Ballymena boss David Jeffrey explains refusal to rotate in Irish Cup win over Portadown
Ballymena United 4-1 Portadown
David Jeffrey hailed his Ballymena United players' focus as the Sky Blues maintained their triple-pronged bid for silverware.
The Braidmen survived an early scare to come from behind to comfortably see off Portadown and book a Tennent's Irish Cup quarter-final with Crusaders on March 2.
It means Ballymena can approach Saturday's BetMcLean League Cup final against Linfield in a positive frame of mind, while the Sky Blues remain very much in Danske Bank Premiership title contention.
"I have emphasised to the players that it's a game at a time and a competition at a time, and we never considered rotating tonight - we simply focus on each individual game," said Jeffrey.
"It's easy to maybe give praise when you're victorious but Portadown played extremely well.
"The goal they scored through Adam Salley was top drawer and that was maybe the jolt we needed. Even at 2-1 we knew we couldn't relax and there was a concentrated period when Portadown were on top and Ross Glendinning had to make two or three very, very good saves."
Ports boss Matthew Tipton was left to lament: "I thought Ballymena deserved to win but I didn't think 4-1 was reflective of the game.
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"Conceding the penalty was a kick in the teeth after we had gone in front because we had a game plan and we were executing it really well and it changed the aspect of the game."
With no issues surrounding the much-maligned Showgrounds pitch, the visitors made a bright opening and their early endeavours were rewarded with a stunning opening goal on 10 minutes.
From a free-kick close to the halfway line, Greg Hall chose not to send the ball into the penalty area, opting instead to play into the feet of Salley. The striker collected the pass and spun before firing a marvellous curling effort beyond Ross Glendinning.
But the home side were gifted a way back into the game on 13 minutes. A Ballymena corner was only half cleared and as Jonny Addis raced to keep the ball in play, he tangled with Portadown's Kevin Braniff and referee Ross Dunlop pointed to the spot.
Cathair Friel sent Tuda Murphy the wrong way.
With the wind in their sails, Ballymena went in front on 22 minutes.
Leroy Millar's pass released Friel down the left and he crossed for Adam Lecky to beat Murphy with a powerful near-post header.
There was an unusual substitution on 70 minutes as referee Dunlop came off, apparently with an injury, and within five minutes his replacement, fourth official Mark Dillon, was reaching for his notebook to record a third Ballymena goal.
It was started by Lecky, who played the ball inside to Millar. The midfielder lined up a low shot which was palmed out by Murphy but the big keeper couldn't get up in time to prevent Lecky from smashing home the loose ball.
And it quickly became 4-1 with a goal from the most unlikely of sources as Millar laid the ball off for Jim Ervin to join the attack and roll the ball into the corner - only the skipper's third goal in more than 200 appearances for the club.
Ballymena United: Glendinning, McGrory, Ervin, Balmer (Whiteside, 81 mins), Addis, McCullough, Kane, Knowles, Millar (McGinty, 80 mins), Friel (Shevlin, 83 mins), Lecky. Subs not used: Williamson, Quigley, Faulkner, McMurray.
Portadown: Murphy, McCallum, Larkin, Lavery, Salley, Braniff (Bradley, 81 mins), Duke (Carmichael, 73 mins), Hall, Thompson, Wilson, McKenna (Mackle, 62 mins).
Subs not used: Stewart, Carson, Neill, Finnegan.
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)
Man of the match: Adam Lecky
Match rating: 7/10