Deane (GK), Casement, Stafford (Robinson 45’), Callacher, Quinn, Ross Clarke (Millar 64’), Lowry, Fallon, Jordan Stewart, Burns, Cameron Stewart (Waterworth 64’)
Johnston (GK), Hogg, Byers, McAleenan, Ruddy, Frazer, Tommons, Hanley, McAllister (Mitchell 66’), Arthurs, Kelly
It was the same fixture but unfortunately for holders Linfield a different result as the Blues crashed out of the County Antrim Shield Quarter Final with a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the hands of Ards, who Linfield defeated 2-0 just two days ago in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Due to a quick turnaround – just 51 hours between the two matches – Linfield manager David Healy opted to freshen his team up with as many as eight changes. Gareth Deane continued his tradition of starting for Linfield in the CAS to get match time under his belt, with number one ‘keeper Roy Carroll being rested, whilst defensive duo Jimmy Callacher and Mark Stafford returning to the fold after missing out on Saturday. Eamon Scannell was rewarded for his sparkling form for Linfield Swifts, which included a brace in their 2-1 victory over Abbey Villa in the Intermediate Cup on Saturday with a spot on the bench.
There were little chances for either side to shout about in the opening stages and when Linfield did put the ball in the back of the net on fifteen minutes, the goal was ruled out for a foul on the goalkeeper by the leaping Cameron Stewart, who was partnering Aaron Burns in attack.
Ards then created a golden chance on eighteen minutes when Jonny Frazer found himself free in the box, but he fired a shot wide from close range, much to Linfield’s relief.
The game’s first shot on target saw former Linfield Swifts goalkeeper Sam Johnstone – now between the sticks for Ards - forced into a great save to deny Stephen Lowry’s strike, pushing the ball behind for a resulting corner which fell to Mark Stafford but he fired over from nine yards out.
Jordan Stewart, who was coming off the back of a goal and a ‘Man Of The Match’ performance, almost showed his class again, letting rip with a free-kick from distance that flew just wide from a central position 30 yards out after he’d been brought down by young Adam McAleenan of Ards, who received a yellow card for his foul.
After a spell on the bench, Niall Quinn reminded us of his pedigree when he picked out the head of Cameron Stewart from the left flank with a tantalising cross but Stewart headed over from close range. Then, just two minutes later, Cameron Stewart found space to shoot after neat build-up play from Linfield but Sam Johnston did well again and was equal to his effort.
Cameron Stewart and then Aaron Burns both couldn’t believe their luck a few minutes before the break when both their efforts bounced off Ards ‘keeper Johnston with a hint of fortune before the visitors were able to clear the ball to safety.
Half Time: Linfield 0 – 0 Ards
Linfield had to make an enforced change at half-time with Mark Stafford being replaced by Josh Robinson, with Stafford still feeling the effects of an accidental collision with goalkeeper Gareth Deane early in the game.
Ards broke the deadlock to take a shock lead on 48 minutes, with David McAlister rounding off a neat move from the visitors to fire past Deane. The Linfield supporters were hoping it would spark their team into life.
The Blues were unlucky not to level shortly after the hour-mark when Robinson picked out Quinn with a neat through ball – Quinn cut the ball back to Jordan Stewart but a good piece of last-ditch defending from Ards stopped Stewart in his tracks at the vital moment.
Josh Robinson then missed a good chance from six yards out at a corner before Niall Quinn struck a free-kick from 25 yards which was just off target, whistling past the post.
Linfield continued to pile the pressure on and Sam Johnston was called upon again as he saved a one-on-one from Stephen Fallon before making a tremendous stop to keep out Jordan Stewart and then Adam McAleenan cleared an Aaron Burns shot off the line.
Unfortunately the late pressure came to nothing as Ards held on for a historical result to progress to the semi-final of the County Antrim Shield and Linfield must now bounce back against Ballinamallard on Saturday as they can’t afford to lose any further ground in the title race.
Full Time: Linfield 0 – 1 Ards