but it was only a matter of time before they notched up goal number two, which also turned out to be Ben Browne’s second of the game.
Stealing the ball from the feet of Stephen Smyth, he delivered a fantastic finish into the top left hand corner, in the 68th minute.
With the shackles now off, McKee pushed forward and let fly from 25 yards, but the shot went well over, while soon after this, Haggan saved from O’Neill and then McKee on the rebound.
Substitute James Sofley put the game beyond all doubt in the 86th minute, as he shot through the keeper’s legs from a Gary Dorrian long-ball.
Nevertheless, Barn were rewarded with an injury time consolation goal for their industrious display. It was a fine strike, too, with Alan McCune breaking free down the right wing before tucking the ball into the bottom left from a tight angle.
All in all, Barn boss Jim Pherson was quietly pleased about what he had seen from his men.
He said:”It has a been a privilege coming down here to play Ards. I thought we pressed well, and we were a bit unlucky with what I thought was a dubious first goal, but in the end they are the fitter team and that made all the difference.
“I’m proud of how the team performed. We lost a few first team players over the season, but we have seen some real quality in our dressing room, and things are on the up.
“We play Crumlin United in the Border Cup next, and with them coming up from our division last season, that will be a much more realistic yard-stick for us.”
MAN OF THE MATCH: Ben Browne (Ards). His two well-taken goals were the difference in this David v Goliath encounter.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It may have been disputed, but what wasn’t in dispute about Browne’s strike on the stroke of half-time was that it turned the tide in Ards’ favour.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Dean Haggan’s confident, diving first half save to deny Aaron Boyd.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: It’s tough to decide what was worse – Greg Hall’s misplaced clearance, or Andrew Kane missing the target from the gift he had been given.
Liam McAuley: Can be happy with his day’s work. 7
Greg Hall: A reasonable outing, despite the odd error. 6
James Cully: Solid enough. 7
Denver Gage: Strong at both ends of the pitch. 8
Thomas Lambe: One of the most productive players on the pitch. 8
Joe McDonnell: A mixed bag – promising in patches. 7
Ben Browne: Bagged himself a great brace. 8
David McAllister: Decent contribution. 6
Stephen O’Neill: Off the mark. 5
Aaron Boyd: Nippy and nimble. 7
Jordan Baker: Only on the pitch for six minutes. 5
Danny McKee: On for Baker, 7
Gary Dorrian: On for McDonnell, 70
James Sofley: On for Boyd, 77
Ryan Brown: Not used
Eamon McAllister: Not used
Dean Haggan: Made many more saves than he let in. 7
Gary McKee: Set-pieces could have been better. 6
Robert Armstrong: Wasn’t overawed by the occasion. 7
Paul Mathers: Closed down the opposition well. 7
Neil McKnight: Nothing was a lost cause. 7
Harry Spence: Put in a shift. 6
Matthew Bingham: Played a key role in keeping the score down. 8
Stephen Smyth: Didn’t shirk a challenge. 7
Andrew Kane: Showed good pace and industry. 8
Matthew McDonald: Work-rate was impressive. 7
Keith Andrews: Put in a few decent crosses. 7
Alan McCune: On for McDonald, 66
Matthew Doyle: On for Spence, 70
Jackson Griffiths: On for Bingham, 77
Belfast Telegraph Digital