Ballymena joy as Friel leaves it late
Ballymena United 2 Glenavon 1
Striker Cathair Friel last night hit a glorious double at the Warden Street Showgrounds to help Ballymena United rack up their third successive league win.
He bagged the winner in the last 30 seconds to break the hearts of a gutsy Glenavon side, who will be wondering how this game slipped from their grasp.
Friel shot the Sky Blues into the lead just after the break, but they held their advantage for only three minutes as Jordan Jenkins hit the equaliser.
Just as the fans were filing away, Friel had the final say - a last-gasp sting in the tail.
It was the visitors who sniffed out the first two chances and Andrew Doyle was involved in both.
His searching diagonal pass to Josh Daniels on seven minutes caught the United defence cold and, when the impish winger drilled in a low cross, Conor McCloskey failed to supply the finishing touch it deserved.
Four minutes later, Doyle abandoned his defensive duties to test Jordan Williamson with a stinging low drive that the goalkeeper did well to beat away.
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United responded and almost capitalised on an error between Johnny Tuffey and Daniel Larmour when a moment's hesitation let Adam Lecky in, but the shot-stopper somehow got down to smuggle the ball away.
Glenavon carved out the best chance of the half on 23 minutes when Sammy Clingan's inch-perfect pass sent McCloskey clear, but again Williamson rescued United with a stunning low save.
The action then switched quickly to the other end when Tuffey got down to save a Lecky shot with his legs.
United fans were on their feet ready to acclaim a goal six minutes before the break when James Knowles whipped in a great cross which was met by Friel, but Doyle got back to hoof the ball off the line.
United forged ahead only two minutes after the restart.
Lecky's deft touch found Knowles, who sent the big striker hurtling down the right and, when he drilled in a low cross, Friel smashed past Tuffey.
But David Jeffrey's boys managed to hold the lead for only three minutes. Jenkins capitalised on a comedy of errors in the United defence and, when the ball broke kindly, he gave Williamson no chance.
The momentum was now with the visitors and it took two fabulous saves from Williamson to keep United in it.
In injury-time, Lecky went down the wing for the last time and when his cross reached Friel, his volley ballooned the net.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Williamson, T Kane, Harpur (Kelly 59), Friel, Knowles (McGinty 74), McCullough, Burns, McGrory, Blamer, Ervin, Lecky.
Unused subs: Ross Glendinning, Whiteside, K Kane, Reece Glendinnng, Lavery.
GLENAVON: Tuffey, Larmour, Marron, Doyle, Daniels, Marshall, Hall (Beggs 38), Clingan, McCloskey (Murray 82), Singleton, Jenkins (Mitchell 82).
Unused subs: Burns, Harmon, Garrett, Wearen.
Referee: Andrew Davey.
Man of the match: Jordan Williamson.
Match rating: 7/10.
• The 2020 Toals County Antrim Shield final between Cliftonville and Ballymena United will take place at Windsor Park on Tuesday, January 21 (7.45pm).