Ballymena United 2-1 Cliftonville
By Paul Alexander
Ballymena United secured a 2-1 win against Cliftonville in the Danske Bank Premiership on Saturday afternoon with all the goals at the Ballymena Showgrounds arriving in the second-half.
The visitors almost had the lead after a corner-kick in the fifth minute. United goalkeeper Thomas McDermott dived at the lofted ball which was knocked towards goal by teammate Cathair Friel, before Leroy Millar averted the danger. Joe Gormley tried to give Cliftonville the advantage after 14 minutes with a shot along the ground which was cushioned by McDermott.
Ballymena wing-back Andy McGrory would have put his side in front with a worthy effort had it not been for the reactions of Brian Neeson. The Reds keeper then had to collect James Knowles’ curling attempt from almost 20 yards out.
Barry Gray’s side were advancing forward again minutes later. Jay Donnelly ran into the space on the left wing before moving in-field however his shot was gathered by McDermott. The 20-year-old keeper then stopped Gormley from scoring as he dealt with the striker’s attempt from the left corner of the penalty area.
As the end of the first-half approached the away side were given a free-kick with Levi Ives just missing the target. The hosts thought they had taken an ideal lead on 45 minutes following Knowles’ corner. Prior to the set piece, Jude Winchester had forced a super save from Neeson in the Cliftonville goal.
Knowles’ resulting delivery was helped in, although referee Arnold Hunter blew for a handball. There would be a further chance at the opposite end of the pitch when Rory Donnelly’s acrobatic effort went wide of the right post.
The Braidmen went ahead after three minutes of the second-half when Friel sped along the centre of the pitch and finished into the bottom-left corner of Neeson’s goal. McGrory tried to place the ball into the top-left corner on 54 minutes but Ross Lavery used his head to block the finesse shot.
Friel could have netted a second goal for, both, himself and his club in the 55th minute although his strike just about cleared the crossbar. The Sky Blue striker was denied twice by Cliftonville’s defensive unit shortly after. His first attempt was blocked by Jaimie McGovern, before Neeson saved the second.
United did record a second goal when Stephen McCullough looped his left-footed free-kick into Neeson’s top-left corner with 77 minutes played. Substitute Conor McDonald gave the North Belfast side’s response when he applied the finish to Gormley’s left-wing cross. In the first minute of stoppage time, Friel received the ball from Winchester and tried to chip Neeson who would block the attempt.
Ballymena United: McDermott, McCullough, Addis, Ervin, Whiteside, McGrory, Millar, Winchester, Knowles (Kane, 80), Friel, Lecky
Subs not used: McCauley, Burns, Nolan, Shevlin, Reece Glendinning, McMurray
Cliftonville: Neeson, Lavery (Harney, 67), Ives, Breen, McGovern, J. Donnelly (McMenamin, 40), Catney, C. Curran (McDonald, 67), R. Curran, Gormley, R. Donnelly
Subs not used: Garrett, Bagnall, Maguire, McNulty
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)
In-Touch Man of the Match: Jonny Addis (Ballymena)
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