Derby clash brings Ards Rangers to edge of glory and Comber to brink of relegation
Comber Rec 0-1 Ards Rangers
Ards Rangers’ hard-fought 1-0 victory at Comber Rec may not have settled anything conclusively for either club, but the contrasting emotions at the final whistle told their own story.
In essence, the result has pushed Rangers to within a point of wrapping up the Amateur League Premier Division title race beyond doubt, and Comber to the very brink of relegation. With all their league games now complete, the latter must this week rely on defeats against Derriaghy CC and Shankill United for Drumaness Mills, whom they also require to concede three or more goals, in order to remain in the division.
The fat lady has not yet sung for either, but she is certainly clearing her throat.
On the day Steven Gerrard became only the third ever player to make 500 Premier League appearances, Liverpool-supporting Rangers manager Lee Forsythe chose to reference his hero.
“If Stevie G has taught us anything, it is that it ain’t over till it’s over,” he said. “We have a massive game against Immaculata on Tuesday (tomorrow), and if we don’t get a result from that, it could put a huge amount of pressure on our final game against Derriaghy.
“Crumlin Star have a far superior goal difference to us, so if they win their last two games, and we get nothing from ours, they’ll win the league. We need to finish the job.
“That wasn’t a great performance from us today, but I don’t care. At this stage, it’s all about getting the result, and we did that.
“I wasn’t aware of exactly what the result would mean for Comber – that’s not our concern – but it would be sad to see a club of their stature go down.”
You can bet Comber, whose win over Derriaghy last week had been their first in 11, were acutely mindful of what they needed to do, and they defended resiliently to keep Rangers’ chances at a minimum.
In fact, this was the case at either end of the pitch, and with the defences coming out on top, the best of the early opportunities came from free kicks. By the sixth minute, Rangers midfielder Ryan Newberry had already hit his third free kick, and the latter of these came closest, but Gerard McVeigh still managed to pounce on it.
Moments after this, a driven 25-yard set piece from Johnny Watterson had a similar outcome.
Comber’s staunch defending meant that their derby rivals were getting little joy when they tried to advance, although Glen Upton and Ricky Rutherford did seem to be linking up well. On 22 minutes, Upton played in a high ball, which was chested down by Rutherford, but unfortunately for him, the touch was just too heavy and went beyond him.
Six minutes later, the ball was in the back of the Comber net – Rutherford heading in from an Upton corner – but in doing so, the towering striker had bundled over McVeigh, and a free kick was rightly awarded, rather than a goal.
With 10 minutes until half time, Comber’s brightest attacking threat, Jason Walls, delivered a fantastic swerving pass towards Darren McNamee. Had it not been for the decisive intercepting header from Jamie Patterson, it surely would have been 1-0 to the home side.
This was a bright spell for the men in yellow, and when McNamee fizzed a close-range shot just wide of the left post, he knew he’d missed the best chance of the half.
Comber were duly punished for not taking those chances within a minute of the second spell, when a fine move started by the tricky Gary McDermott, ended with Upton collecting from a Rutherford pass to smash the ball between McVeigh’s legs.
The hosts did their best to respond quickly, and outfielder Stephen Hislop continued an impressive afternoon in his deputy role between the Rangers sticks, as he saved from Jordan Dougherty’s tight-angled effort.
A rifled shot from Simon Moffatt, meanwhile, had the Comber net bulging once again in the 59th minute, but referee Glenn Taylor’s whistle had already been blown for offside.
Comber had the ideal chance to level the scores in the 63rd minute, after Patterson bundled over Dougherty on the edge of the area, but McNamee’s resultant free kick only bent around the wall, and not inside the post.
Soon after this, Upton got a faint touch onto a McDermott cross, but guided it agonisingly past the target by an inch.
As the game rolled on to its conclusion, the tension increased, but there were no more goal-scoring opportunities of note, and Comber Rec manager Phil McDonagh was left to rue that, after a run of only one victory in their last 11 games, his side had let their Premier Division survival slip out of their own hands.
“It is disappointing,” he admitted, “but in the end, we have dropped far too many silly points.
“The players gave their all today, but I think too many of them were nervous going into the game.
“I met with the committee about five or six weeks ago to plan for next season, but we didn’t imagine we would be in this position. Whatever happens, I am happy to stay and fight on, if they are happy for me to stay.”
Gerard McVeigh: Did well except for one costly error. 7
Andrew Scott: Tough-tackling display. 8
Johnny Watterson: Passion spilled over at times. 7
Neil Moore: Timed his challenges well. 8
Peter Kelly: Solid, powerful, no-nonsense display. 8
Matthew Crooks: Put in a shift. 6
Liam Judge: First touch too heavy at times. 6
Jason Walls: Made several clever passes. 8
Darren McNamee: Didn’t test the keeper enough. 6
Jamie Turner: Confident in possession. 7
Jordan Dougherty: Decent movement of the ball. 7
Samuel McClelland: On for Turner, 54
David Laird: Not used
Phil McDonagh: Not used
Steven Hislop: Excelled in unfamiliar role. 9
John Kerr: Set a good standard. 8
Marc Roy: Vocal, kept back line in check. 8
Gary Brown: Did what was asked of him. 7
Jamie Patterson: Threw himself into every challenge. 8
Gary McDermott: A creative midfield spark. 8
Tony Tumelty: Pushed Rangers forward. 8
Ryan Newberry: An up-and-down display. 7
Ricky Rutherford: Linked up well with Upton. 8
Glen Upton: Took his chance when it mattered. 8
Simon Moffatt: Provided an outlet. 7
Calum James: On for Upton, 81
Jonny Roy: On for Kerr, 77
Ryan Mann: On for McDermott, 87
MAN OF THE MATCH: Glen Upton (Ards Rangers). A positive performance, and his goal sealed a crucial three points.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Upton’s 46th minute strike was ultimately the difference between these derby rivals.
SAVE OF THE MATCH: Jamie Patterson’s defensive header from Jason Walls' cross just before half time may have had a huge bearing on this result.
BLOOPER OF THE MATCH: Comber’s Gerard McVeigh will curse himself for conceding the game’s only goal through his legs.