Belfast Telegraph

McMurray strike puts Ballymena into County Antrim Shield semi-finals

Ballymena United 1 Glentoran 0

By Stephen Alexander

Johnny McMurray made a triumphant return from injury to shoot Ballymena United into the semi-finals of the Toals County Antrim Shield.

The striker, who hasn’t played since United’s Europa League qualifying games in the summer due to a groin injury, marked his first start of the campaign by scoring the only goal at the Showgrounds.

Homegrown central defender Caolan Loughran, who has spent this season on the fringes after being a regular last year, also made his first appearance of the current campaign as manager David Jeffrey responded to Saturday’s drubbing by Glenavon.

But the luckless youngster’s return lasted just 14 minutes before he fell awkwardly behind the dead ball line after shepherding a loose ball out of play for a goal kick, while under pressure from Curtis Allen. The defender received lengthy treatment before being stretchered off with what appeared to be an arm injury.

McMurray enjoyed better fortune, however, as he put United ahead on 24 minutes, applying a neat finish to a slick Ballymena move.

Jim Ervin exchanged passes with Gary Thompson on the right flank and the United skipper continued his run to the bye-line before cutting the ball back to McMurray, whose first-time volley from 12 yards nestled in the top corner.

The striker almost doubled his and Ballymena’s account five minutes later when his neat turn inside the penalty area bought himself a yard of space and his low skidding effort brought a fine one-handed save from Elliott Morris, with the ball bouncing awkwardly in front of the keeper.

Ballymena almost scored again two minutes after the restart when Cathair Friel’s header from Conor McCloskey’s long throw came back off the inside of the post before eventually being cleared.

The  home side got an unexpected opening when Jonny Addis lost his footing as he went to clear, allowing Friel to tee up McMurray but a combination of Morris and his defenders were able to divert the effort wide, while at the other end, a rare Glentoran foray saw Curtis Allen’s tame effort easily dealt with by Ross Glendinning.

The United keeper was fortunate to escape on the hour mark when he dropped a deep cross and as he attempted to gather the loose ball, he appeared to clatter Glentoran substitute Tiaran McNicholl but referee Raymond Crangle remained unmoved.

And as Ballymena’s nerves began to jangle, a half-cleared Glentoran free kick fell to Calum Birney, who blazed a shot over the bar.

Ballymena almost added a second late on when Friel’s volley was saved at the base of the post by Morris while at the other end, Calum Birney flashed a header wide from inside the six yard box.

Glentoran looked to have created a glorious chance to equalise in the closing minutes when Marcus Kane’s through ball split the Ballymena defence but as Robbie McDaid raced towards the penalty, he got the ball tangled between his feet and lost possession with the goal beckoning.

Ballymena United: Glendinning, Ervin, Flynn, Loughran (sub Friars 14), McCullough, Thompson, Millar, McCloskey (sub Faulkner 90+2), McKinney, Friel, McMurray (sub Shevlin 70). Subs (not used): Kane, McCaffrey.

Glentoran: Morris, Kerr (sub McCawl 63), Birney, Addis, Nelson, Knowles (sub McNicholl 59), Kane, Kelly, McMullan (sub Davidson 59), McDaid, Allen. Subs (not used): Foley, Smith.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).

Star man – Johnny McMurray (Ballymena)

Match  rating – 7/10.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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