Ballymena hero Jordan Williamson targets run of starts after late heroics seal Seaview win
Crusaders 0 Ballymena United 1
Goalkeeper Jordan Williamson returned to haunt his former team as Ballymena United ended an 11-game winless run against Danske Bank Premiership title candidates Crusaders at Seaview.
The 24-year-old admitted he was shocked when manager David Jeffrey informed him - just over an hour before kick-off -that he was starting at a venue the Sky Blues hadn't won in the league since August, 2013!
He not only produced a series of top class saves, but managed to keep out an injury time spot kick from David Cushley.
Stalemate appeared the likely outcome. The clock had ticked on to 88 minutes when United substitute Josh Kelly picked up a neat cut back from Adam Lecky. The former Ards midfielder took aim from fully 30-yards and the ball arrowed into the top corner, leaving Gerard Doherty helpless.
Kelly had replaced Ryan Harpur three minutes earlier, but there was more drama to come.
Referee Shane Andrews waved away a penalty appeal when Philip Lowry went down following a tackle by Jonny Addis on 92 minutes, but he pointed to the spot seconds later for Tony Kane's challenge on Howard Beverland.
Perhaps it could have been a guilt trip by the Comber official, but it was harsh to say the least. Justice was done when Cushley's attempt was superbly pawed past the post by Williamson.
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It's not the first time Williamson had broken the hearts of the Shore Road boys - he was also the hero in a Co Antrim Shield second round tie back in October, which was decided by a penalty shootout.
"That performance has been a long time coming," said the Rathcoole man, who spent three years at Seaview at youth level. "I think that's the first time this year we've played a complete 90 minutes.
"We have been playing in spells . . . having a good first half and not turning up for the second.
"So, it was good to get the win because we needed it. The boys have worked extremely hard through what was a difficult time."
Williamson was a reluctant hero, preferring to hail the performance of his team-mates.
"The penalty save was nothing," he added. "When the referee awarded it I thought it was going to be another one of those days. Thankfully, I was able to keep it out.
"We wouldn't have got the win without those boys in front of me, they were brilliant.
"I didn't expect to play because Ross (Glendinning) has been exceptional . . . he has been our best player all year. He's been helping push me along and I've been pushing him. It was just nice to get the call.
"I hope I've done enough to stay in the team. I'll be back on the training pitch working hard this week.
"It's all down to the boss . . . he picks the team. We've had a tough run of late and we've had quite a few players out injured - 11 out at one stage.
"The two front men, Adam Lecky and Cathair Friel were back together again after a long time out and I thought they were outstanding.
"Lecky holds the ball up well and Friel makes the runs in behind. He does all the dirty work that no one wants to do.
"We've as good a squad as any in the League, when everyone is fit. We have to use this as a platform for the rest of the season - we have to push on."
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter had no complaints, although he thought his boys were a little hard done by.
"A little bit of magic won the game for them, although we had the chance to salvage something right at the end and couldn't take it," he said.
"Sometimes you've got to hold up your hand and admit Ballymena had a great shape about them. They defended stoutly and put their head on everything. They knocked it (the ball) to two willing runners in Lecky and Friel, players they are getting back from injury, which give them a different dynamic."
Crusaders: Doherty, Burns, Beverland, Coates, Lowry, McGonigle, Cushley, Forsythe, O'Rourke, Heatley, Clarke (McElroy, 80mins).
Unused subs: O'Neill, Hegarty, Caddell, Ruddy, Thompson, McGinley.
Ballymena united: Williamson, T Kane, Addis, Harpur (Kelly, 85mins), Friel, Knowles, McCullough, McGrory, Balmer, Ervin, Lecky.
Unused subs: Ross Glendinnning, McGinty, K Kane, Reece Glendinning, Lavery.
Referee: Shane Andrews.
Man of the match: Jordan Williamson
Match rating: 6/10