Great Scot Kevin Kelbie fired Ballymena United to the shock of the season so far last night as his second half double sunk champions Glentoran in the Carling Premiership last night.
United deservedly took all three points — their first of the campaign — thanks to a battling display, epitomised by the performances from young full-back Lee Colligan and Andy Smith, who was a constant thorn in the side of his old team all night — not to mention the goal-grabbing hero.
It was a disappointing night for Glentoran, who looked lethargic, possibly suffering from the effects of having played Distillery, Linfield, Portadown and Cliftonville already this month.
That would be making excuses though and in fairness, United were well worth their win, on the basis of their second half performance. The Glens named an unchanged side from that which accounted for Cliftonville at the weekend, while for the visitors, goalkeeper Aaron Kerr made his debut — on loan from Crusaders — following Sean O’Neill’s red card in Saturday’s defeat to the Crues.
There were also no less than four ex-Glentoran players in the navy blue of United with Smith, Darren Lockhart, Philip Carson and Kelbie all in the starting line-up. And three of that quartet combined to set up the opening chance of the game on six minutes when Smith’s back heel was met by Kelbie and touched onto Carson who found himself through on goal but Elliott Morris did well to narrow the angle and block the midfielder’s effort from a few yards out.
The Braidmen, with many people expecting them to be turned over here, started well and were playing some neat football. In fact both sides were knocking the ball around well, though a killer pass was lacking, meaning that neither keeper had much to do.
A literal bright point arrived midway through the first half when the Glens’ new floodlights were switched on for the first time, dazzling the crowd who over the past number of years have struggled to see what’s going on, on the pitch.
Glentoran’s best chance arrived on 23 minutes when Kyle Neill’s brilliant free-kick was met by Colin Nixon who volleyed over from six yards out, under pressure from Albert Watson.
But that was the sum total of the champions’ efforts on goal their main problem was their passing which on too many occasions failed to find its intended target and aside from that, United were seemingly winning every tackle — their physical, yet fair approach rattling the Glens.
Shortly after the break Morris came to Glentoran’s rescue to two quick-fire world class saves.
David Cushley let fly with a terrific volley which Morris acrobatically tipped over. The Glens didn’t deal well with the resulting corner and Noel Anderson turned swiftly in the box, but again Morris pulled off a tremendous stop.
On 62 minutes Kelbie — so often a goalscoring hero against Glentoran — almost added to that tally but he headed over when well placed after a great cross from Andy Smith
Four minutes later though the Scot, as usual, came up trumps.
Andy Smith’s lay-off from the right was met by a ferocious drive by Kelbie from 20 yards which went in at the near post.
Glentoran brought on Richard Clarke for Daryl Fordyce immediately and then a few minutes later replaced Neill with Andy Waterworth and went with three up front. It mattered even less on 82 minutes when United doubled their lead and again it was that man Kelbie who did the damage.
The Glens were caught out at the back and Carson picked out untracked Kelbie who buried his effort under Morris.
Johnny Taylor headed home in injury time but it mattered little and it’s Dungannon Swifts who stay top of the table.
GLENTORAN: Morris, Nixon, Leeman, Johnny Taylor, Hill (Burrows 79), Fordyce (Clarke 67), Fitzgerald, McCabe, Neill (Waterworth 71), Hamilton, Halliday. Subs: James Taylor, Ward.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Kerr, Smith, Surgenor, Albert Watson, Colligan, Anderson (Stewart 80), Carson (Taggart 89), Lockhart, Cushley (Okunaiya 62), Smith, Kelbie. Subs: McConnell, , McNeill.
Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey)