Donegal Celtic 2 Ballymena United 3
“Mercurial Murray.” That’s the moniker given to Ballymena United winger Eamonn Murray by his admiring Sky Blues manager Roy Walker.
That status sat comfortably on the 22-year-old’s shoulders before and after his wonderful strike set Ballymena on their way to victory over struggling Donegal Celtic on Saturday.
Just when it seemed Celtic’s Ciaran Gargan was set to steal the limelight with a Goal of the Season contender, Murray engineered his own entry just three minutes after the hosts had gone in front.
While two stunning goals put gloss on an otherwise poor game, it was decided by a controversial winner.
Television images fail to show what linesman Eamonn Shanks claimed to have seen in the 76th minute — Richard Gibson’s looping header crossing the Celtic goal-line.
Hoops ‘keeper Stephen Harbinson appeared to keep the ball out but Shanks flagged for a goal, which was granted by controversial referee Mark Courtney, whose style of officialdom created this stop-start bore.
However, there was no mistaking Murray’s goal.
The former Glenavon player had tormented Celtic’s confidence-shot defence throughout and, as they gave him time and space in the 64th minute, he curled the ball around the flat-footed Harbinson.
Walker said: “He’s exciting to watch and has the potential to get bums off seats, he’s Mercurial Murray.
“When he came to us he was raw. But some players fit some clubs and some managers better than others. He has found his spiritual home.”
Had Ballymena gone for interval tea with the four-goal advantage their first-half dominance and creativity deserved, there would have been no need to chase a deficit.
The visitors went in front after just 13 minutes when Nathan Hanley punished with a half-volley from the edge of the goal-mouth.
But against the grain, Celtic levelled through Darren McNamee in the 40th minute. They then went in front when Gargan drove a 20-yard volley past ‘keeper Dwayne Nelson. It was after Murray levelled that this game took its controversial twist.
Celtic boss Paddy Kelly said: “How Eamonn Shanks could award a goal when he was in line with the penalty spot is beyond comprehension. It is a disgrace that a game can be decided by decisions like this.
“The referee wasn’t giving a goal until Shanks claimed it was one.”