Ballymena Utd 3 Portadown 1: Two-goal Eamonn Murray was the toast of Ballymena last night as United easily swept aside an out-of-touch Portadown side at the Showgrounds.
A goal in each half — the second a real classic — was the difference between the two sides.
Portadown can take some comfort from the fact that debut boy Matthew Tipton notched their goal, a well struck penalty, but other than that the Ports can have little complaint with this result.
Ballymena went ahead on 11 minutes when Portadown goalkeeper David Miskelly applied a timid punch to a Gavin Taggart free-kick. The ball fell perfectly for Andy Smith at the edge of the box and the ex-Ports front man drilled it home through a clutch of players.
Ten minutes later Miskelly did much better when Gary McCutcheon layed on a perfect pass for Aaron Stewart, but the keeper saved smartly low to his left.
The game sparked to life on the half-hour when Dwayne Nelson turned the ball brilliantly round the post from Wesley Boyle, the corner came across in absolute confusion and referee Hugh Carvill pointed to the penalty spot with Tipton slotting the ball home.
Then after a real free-for all in the Portadown half, one player from each side was booked — Portadown’s David McCullough and United’s Gary Haveron — and when that was sorted out Murray slammed home Ballymena’s second as a Portadown defence stood and watched — a real solo effort.
Just before the interval, Nelson punched out an awkward shot from Ross Redman, just beating Richard Lecky to the ball.
Portadown had the ball in the net a minute after restart after a great move up the left, but Lecky was clearly offside.
Both sides made all three of their permitted substitutions and that gave the game a much needed shot in the arm when Murray scored a real peach on 78 minutes.
He collected the ball well outside the box and swerved a great shot hard and low past the hapless Miskelly.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Nelson, M Smith, Haveron, Watson, Stewart, Taggart, A Smith, McCutcheon, Gage, Murray, Hanley. Subs: Brown, Colligan (for McCutcheon 69), Berry (for Taggart 74), McDowell, Gibson (for Hanley 70).
PORTADOWN: Miskelly, Mackle, Redman, O’Hara, Ramsey, Boyle, McStay, McCabe, Lecky, McCullough, Tipton. Subs: Kelly (for O’Hara 58), Teggart (for Mackle 76), Armstrong, Baker, McCafferty (for McCullough 46)
Referee: Hugh Carvill (Belfast).