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Ballymena United edge closer to landing top six spot

Glentoran 1 Ballymena Utd 2

By Alex Mills

Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey last night saluted his troops after their crucial victory over Glentoran at the Oval.

Wonder strikes from Cathair Friel and Kofi Balmer torpedoed the Sky Blues into pole position to claim a place in the Danske Bank Premiership's top six.

It was the first league defeat for Glens' temporary boss Ronnie McFall and, even though they required only one point from guaranteeing their place among the league's elite, it was always a bridge too far on the night.

Even though Curtis Allen hit a second half equaliser, the east Belfast boys' inexperience told in the end - they just couldn't see out the game.

Ballymena United now need to defeat Ballinamallard United at the Showgrounds on Monday night to complete the job and claim their top six place.

"It was another tremendous shift from the players," said Jeffrey. "It was a deserved win because we took the game to Glentoran. And, our goals were top draw - they were two fantastic strikes.

"I think Glentoran were fortunate their goal was allowed to stand, it was a certainly foul on our goalkeeper - everyone in the ground saw it.

"We've now taken six points from two difficult away games, but the job is still not finished.

"We know how difficult it will be on Monday night, but we have now given ourselves a chance - it's in our own hands."

McFall made only one change to the team that took a point from the Big Two encounter last time out, drafting in Dylan Davidson for Peter McMahon.

Jeffrey was forced into making one alteration to the side that won at Cliftonville on Tuesday.

Striker Johnny McMurray failed a fitness test, so he was replaced by Kevin Braniff. It was United who almost sneaked in front after only six minutes.

Tony Kane's teasing cross was flicked on by Braniff for Joe McKinney, whose close range volley was pawed to safety by Elliott Morris.

Midfielder Stephen McCullough then tried his luck with an audacious 35-yard dipper that Morris was relieved to brush away with his outstretched glove.

But from McCullough's resulting corner kick, the ball fell invitingly for Friel (above right) on the edge of the box and his sweet volley fizzed into the top corner.

Glentoran attempted to come back off the ropes and they came within a coat of paint of levelling when Curtis Allen's snap shot crashed back off the post and rebounded off goalkeeper Ross Glendinning, who was fortunate the ball rolled wide.

Johnny Addis then produced a monster throw in from the left that was helped on by Willie Garrett, but Steven Gordon could only blaze his shot over the top.

The visitors were always dangerous on the break and, in a lightning move, McKinney fed the ball back to Kane on the edge of the box only to see his pile-driver flash inches wide.

Both sides hardly laid a glove on each other after the restart until Braniff sent in a sizzling 25-yard drive that Morris was happy to see skip past the post.

But against all the odds the Glens were level on 67 minutes - a goal that will give goalkeeper Glendinning nightmares.

Redman's cross was spilled by the big man, leaving the alert Allen with a simple tap in.

Determined United bared their teeth with only 14 minutes remaining with Balmer hoofing home an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box that ballooned into the net before Morris could even move.

Disappointed McFall offered no excuses, stating his boys froze on the night.

"We looked nervous for large parts of the game, we never got a hold of the ball and our passing was ragged," he said.

"We never hit the level of the performance we had at Windsor Park last week.

"I think the occasion got to some of the players.

"Even once we got back on terms, we sat back on invited Ballymena on.

"It was a poor performance."

Just to complete Glentoran's night of misery, defender Willie Garrett was dismissed in injury time after speaking out of turn to the referee.

GLENTORAN: Morris, Kerr, Kane (Birney 65), Redman, Allen, McGuigan, Gordon, Davidson (Kelly 80), McDaid (McMahon 36), Addis, Garrett. Unused subs: O'Hanlon, Nelson.

BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Ervin, Balmer, Flynn, McCullough, McKinney (Owens 80) McCaffery (Millar 61), Kane, Quigley, Braniff (Shevlin 65), Friel. Unused subs: McDermott, Faulkner.

Referee: Steven Gregg.

Match rating: 7/10.

Man of match: Jim Ervin

Belfast Telegraph

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