Braidmen dig in to set up a glamour tie with Malmo
NSI Runavik 0 Ballymena Utd 0 (Ballymena won 2-0 on aggregate)
Ballymena United have a glamour Europa League qualifying tie with Swedish giants Malmo to look forward to after a scoreless draw in the Faroe Islands saw them defeat NSI Runavik 2-0 on aggregate in the preliminary round.
David Jeffrey's side led 2-0 from last week's first leg and, after they had to weather an early storm, they required goalkeeper Ross Glendinning to be at his sparkling best late on to keep out their Faroese hosts.
Paetur Hentze struck the crossbar in the early exchanges, but thereafter the Sky Blues' defence was strong enough to repel all their hosts threw at them, with help from Glendinning, to secure their safe passage into the next round where Malmo lie in wait.
The two-legged aggregate success, more importantly, boosts the prize fund secured by Ballymena, taking their haul to £409,000, as well as aiding Northern Ireland's efforts to climb the co-efficient ladder once more and reclaim the European spot that will be lost next season.
Ballymena's defensive trio of Jim Ervin, Scot Whiteside and Kofi Balmer were resolute, and they were required to block two early shots before Hentze thundered a speculative shot off the woodwork.
It was the hosts who did the majority of the pressing in the first half, however their chances at grabbing a goal were few and far between, as evidenced by Jann Benjaminsen going for a stooping header that flashed wide of the goal when he had time to control and perhaps take a shot.
At the other end, the Braidmen were happy to go on the counter-attack, and their first real chance fell to first-leg goalscorer Jude Winchester, who fired low at Tordur Thomsen after working a little bit of space on the edge of the box.
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Once again it was Runavik who ended the half stronger, though, and after Glendinning needed to tip over a vicious free-kick from Petur Knudsen, the goalkeeper was fortunate to see the same man unable to connect with a dangerous cross from Hentze at the back post.
Winchester had another look at goal early after the restart, the midfielder curling a shot wide as the Sky Blues mounted another counter-attack, while Tony Kane saw his strike deflected into the side-netting on the hour mark as the visitors continued their bright start to the second half.
But having started so well, Ballymena received a huge let-off when Glendinning failed to handle a hopeful ball into the box from Johan Davidson, the goalkeeper palming it straight to Knudsen only for the midfielder to inexplicably head wide with the goal gaping.
Despite that body blow, Runavik just kept coming and they could easily have found a late goal that would have made things rather interesting, but in the end they would come up just short.
Davidson saw his header miss the left post by inches, before Glendinning produced an outstanding double save to deny first Ossur Dalbud then Klaemint Olsen in quick succession to somehow maintain the Braidmen's lead.
Runavik even thought they had their goal with five minutes to go when Dalbud headed home in a melee at a corner, only for the referee to rule it out for a foul on Glendinning, securing Ballymena's place in the first round.
Next up, Malmo.
NSI RUNAVIK: Thomsen; Johan Davidson, Hojgaard, Hansen; Knudsen, JM Mortensen (Dalbud, 63 mins), Nersveen, Justinussen, Hentze (Hojgaard Olsen, 84 mins); Benjaminsen (Eglisson, 74 mins), K Olsen.
Subs not used: Joensen, Langgaard, MH Mortensen, J Olsen.
BALLYMENA UTD: Glendinning; Ervin, Whiteside, Balmer; Kane (Burns, 84 mins), Millar, Carville, Winchester, McCullough; Lecky, Friel.
Subs not used: McDermott, Mayse, McGinty, Harpur, Kelly, Lavery.
Man of the Match: Ross Glendinning
Match Rating: 5/10
Ref: Vencel Toth (Hun)