Belfast Telegraph

Player of the Month O'Neill backs his side in Premier bid

By Keith Bailie

Ards striker Stephen O'Neill believes his new side can still win promotion this year, after beating Donegal Celtic Celtic 2-1 on Saturday.

The former Cliftonville and Bangor man won the BT Sport Championship Player of the Month award for March after a string of fine displays for his new employers. O'Neill's seven goals since arriving from Loughgall in January have helped Ards to summit of the Championship, where they lead Carrick Rangers on goal difference.

O'Neill thinks that Ards can claim promotion if they take nine points from their remaining games against Harland & Wolff Welders, Dundela and Ballyclare Comrades.

"The boys think if we win our last three games we will get at least a play-off. You can't be certain of that, but it's out of our hands. All we can do is get as many points on the board as we can and hope that is enough.

"I feel like we've flown under the radar a wee bit. There's been lots of talk about Bangor and Carrick, but nobody seems to be saying 'look at Ards.' We've just been quietly winning games without much fuss and because of that, it feels like we aren't really under a lot pressure. Maybe that will change now we're top of the league, but I still don't really feel under pressure.

"Looking round at our squad, I certainly think we're good enough to gain promotion. But if it doesn't happen, then the club have to keep this squad together, because I think we could really challenge next year."

O'Neill has bagged 33 goals this season, 26 of which came for Loughgall before Christmas. In March, he hit goals against Dergview, Knockbreda and Carrick Rangers, as Ards continued their now 14-match unbeaten run.

30-year-old O'Neill said: "These are the kind of awards you like to win. It's nice to be recognised for doing well on the park, but I have to thank my team mates. For a striker to be scoring goals you need good team mates around you to create the chances. I'd also like to thank the Football Writers and their sponsors BT Sport for picking me, it's a great honour.

"I've been scoring goals all season but since I moved to Ards, I've been winning a lot more games as the team is a bit stronger.

"I think the big difference this season is that I've been fit and healthy all season. In previous years, I missed big chunks of the season through injury, but this year, I've been lucky in that respect.

"Ards play great football. They have some great players who create lots of chances for the strikers. It makes life a lot easier for me."

Ards and O'Neill have no fixture this week. Their next game is against Harland & Wolff Welders on April 14. 

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