Ards boss Colin Nixon believes he has unearthed a gem in young goalkeeper Sam Johnston.
The 22-year-old turned in a five-star showing against Linfield at Windsor Park on Saturday, helping his team nick an unlikely point.
David Healy’s boys will reflect on a number of missed opportunities, but they came up against a resolute back four and an inspired Johnston, who dealt capably with everything thrown at him. And, even when they did manage to get the ball past the impressive shot-stopper, Johnny Frazer got back to make a fantastic goal line clearance, while Andy Waterworth rapped the crossbar from six yards.
The Blues were almost made to pay for their extravagance in front of goal when Kyle Cherry headed a Michael McLellan cross over the top from point blank range. Nevertheless, Nixon was happy to go back down the road with a point.
“It was a good disciplined performance,” he said. “The boys are all working hard. We have a small squad, it’s a young squad, so we are to need everyone. They are all working hard together.
“We’ve a tough run up ahead of us, Coleraine, Glenavon and Cliftonville, but we are looking forward to it. It’s a pleasure taking these boys, but they want to work hard, and they want to do well. On our day we are match for any team in my opinion.
“I thought we could have sneaked it right at the end. The ball came at Kyle very quickly, but how can I be disappointed leaving Windsor with a point? We are still hovering at the bottom of the table, it’s something we need to address.”
And, on the performance of Johnston, Nixon added: “We worked hard to get him to the club. I think there may have been a few raised eyebrows when we made him number one, but we firmly believed in him. I have the luxury in seeing Sam three nights a week in training and I know what he is capable of.
“When you put in a performance like that, it helps the boys in front of him. His handling was fantastic. It took a lot of pressure off the defence. I’m proud of the entire team, but Sam’s performance was top drawer – he totally commanded his penalty area.”
Linfield boss David Healy admitted his boys became frustrated, especially in the final 20 minutes after failing to make the breakthrough.
“We just couldn’t get the goal that we craved,” he said. “We played too many straight long balls, and the crowd were becoming edgy. We were well still on top of the game.
“With no disrespect to Ards, I thought we were in control of the game. We move on, we are still unbeaten. It just didn’t happen for us.
“We had chances – good chances It’s important you get a goal when you are bang on top of them. We missed a couple of good chances . . . and we had one cleared off the line. We played some good football, but we were flat at times. We lacked a clinical, finishing sharp edge.”
“The longer it went on, the more frustrated we became. Credit to Ards and their manager, they had a plan and they stuck to it.
“I didn’t need to have a rant and rave at the players afterwards. I didn’t feel the need to do that because the players have been terrific so far. Windsor is difficult venue, but we should have been making it difficult for Ards.”
LINFIELD: Carroll, Robinson (Stafford 87), Callacher, Waterworth, O’Connor, Cooper, Clarke (Stewart 79), Kearns, Mitchell, Quinn (Millar 71), Casement.
Unused subs: Fallon, Smith, Garrett, Deane.
ARDS: Johnston, Kerr, Byers, Taylor, Frazer (E McAllister 79), Cherry, Kelly, D McAllister, Kelly (McLellan 89), McClean, Nelson (Tommons 73).
Unused subs: Mooney, Mitchell, McKenna, McAleenan.
REFEREE: Andrew Davey.