Cushley strikes to ease Ballymena United past Donegal Celtic
Ballymena United 1 Donegal Celtic 0: Ballymena United made a winning start to their defence of the Co Antrim Shield with a low key victory over Donegal Celtic.
In a game of few opportunities United failed to ever fully kill off the contest but David Cushley's first half header was enough to progress.
It was Paul McAreavey's visitors who threatened first when Danny Wallace and Kevin Hughes combined on the left flank to neat effect on 15 minutes.
They helped to tee-up Emmett Templeton on the edge of the area but the striker's effort was comfortably gathered by Dwayne Nelson low down to his right.
Two minutes later Brian McGurk had to be alert in the visitors' goal to save a stray header from his own full-back Karl Rossborough, after Tony Kane's cross from the right.
Ballymena took the lead nine minutes before the break through as midfielder Cushley showed the frontmen how it should be done.
Aaron Stewart sent in an inviting cross to the back post and Cushley was in the right place to direct his header in off the underside of the crossbar from six yards.
On 58 minutes home skipper Allan Jenkins came close to doubling the advantage, but his headed effort was gathered by McGurk, after another Stewart cross from midfield.
Three minutes later McLellan found space on the edge of the box on a Ballymena counter, but the former Portadown frontman dragged his effort wide.
Celtic found chances hard to come by after the break but the experience of former Linfield and Cliftonville midfielder Conor Downey was beginning to tell.
And it was Downey who tested Nelson when his fine run down the left saw him cut inside and test the goalkeeper from 20 yards, but the home custodian was equal to it.
An even better effort arrived for the visitors with 18 minutes left as Danny Wallace swung over a cross from the left, Emmett Templeton steered the ball back across goal but Pearse Devine could only stoop to head his effort wide of the post.
Ballymena had a great chance to kill the game off on 77 minutes as they broke with men to spare, however despite Davidson putting Ally Teggart clear on the left his chipped effort was wide of the mark.
Gary Warwick brought a fine save from a full-stretch Nelson shortly afterwards as Celtic pressed late on for an equaliser.
As the game became stretched substitute Gary Liggett brought a good save from McGurk on another United break, as they held on comfortably for victory.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Kane, Munster (G Taggart 76 mins), McBride, Stewart, Jenkins, Cushley (Davidson 60 mins), A Teggart, Dolan, McLellan, (Liggett 72 mins), McCullagh. Unused Subs: Surgenor, Lowry
Donegal Celtic: McGurk, Rossborough, Wallace, M Burns, C Burns (Todd 87 mins), Downey (Glenholmes 84 mins), Warwick, Devine, Kelly, Templeton, Hughes. Unused Subs: Slane, Shannon, Moore
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).