McMurray pounces late to halt Coleraine winning ways
Ballymena Utd 1 Coleraine 1
European hopefuls Ballymena United and Coleraine shared the points in a pulsating Danske Bank Premiership derby at the Showgrounds. Johnny McMurray's late header denied Coleraine a 12th win in their last 13 outings as the sides battled out a hard-fought draw.
United were the last team to defeat Coleraine on Boxing Day and the Bannsiders extended their impressive sequence since then in an evenly-contested encounter.
Ballymena came close to opening the scoring inside 30 seconds when, following a neat build-up down the left flank, Tony Kane curled a first time shot inches wide of the far post.
At the other end, a Coleraine corner was half-cleared as far as Lyndon Kane but his shot lacked the power to trouble Tim Allen.
It was a promising opening which sadly didn't last with play too often punctuated by referee Steven Taylor's whistle in the opening stages.
However, the Belfast official was spot on with the decision from which Coleraine grabbed the lead on 27 minutes.
Eoin Bradley took advantage of some dithering defending and hesitant goalkeeping to burst into the penalty area where he was sent sprawling by Allen.
Bradley took the spot kick himself and his tame effort was saved by Allen but the ball rebounded fortuitously off the keeper for a tap-in for the big striker.
Ballymena attempted to find a way back into the game and Kane curled a free kick over the wall but visiting keeper Chris Johns was able to smother the danger.
The United midfielder came even closer a minute before the break when his 30-yard thunderbolt from Michael Kerr's lay-off smashed off the top of the crossbar on its way over.
Ballymena could have levelled three minutes after the restart when a corner was cleared back to Kane and his header back into the penalty area was scooped over the bar from close range by Kevin Braniff.
The former Northern Ireland international had another half-chance but he couldn't keep his header from Kerr's deep cross on target.
Brad Lyons saw a snap-shot saved by Allen while Gary Thompson's close-range effort was charged down in the penalty area as the temperature began to be cranked up.
The home side levelled with 11 minutes left when Kane's corner was met with a bullet header at the near post by the bustling McMurray.
The striker had a chance to win it for the hosts in stoppage time but his rising near post shot was well held by Johns.
Ballymena: Allen, Kerr, Ervin, Owens, Flynn, Millar (McCloskey, 76 mins), T Kane, Thompson, McKinney, Braniff, McMurray. Unused subs: Glendinning, Faulkner, McCaffrey.
Coleraine: Johns, Kane, Douglas, McConaghie, Mullan, Kee, Harkin, McCauley, Lyons, McGonigle (Allan, 82 mins), Bradley (McLaughlin, 82 mins). Unused subs: McCafferty, Parkhill, Edgar.
Referee: Steven Taylor (Belfast)
Man of the match: Eoin Bradley
Match rating: 7/10'
- Fixtures to come Friday (7.45pm): Glentoran v Carrick Rangers; Saturday (3pm): Ards v Glenavon, Ballinamallard United v Linfield, Cliftonville v Ballymena United, Coleraine v Crusaders, Portadown v Dungannon Swifts.