Frustrated Linfield's title ambitions suffer a setback
Ballinamallard 2 - 1 Linfield
Linfield's title ambitions suffered a blow last night as Ballinamallard United came from behind to snatch a share of the spoils at Ferney Park.
Linfield went in at the break leading thanks to Andy Waterworth's 39th-minute strike but Whitey Anderson's side, who suffered a 7-0 defeat to Warrenpoint last Friday night, ensured they would take a point out of the game with an excellent goal 20 minutes from time from left-back Colm McLoughlin.
The draw leaves Linfield six points adrift of table-toppers Crusaders, although Warren Feeney's side do have a game in hand.
Ballinamallard, who were keen to respond after the thrashing at Milltown, started the game in a positive fashion as Davy Kee forced Blues goalkeeper Ross Glendinning to push his long-range effort around the post for a corner while James McKenna then glanced a header across the face of the visitors' goal.
However, Linfield, who handed debuts to new boys Grant McCann and loan signing Glen Belezika, signalled their intent as Stephen Lowry broke from midfield before feeding Ross Clarke, who delivered an inviting ball across the goal that was turned behind for a corner.
As the half progressed, Linfield, with Belezika providing a physical presence in the centre of the defence, began to get on top although they never really opened up the Mallards defence.
The Blues did go close to taking the lead, though, in the 26th minute when Mallards captain Mark Stafford turned an Aaron Burns cross from the left onto his own crossbar while Lowry then headed narrowly wide from a McCann corner.
At the other end, Johnny Lafferty fired over the bar from a John Currie corner before Linfield made the breakthrough in the 39th minute.
Waterworth drilled a hopeful shot at goal from just outside the box and it managed to squirm under home goalkeeper Feargal Murphy and into the back of the net.
And Linfield could have doubled their advantage five minutes later when Lowry found space in the box but drove over the bar.
The second half saw little in the way of goal mouth action in the opening stages, although Linfield did force a number of corners early on but they were comfortably dealt with by the home side.
The Mallards, though, were to enjoy greater possession in the second half and they were back on level terms in the 70th minute with McLoughlin firing home following a sweeping move.
He produced a strong run on the left-hand side and exchanged passes with substitute Liam Martin on the edge of the box before racing in on goal and stroking the ball beyond Linfield goalkeeper Glendinning to the corner of the net to register his first goal for the club.
Waterworth had a late chance to win it for Linfield when he was sent scampering through by Burns but he fired wide of the target while the Mallards had a spell of pressure in injury-time that came to nothing and the final whistle soon sounded.
In the end, a draw was no less than the home side deserved and it will lift confidence ahead of the visit of Portadown on Saturday.
Ballinamallard United: Murphy, Crilly, McLoughlin, Stafford, Feeney, Courtney (McCartney 75mins), Currie (Campbell 79mins), Kee, McKenna, Elding (Martin 68mins), Lafferty.
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Belezika, Waterworth, Lowry (Mulgrew 70mins), Burns, Ward, Morrow (Thompson 64mins), McCann, Reece Glendinning, Quinn, Clarke (Carvill 86mins).
Referee: Ross Dunlop.