Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey 'proud as punch' as Millar and Winchester give Ballymena the European edge

Ballymena Utd 2 NSI Runavik 0

Euro trail: Jude Winchester curls in Ballymena United’s second goal
Euro trail: Jude Winchester curls in Ballymena United’s second goal

By Stephen Alexander

David Jeffrey declared himself "proud as punch" as his Ballymena United side claimed a famous European victory.

Leroy Millar and Jude Winchester scored in the second half as the Sky Blues secured only their second ever win in continental competition and ensured they will take a two-goal advantage to the Faroe Islands next week.

"The players were absolutely phenomenal," said Jeffrey.

"Only if you were pitchside could you have realised how tough the heat and conditions were.

"I said before the start of the game that I wanted a nil (against Ballymena) - absolutely anything after that would have been a bonus.

"The two goals from Leroy and Jude were absolutely fabulous and what cannot be forgotten about alongside that was an unbelievable save that Ross Glendinning made to prevent them getting it back to 2-1.

"I'm proud as punch, seven feet tall but we're not going to big this up - the simple truth is that it is only half-time," the manager added.

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Jeffrey handed a debut to summer signing from Newry City Declan Carville for the Sky Blues' first European tie on their home turf since 2004.

The visitors, roared on by a vocal following of around 40 travelling fans, had the first effort inside the opening 90 seconds but Petur Knudsen couldn't keep his shot on target.

Ballymena responded on 12 minutes as some neat build-up played ended with Adam Lecky's innocuous-looking shot being shovelled nervously behind by keeper Tordur Thomsen.

From the resulting corner, Lecky got too much purchase on Winchester's cross and could only head over.

Little was seen of the visitors as an attacking force in the opening quarter until Bardur Hansen's cross caused havoc in the penalty area with Glendinning unable to gather cleanly but the United keeper recovered to tip Pol Johannus Justinussen's follow-up shot over.

More patient build-up play from Ballymena ended with Winchester firing a shot over before Lecky's run into the box in pursuit of a teasing Steven McCullough cross ended with the big striker on the ground but the Greek referee Athanasios Tzilos saw nothing untoward.

As Ballymena continued to enjoy the upper hand, last season's leading goalscorer Cathair Friel cut inside from the left but although his shot was well enough struck, it was straight down the throat of keeper Thomsen.

United's most clear-cut chance of the half came on 34 minutes when Winchester played a clever ball into the feet of Leroy Millar who took a touch to set up a left-foot shot which was saved by Thomsen before the ball was hacked clear.

If the first half was a story of frustration for the home side, it took less than four minutes of the second period for that angst to disappear as the Sky Blues grabbed the lead.

A cross from the right wasn't properly cleared by Runavik and the ball broke for Millar to steer home a shot from inside the penalty area.

It was a memorable moment for the Cullybackey man and it was also Ballymena's first goal in European competition since back in 1984.

But within seven minutes the home support were on their feet again.

Friel was obstructed on the edge of the penalty area as he drifted past a defender but the referee played a good advantage and the ball broke for Winchester to curl an absolute beauty into the top corner.

Glendinning had little to do in the home goal but the keeper excelled on 62 minutes.

The ball was cut back to Knudsen who looked odds-on to score but Glendinning flung himself across goal to block the effort and with the angle tightening all the time, Knudsen could only screw his follow-up effort wide.

Substitute Betuel Hansen had a rare opening for the visitors but he scuffed his shot wide of the mark while Knudsen curled a free kick over as United held on for a precious clean sheet.

Ballymena almost added a third late on but Lecky's right wing cross was headed powerfully over the bar by Millar as attention turns to Thursday's crucial second leg, with Malmo awaiting the winners.

Belfast Telegraph

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