Rathfriland Pile On Pressure To Ards Rangers

Ards Rangers Suffer Defeat Against Rathfriland Rangers

Ards Rangers Suffer Defeat Against Rathfriland Rangers

The NAFL. Premier League. Saturday 5th March at Iveagh Park.

Rathfriland Rangers 2 1 Ards Rangers.

The NAFL Premier Division League was buzzing on Saturday as Rathfriland beat Ards Rangers in a well controlled win keeping them in contention for the hope of a league title, but there is still a mountain to climb writes Jim Masson.

Having to play 14 matches in 21 days and a quarter final match too to the close of the season, and still to face league leaders East Belfast and then Crumlin Star, it will be a tight call to collect all the points, but manager Alastair Wilson’s squad are up for it.

Early drama: Adam Neale just misses a header into the Ards goal. (Photos by Jim Masson.)

The match began in cold but excellent conditions with both teams testing out the opposition defence but it was Rathfriland who soon put on the pressure after the opening gambits with a constant attack on Ards.

The first opportunity was when Jonathan Scannell snatched a shot from just outside the back of the Ards box but it flew off target.

Minutes later Benjamin Roy tried a shot at the Rathfriland goal but it was held by keeper Bryan McMullan.

The game see-sawed for a while and then the home side pressed through an attach on the right and Daniel Devlin crossed an excellent ball through Ards box but there were no takers.

Rathfriland winger Rauiri Fitzpatrick played his part in the win against Ards Rangers.

But gradually Rathfriland applied themselves and won a corner and eventually Matthew Holloway launched a volley on target for Rathfriland but it was well caught by Ards keeper David Ferguson.

Lee Newell was unlucky not to score when he unleashed a fierce volley close at the Ards goal but Ards were saved by the woodwork.

Coming into the fray was Rathfriland’s Ruairi Fitzpatrick, an ex-Celtic Bhoys striker, who had a brilliant first half on the right wing. He made an excellent chip to Adam Neale waiting in the middle of the box. Then on 11 minutes he volleyed low just inches wide of the right hand post.

Minutes later Neale went up for a header but it was a fraction to high for him to nod down into the Ards goal and went over the top bar but the home side were definitely creating more chances at goal and connecting well.

Rathfriland then went up a gear and Ards looked under serious pressure as Brian Newell launched a shot well held by keeper Ferguson. Holloway too was playing his part in a fairly relentless attack.

Then the game went into a lull period as Rathfriland tried to catch their breath. Neale produced a great header on 36 minutes, again keeper Ferguson there to grab the ball.

The game took a dramatic turn on 38 minutes as Matthew Galloway tried a shot at the Ards goal after a corner taken by Fitzpatrick, then Johneen Black slid the ball through to Galloway through a forest of Ards legs and it was rocketed to the back of the Ards net putting Rathfriland a goal ahead.

There were several good plays by Ruairi Fitzpatrick and Jesse Carson opening up the Ards defence.

On a break and reversing the pressure, Ardglass defender Gary Watson almost netted with a header but was on the wrong side of the bar. Then Philip Simpson hit a belter on target in the box but it hit the leg of a defender for a corner which could easily have been a goal.

Ards midfielder Aaron McKee, centre, tries to get possession on the ball as Rathfriland attack.

But Rathfriland turned the game round pressing Ards as the first half was ending looking for the opening goal after several clear chances.

The second half started Rathfriland came out guns blazing and Watson tried a header, then Newell did a quick turn in the Ards box in possession and shot low but Ferguson was on the ball and smothered it.

As Rathfriland pushed forward, Jonathan Scannell was taken down in the Ards box and referee Stephen Logan immediately pointed to the spot. The pressure had paid off, and Neale stepped up to the ball and sunk in into the left hand side of the net low to put Rathfriland in the driving seat 15 minutes into the second half.

There were a few flurries from Ards but they were well staked down by the Rathfriland defence. Then in a great move from Holloway to Newell through to Fitzpatrick saw him run on a 1 to 1 with keeper Ferguson but he held on to the ball a second too long and was closed down.

Rathfriland scorer Matthew Holloway on the ball against Ards Rangers nets on 38 minutes.

The second period descended into a somewhat scrappy affair with physical challenges, yellow cards and substitutions all affecting the flow of the game which was excellent in the first half.

Fitzpatrick was a bit quieter in the second half but managed to unleash a super, curling ball at the Ards back post from about 30 yards round the defenders. It was a fraction too wide of the post but was a promising effort.

Referee Stephen Logan kept the game moving forward despite the physicality of the game and through the calls for fouls and penalties.

Players started to cramp up but Rathfriland took more control of midfield. Sub Brian Johnston went up for a header from a corner but could not get on top of it to head down to the goal.

Rathfriland were starting to look in control again and appeared more confident. Fitzpatrick had moved to a more central position and was still challenging for a goal in his partnership with Neale.

Despite the serious Rathfriland pressure, Ards pushed back and as a result Aaron Brown was fouled. The free kick 40 yards out was taken by Gary Irwin but proved not to be a threat to keeper McMullan. The Rathfriland defence were doing the business keeping out forays from Ards.

As the Rathfriland pressure mounted again, sub Jordan Hayes won a corner from nothing taken by Fitzpatrick. Then in another quick corner Ards midfielder Aaron McKee chested the ball out to safety and Ratjfriland sub James Costello narrowly missed a goal hitting over the crossbar.

Ards fought back and Mark Hillen hit the top of the Rathfriland net followed by Harry McIlwraith hitting the side net. The visitors did try and claw back the deficit but Rathfriland help on to the whistle.

Overall, it was Rathfriland who had the run off the ball and appeared a sharper side on the day.

Rathfriland Rangers: 1 Bryan McMullan, 2 Robert Graham, 3 Daniel Devlin, 4 Jonathan Scannell, 5 Johneen Black (C), 7 Ruairi Fitzpatrick, 8 Andrew Kilmartin, 9 Brian Newell, 10 Adam Neale, 11 Matthew Holloway, 15 Jesse Carson. Subs: 12 Jordan Hayes, 16 James Costello, 17 Brian Johnston.

Ards Rangers: 1 David Ferguson, 2 Harry McIlwraith, 3 Kewis Roy (C), 4 Gary Watson, 5 Philip Simpson, 6 Aaron McKee, 7 Jason Walls, 8 Mark Armstrong, 9 Aaron Brown, 10 Benjamin Roy, 11 Ryan Ennis. Subs: 12 Gary Irwin, 14 Mark Hillen, 15 Adam Sloan.