Belfast Telegraph

Kearney is thrilled by Bannsiders' hunger to conquer lean streak

Coleraine 2 - Ballymena Utd 1

By Tom Roberts

Jamie McGonigle's Boxing Day brace proved a real knockout for Ballymena United at Coleraine. The Dungiven teenager landed a couple of big blows with a goal in each half to end the Bannsiders' run of three league games without a win.

Not even another cracking strike from the mercurial David Cushley - who last week signed a pre-contract agreement with Crusaders - could ease United's pain.

The post-match talking point was a penalty shout referee Ross Dunlop did not award in the second-half. With the scoreline locked at 1-1, United's advancing defender Stephen McBride went down in the box when Ruairi Harkin tackled him just as he had cut into the danger zone.

Sky Blues skipper Allan Jenkins said: "I think we had a massive claim. Players on both teams seem to agree with my train of thought. Unfortunately the referee didn't. That's football I guess."

However, Jenkins admitted United weren't up to scratch when it mattered most. He added: "It's always a massive fixture and special on Boxing Day but we were second best which is disappointing considering we have won the last two festive matches."

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Coleraine's first home victory over United in three years ended the Braidmen's four-match unbeaten run at Ballycastle Road and Coleraine's December blues but manager Oran Kearney still ha an appetite for more.

"It was a big performance from the players in a real pressure game," he said. "It was terrific to get back up and running after a difficult past few weeks.

"Jamie is a promising talent and took his goals well but he could probably have scored two more. That would have put us out of sight."

But in his defence, young McGonigle can point to a couple of terrific saves from United keeper Alan Blayney. While Blayney's brilliance kept United in the hunt right to the end, Coleraine should have been out of sight.

Livewire McGonigle's first lethal punch landed after 18 minutes. Rodney Brown's defence-splitting pass allowed the agile ace to surge into the box and walk the ball around Blayney.

United hauled themselves off the canvas though. Keeper Michael Doherty stuck out a boot to frustrate Darren Henderson when he connected with Jim Ervin's cross in front of the target.

Seconds later, Tony Kane's cross was headed out by Coleraine skipper Howard Beverland but only as far as the unmarked Cushley who chested the ball down, stepped inside and smashed a dipping shot over the head of the keeper.

Blayney turned over McGonigle's shot from distance at the end of a sparkling run by the 19-tear-old. Then United had that penalty appeal dismissed by the referee.

Coleraine secured victory after Harkin's right wing cross was headed across the front of goal by Brown and McGonigle pounced.

McGonigle worked room for another shot but watched in frustration as Blayney made another save. James McLaughlin later failed to test the keeper.

COLERAINE: Doherty, Kane, Beverland, Douglas, Mullan, McGonigle (McCauley, 83 mins), Harkin, Higgins, Lyons (Parkhill, 57 mins), Brown, McLaughlin. Unused subs: McCafferty, Morrow, Watt.

Ballymena: Blayney, Ervin, McNally (Nixon, 58 mins), Rodger, McBride, T Kane, Thompson (Taggart, 70 mins), E Kane, Cushley, Jenkins, Henderson (Shevlin, 71 mins). Unused subs: Ferguson, Hanley.

Man of match: Jamie McGonigle

Match Rating: 8/10

Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)

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