Belfast Telegraph

Braidmen's new starlet Shevlin stuns Mallards on debut

Ballymena United 3 Ballinamallard United 0

By Billy Weir

With size 12 feet, it should be a little bit easier to keep them on the ground as Ballymena United's new shooting star announced himself in fairytale fashion on Saturday.

Fifteen-year-old Matthew Shevlin, who has scored goals for fun at youth level and since he joined the club, was given his chance when Matthew Tipton came off injured with six minutes to go against Ballinamallard United.

Within 90 seconds, he'd pounced on Tony Kane's spilled free-kick and, with his first touch at this level, scored and gave even the most cynical of football fans a warm glow that good things still happen in the game we love.

The only person who may not have been blamed for not joining in on the celebrations was Mark Surgenor, whose two first-half goals had put the Sky Blues in the driving seat, but he was well and truly put in the shade by Shevlin, who turns 16 in a fortnight's time.

Surgenor, though, was one of the first to mob the youngster and now Glenn Ferguson will thrust a protective arm around the Ballymena Academy pupil, who could go on to star for his hometown club.

The nephew of United goalkeeping coach Wes Lamont, Shevlin is no puny teenager. As they say around Ballymena, he's a big cub, but he showed plenty of poaching bite to make it a dream debut.

"He's a big lad, he's got size 12 feet and he's certainly got a chance but it's keeping his feet on the ground now, keeping him level-headed and hopefully we'll be able to do that," explained Ferguson afterwards.

"Wes is his uncle, he'll look after him as we will all try and do. After the game we didn't single him out, we went around the team about how well they'd done and how they have to do it every week, but we mentioned about young Matthew coming on, it's a great day for him and the boys all gave him a round of applause.

"He came in about three or four months ago and played up top against Johnny Taylor and Davy Munster and after it they went 'who the **** is that?' So, they came off red-faced, not with embarrassment but through sheer hard work. He's non-stop.

"But we have to manage it, he'll not be in the squad every week, he'll be used periodically.

"He's 15 years of age, we've got to remember that. He has to go to school on Monday and do his homework and whatever he has to do, but it's a great day for him and his family."

Ferguson knows a thing or two about striking so Shevlin couldn't have a better man to learn from and progress and that also means keeping him away from the journalistic vultures eager to pounce on the teenager, so no interviews was the order of the day.

"We've all been there, starting off at a young age and it's about having good people around you in the team and behind the scenes," added Ferguson.

"We've all been through those experiences and hopefully we can share them with him. I scored on my debut too but I was a wee bit older, I was 17.

"He has absolutely no fear. He just wants to score goals. He's a confident lad but he's not arrogant. He's quiet, he's shy, he just wants to score goals. We thought 'why not?' and it has worked out well for us.

"He's an out and out number 9. He's scored for the reserves in nearly every game he's played in and if you don't give reserve team players a chance, they're going to get disillusioned, so we've brought him in.

"Because of the striking options we have and because we're so limited with David Cushley and Ally Teggart out, Matthew Shevlin was the next option we had.

"We've had him training with us and he's been good in training.

"There's no point in having a centre-forward on the bench and your centre-forward gets injured and not bringing him on just because he's young.

"We thought 'to hell with it, we'll put him on' and he couldn't have wished for anything else. That's one thing about him, he's a sniffer, he's a goalscorer and as soon as that ball was hit he was in on the keeper."

Understandably, Ballinamallard played second fiddle on and off the pitch, but boss Whitey Anderson will demand more from his side in the coming games.

"The target was to get ourselves within a point of Ballymena but maybe some of them read the papers and saw that Ballymena had an injury list but I certainly didn't mention it," he said.

Ballymena: Nelson, T Kane, McBride, Taylor, Munster, Surgenor, Gawley, Jenkins, Boyce, Tipton, Ruddy. Substitutions: Thompson (Gawley, 57 mins), Ferguson (Ruddy, 72 mins), Shevlin (Tipton, 84 mins).

Ballinamallard: McCusker, Crilly, McLaughlin, McMenamin, Stafford, Kee, Martin, Foy, Campbell, Lafferty, McCartney. Substitutions: Currie (Campbell, 59 mins), Phair (Crilly, 68 mins), Connor (Foy, 80 mins).

Man of the match: Mark Surgenor

Match rating: 7/10

Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey)

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