One last football match in 2014, and it wasn’t a bad way to finish the year, as I headed to Clandeboye Park for the North Down Derby (although the area has now been rebranded as “East Coast”) between Bangor and Ards, also a top of the table clash in Championship 1.
Bangor were top of the league and unbeaten, aspiring to get promoted to the Premiership next year, having not applied for promotion for this season. If they did, they would have had a play-off against Warrenpoint Town, who they beat in the Irish Cup.
To give an indication of how far Bangor have progressed under the management of Garth Scates, the last time I went to see them, they were six minutes away from relegation to the third tier of Irish League football.
A more long-term measure of where both clubs were, is the fact that the last time I saw them play against each other, was in an Irish Cup Final.
Bangor and Ards are two of eleven clubs who have applied for a licence for the Premier League in 2015-2016, and both had their eyes on promotion.
For the record, Bangor were the home team today (both teams play at Clandeboye Park) with Ards home game resulting in a 1-1 draw in August.
I wasn’t the only neutral taking advantage of the fact there were no top flight games today, as I spotted Eddie Patterson (Glentoran play Ards in the Irish Cup next month) and Gary Hamilton (a former teammate of Bangor manager Garth Scates) in the crowd.
A good sight to see that there were queues right up to kick-off stretching to the bottom of the street of supporters wanting to get in.
It was Ards who took the lead with the first moment of note in the game, when James Cully managed to get himself free in the box and fired home, after 9 minutes.
Bangor dusted themselves off and went about getting level. They had good build-up play but couldn’t get a clear sight of goal. Bangor almost scored shortly after Ards went 1-0 up when a long range shot from outside the box smashed against the bar and out.
From where I was stood, I thought it was a goal. The linesman said no. No technology at this level to confirm one way or the other.
Soon afterwards, Bangor had a goal disallowed for offside.
It wasn’t all Bangor though, Ards were having just as much a say in the game, it was end to end stuff.
As the half neared an end, Ards got a free-kick within a shooting range. The clock stated 44 minutes. Sometimes you see a set pices being lined up and you know it will be a goal. So it proved, as Gary Warwick fired home to give Ards a 2-0 lead.
Like at Windsor Park the day before, a goal just before half-time had such a massive bearing on the game.
As when they went 2-0 down, Bangor responded by trying to get a goal to get them back in the game.
Early in the second-half, Bangor had a free-kick tipped onto the post. Bangor had a lot of possession but couldn’t get a breakthrough.
The game took on the pattern of a game where one team is 2-0 up and trying to score, while the other is content not to concede.
Ards had the mentality that they didn’t need to score. Truth was, if Bangor could pull it back to 2-1, they would have so much momentum going into the final stages.
Ards did almost score to go 3-0 up, but a goalbound shot was cleared off the line in the nick of time.
With 15 minutes to go, Bangor got a lifeline when a thunderous shot from Andy Hall hit the back of the net.
I was behind the goal at the time and ducked, as I was convinced the ball was going over. It was one of those efforts when it went right for him.
This spurred Bangor on, but they couldn’t get the equaliser from their pressure.
As each minute ticked by, Ards seemed to be seeing the game out and getting the win.
As injury time approached, Bangor appeared to run out of ideas. When there’s only one goal in the game, at any level, the game is still up for grabs.
Bangor got that one moment, eventually, and made the most of it. They managed to get one more attack and won a corner. The ball went out for another corner, which was eventually bundled home by Jordan Forsythe. The Bangor fans behind the goal celebrated wildly. Derby Day Pride had been salvaged, but more importantly, they wouldn’t be losing any ground to a promotion rival.
Watching as a neutral, I had a suspicion that the scoring for today wasn’t over. I couldn’t tell who would get that all important fifth goal.
It was to be Ards, when a shot off the post fell perfectly for Ross Arthurs to finish and put Ards 3-2 in injury time.
There was still some time remaining, and Bangor had one last chance, which was fired wide from inside the penalty area. It should have been a goal.
Bangor’s unbeaten league run was over, and the race for promotion has just got interested. Championship 1 is a lopsided league as teams often have games in hand due to cup commitments and gaps in the table can be deceptive.
Ards can go within three points of Bangor if they win their game in hand, Harland and Wolff Welders could go two points above them if they win theirs, as could Carrick Rangers.
My football watching is over for 2014 ……. i’ll only have to wait 15 hours before getting started in 2015.