Dire Derry facing promotion dogfight

City of Derry's Philip Brady keeps possesion despite being challenged by a number of Ard players.  (2202jB38)
City of Derry's Philip Brady keeps possesion despite being challenged by a number of Ard players. (2202jB38)

A SEASON which promised so much is in danger of imploding on City of Derry following their second successive AIL Division Three defeat after second from bottom Ards ran in six tries to leave local promotion hopes hanging in the balance.

MICHAEL WILSON was at Judges Road

Photographs by JOE BOLAND

With four games remaining Bevan Lynch’s side have now slipped to fourth - the last promotion spot - and sit only one point above Banbridge. Seapoint lead the way after Greystones’ emphatic defeat of Instonians saw the Dubliners move into third and Inst. slip to second. Strangely, Derry actually closed the gap on their Ulster rivals courtesy of the two bonus points they secured on Saturday.

That was the good news but there was little else to get excited about after a totally abject display against an Ards teams who had previously only one once all season.

Too many missed tackles, too many handling errors and too many wrong decisions do not make a winning formula and after watching his side twice battle back from behind to lead and then throw it away, Lynch was in no mood for excuses.

“The title is certainly gone now,” admitted Lynch, “That’s pipe-dream stuff at this stage. I said 20 points would get us up into Division Two but now we’ve made it a pretty tough task with only four games left. We’re just going to have to put our heads down and work hard for the wins and see how everything else falls.

“Your attitude has got to be right as regards defence and clearly ours wasn’t. That was reflected in the amount of missed tackles. That’s a bottom placed side which has struggled to score points this year and they’ve scored 38 against us which is 38 too many in my books.

“We are very disappointed. We certainly thought we had adressed some of the issues from last week and believe it or not, we actually targeted defence today. We thought if we got our defence right our attack would look after itself but obviously that’s an area we are going to have to go back and address again.

“Our scrum was solid and more dominant with David Witherow came on, but our problem was defence. Defence wins games and we didn’t defend. We got exactly what we deserved.”

After last week’s reversal against Rainey, the large Judges Road crowd had come expecting to see the North Down men brushed aside and things appeared to be going to plan when Philip Brady brilliantly stole possession to set-up Simon Logue for an unconverted opening try on five minutes.

However the problems posed by the Rainey performance were never far away and they surfaced again within two minutes of the restart when Andrew Semple was caught in two minds near his own 22m line. His indecision allowed Ards to win turnover ball which saw the game’s best players - visiting out-half Jason Morgan -accelerate through a non-existent back line and pass to Taylor Ferguson for a simple try which Morgan converted.

The returning Richard McCarter had Derry back in front through an excellent penalty before Ards did everything they could to help the Derry promotion push with a bizarre try. Sustained Derry pressure had seen Ards prop yellow-carded but Ryan Campbell’s knock-on appeared to have cost the home side their chance as Ards took the scrum. Inexplicably though the ball was thrown loose by scrum-half Stewart Paul and Chris Cooper pounced on it for a simple touch down with McCarter converting.

Lynch’s pre-match warnings for his players about apathy then appeared to once again go unheeded as, for the second time in the match, Ards crossed the Derry line only minutes after a home score, No. 8 Conor Piper this time the man to benefit from Derry’s slack defending following a quick tap penalty.

That left three between the teams at 15-12 but a superb break from McCarter seemed to have Derry back in control as he ran in from 40m to leave it 20-12 with the clock approaching half-time. For the second week running however, Derry couldn’t see the half out and Morgan danced his way through three pitiful attempts at tackles to find winger Alan Crawford who ran in under the posts and suddenly it was a one-point game at 20-19.

Bad to worse

Morgan was the architect and executioner as Ards scored their fourth within seven minutes of the second half, the stand-off just about getting the ball over the line before converting.

Derry responded with a quick penalty of their own, allowing McCarter to release Peter Henderson on the wing for a try after Richard Baird’s initial drive. With McCarter converting the home support waited for the ‘real’ Derry to push on but it didn’t happen.

Instead a Crawford break for Ards brought them inside the Derry 22. When they were stopped short the ball was worked left where flanker Max Harrison found enough space to score with Morgan again converting and Derry trailed 27-33 with 16 minutes left. It went from bad to worse as the touch-judge decided Logue had infringed in the initial break which saw the winger sent to the sin-bin as time ticked away.

The home 15 poured forward and were camped in to Ards 22 but continued to waste good possession and position. With only five minutes left, Ards secure the game and again it came gift-wrapped by Derry. Richard Peoples, who had replaced McCarter, was trying to shift the ball left but his wayward pass was easily intercepted by full-back Gareth Wilson who ran in from inside his own 22. It summed up Derry’s day.

The game was up even though the locals did manage a late David Funston try to secure a second losing bonus point but it was the manner of the defeat which will have Lynch worried.

“We are in a massive trough and we all have to take owenership of what’s happened - coaches, managers and players. We’ve got to recover, get out and try to secure that promotion spot. We’ll get back into training on Tuesday, that’s where the work begins and we’ve got to try and win this promotion spot.

“I don’t think you can explain the result or the performance by the changes we made. The personnel that came in was more than capable of beating a bottom placed Ards side but they didn’t, so we will have to look at the tape and see who was doing what and who wasn’t.

“Next week we have another tough trip to Nenagh but we need to pick ourselves up with a good win there and get out season back on track,” he added.

Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Philip Brady, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Stephen Sims, Richard Baird, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, Simon Logue, Josh Lewis, Peter Henderson.

(Subs) Stephen Corr for P Brady, 50mins; Davy Witherow for C Shields, 54mins; Richard Peoples for R McCarter, 65mins; Stephen Duffy for S mcAuley, 65mins.

Ards: John Mawhinney, Stuart Ferguson, Johnny Wylie, John Dowey, David Colvert, Max Harrison, Nathan Cahoon, Conor Piper, Stewart Paul, Jason Morgan, Andy Todd, Scott Young, Taylor Ferguson, Alan Crawford, Gareth Wilson.

Referee: Ed Kenny (IRFU)