Crusaders: Comeback kings rescue point from two-goal deficit against Ards

Ronan Hale celebrates netting Crusaders' equaliser against Ards. Pic by INPHO
Ronan Hale celebrates netting Crusaders' equaliser against Ards. Pic by INPHO

Comeback kings Crusaders fought back to claim a valuable point in the race for Europe.

The Crues now find themselves just four points behind second-placed Ballymena United in a result which probably held more significance at the bottom end of the table. The 2-2 draw helped Ards inch two points clear of basement side Newry City AFC with five games left to play.

However, it could have been so much better for Warren Feeney’s side.

Ards held a two-goal lead with 25 minutes left on the clock thanks to efforts from Mark Kelly and Craig McClean either side of half-time, but late strikes from Declan Caddell and Ronan Hale levelled the score.

Ards grabbed the lead in the 25th minute.

A direct Sam Johnston kick found Kelly, who laid it into the path of Eamon McAllister.

The winger’s low cross was not fully cleared, allowing Kelly to turn the ball into the net.

It was the former Ballymena United man’s eighth goal of the season and his third since Warren Feeney’s arrival.

Nine minutes into the second half, 33-year-old left-back Craig McClean - who has scored just two goals in his entire Irish League career - swept a beautiful 20-yard free-kick into the top corner.

McClean, who won two league titles with the Crues, refused to celebrate against a former club - but the goal was greeted with gusto in the home stand.

Crusaders, however, pulled a goal back in the 68th minute.

A cross into the Ards area was headed across goal by Jordan Owens for Caddell to nod home from close range.

The Belfast side piled on the pressure in search of the equaliser, hitting the Ards defence with a barrage of long balls.

But it was a moment of real class that made the difference.

In the 83rd minute, Hale struck a stunning 25-yard rocket that arrowed straight into the top corner of Johnston’s goal.

Johnston produced a stunning injury-time save to tip a powerful David Cushley header over the crossbar.

Current Northern Ireland internationals - and former Crues players - Stuart Dallas and Gavin Whyte cheered on their old team from the stands at the Bangor Fuels Arena.

Ards: Johnston, McAleenan, Byers, Taylor, McClean, E.McAllister, J.Kelly, Tommons, D.McAllister, M.Kelly (Cherry, 73), Henderson (McLellan, 90).

Subs (not used): Davidson, Bennett, Smith, McCawl, Shearer.

Crusaders: O’Neill, Ward, Caddell, K.Owens, McChrystal (Ruddy, 34), Forsythe, Snoddy (Cushley, 59), McGinley, Ronan Hale, Rory Hale, J.Owens.

Subs (not used): Doherty, Beverland, Coates, Lowry, Thompson.

Referee: Andrew Davey.