Harpur proud of United's response to penalty pain
Ballymena Utd 1 Crusaders 1
Ryan Harpur enjoyed his quickly changing role from villain to hero on Saturday as Ballymena United fought back for a deserved share of the spoils with league leaders Crusaders.
It was a cracking game at the Showgrounds, end to end stuff, some great play, wonderful saves and, of course, refereeing controversy.
After a goalless opening period where the visitors dominated but didn't overly threaten Ross Glendinning's goal, they were handed a penalty by referee Andrew Davey two minutes after the restart when a bouncing ball struck Harpur's arm.
Substitute Jamie McGonigle, who came on for the injured Jordan Owens, duly obliged from 12 yards to break the deadlock.
This seemed to fire the Sky Blues to life and they finally got the goal their pressure merited when Scot Whiteside pumped the ball into the box and Harpur ghosted in to glance a header past Ger Doherty.
Both keepers then came into their own in the late stages, Glendinning pulling off two wonder saves to deny Paul Heatley before, in the dying seconds, Doherty raced out to block Jude Winchester's effort.
It was a roller-coaster of a game, particularly for Harpur.
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"I was disappointed to give away a penalty but at the time I didn't think it was one," he said.
"He (Andrew Davey) said my hand was in an 'unnatural position' but I'm not sure where they want us to put our hands. We can't tie them to ourselves.
"But it was a good point in the end and towards the end we could have won it, we were the better team in the second-half but we'll take a point and move on.
"It was a game of two halves, although they didn't threaten much in the first-half they were the better side but I thought there was only one team looking to go on and win it in the second-half and I thought we were by far the better team.
"They have some really good players and have been going well and maybe we gave them too much respect in the first-half."
On his goal: he added: "I just saw a wee gap and I thought I'd run in and lucky enough it hit my head and went in."
Glendinning was happy for Harpur to have the limelight even though his two saves from Heatley ensured they got the point they deserved.
"Doc made a good save at the end and my saves were pretty routine, the type a goalkeeper wants in the top corner and you can make them look good," he said,
"I think we defended well as a team, we limited the times the Crues got into the box. They're a good side, they probably have the best firepower in the league, with Paul Heatley and Jordan Owens, but I thought defensively we were very good.
"We deserved a draw and could have won the game. Ger Doherty made a great save right at the end and I think for a striker sometimes they have too much time to think about it.
"Jude is disappointed but he's a great player for us and we'll not beat him up to much, it's a good save by the keeper."
The two sides meet again tomorrow night in the County Antrim Shield and they'll be back at Warden Street again later in the month after being paired in the BetMcLean League Cup quarter-final, too.
"We're going to be seeing a bit of each other but we'll look forward to the game when it comes around and we'll prepare for it," said Crues boss Stephen Baxter.
"It's a big competition and Ballymena have done well in it over the past few years but when a cup competition comes around you reflect on your team selection around your league performances and where you're at but we'll meet all that when it comes."
BALLYMENA: Ross Glendinning, Ervin, McCullough, Addis, Whiteside, Winchester, McGrory, Harpur, Kane (Friel, 79 mins), Millar, Kelly. Unused subs: Williamson, McGinty, Mayse, Aaron Burns, Carville, Lavery.
Crusaders: Doherty, Forsythe, Burns (Ruddy, 46 mins), Beverland (K Owens, 72 mins), Coates, Caddell, Thompson, Clarke, J Owens (McGonigle, 25 mins), Hale, Heatley. Unused subs: O'Neill, Ward, Cushley, McElroy.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor)
Man of the match: Ross Glendinning
Match rating: 8/10