Championship 1 leaders Ards saw off battling Ballyclare Comrades at Dixon Park on Saturday, consolidating their position at the league summit.
A Gary Dorrian strike gave the visitors a deserved lead at the interval, while a determined Reds defensive performance in the second half restricted them to a James Cully (inset) goal that sealed a 2-0 win.
Stephen Hughes, appointed Ballyclare’s manager on a permanent basis on Saturday morning, made only one change in his starting line-up, with Darren Doherty returning from injury to take his customary place at right back, while Jonny McClurg dropped to the bench.
Ards got off to a fine start with Dorrian opening the scoring in the fifth minute, when he reacted fastest in the six yards area to fire past Jonah Nicholl, after McKee’s initial cross had been blocked.
Although the Reds had plenty of possession there was no end product with keeper Ryan Brown rarely involved, while in contrast Ards’ advances carried threats that kept central defenders Chris Getty and Adam McCart on their toes.
In the 34th minute Denver Gage, rose at the back post to connect from a corner, but his header was just wide Brown’s first anxious moment came just before the break, when Chris Trussell slid in at the near post to connect with a Reid pass, but he was unable to hit the target.
Hopes of a second-half recovery were dashed eight minutes in to the second session, when Cully’s header from a corner flashed into the net well beyond the reach of Nicholl.
Ards continued to have the upper hand and twice Arthurs went close, before Dobbin fired in a good effort from the edge of the box; Brown parried the shot and then recovered smartly to block again as Trussell closed in for the kill.
Despite Saturday’s defeat, the Comrades remain well clear of the drop zone in a crowded mid-table where five points cover eight teams.
Ballyclare Comrades: Nicholl; Doherty (Woods 62’), Getty, McCart (C), McQuitty; Brown (Crowe 75’), Dobbin, Simpson; O’Hanlon, Reid (Dempster 57’), Trussell. Subs not used: McClurg, E Hill.
Sympathy is extended to the Tweedie family on the death of Isobel, widow of former club treasurer Sammy.
Ballyclare’s next match is on January 16, Loughgall (a).