Belfast Telegraph

Shevlin is at the double to help Sky Blues clinch top-six spot

Ballymena Utd 2-0 Ballinamallard

By Stephen Alexander

Ballymena United clinched the final place in the top six of the Danske Bank Premiership as they added to Ballinamallard's relegation worries.

Teenage striker Matthew Shevlin scored both goals inside the opening 15 minutes as the Sky Blues claimed their third win on the spin to pip Glentoran to the last spot in the top half ahead of the league split.

After drawing their opening two games under his watch, new Ballinamallard manager Harry McConkey suffered his first defeat in charge as the Fermanagh men failed to narrow the gap on 11th-placed Carrick.

The visitors endured a nervy start as, inside the opening minute, a cross from the right saw defender Matthew Smyth slice a hurried clearance narrowly over his own crossbar.

Ballymena took the lead in the seventh minute after Ballinamallard defender Michael Kerr was penalised for a needless foul on Cathair Friel on the left-hand touchline.

Tony Kane delivered the cross to the back post where Johnny Flynn nodded the ball back across goal for the alert Shevlin to fire home from eight yards.

The teenage striker - who scored with his first touch in Irish League football against Ballinamallard as a 15-year-old - doubled his and United's tally on 15 minutes with a superb individual goal.

There seemed little danger when Shevlin collected a clearance from defence in the centre circle before an explosive burst of pace took him past an opponent and left him a clear sprint on goal to fire a low shot past Richard Brush.

And it was almost three just two minutes later when Joe McKinney wriggled his way into the corner of the penalty area but his low curling effort was well dealt with by Brush.

Shevlin had a half-chance to complete his hat-trick but his downward header from Kane's corner lacked the power to beat Brush.

Ballinamallard were virtually anonymous as an attacking force in the opening half-hour but from their first meaningful effort they had the ball in the net.

Stephen O'Flynn beat United keeper Ross Glendinning to head home from Michael Kerr's free-kick but the referee's assistant's flag halted the veteran striker's celebrations.

However, it sparked Ballinamallard into life and Shane McGinty fired over the bar when well placed before the winger went closer with a fizzing first-time volley which narrowly flew past the post.

It should have been game over two minutes before the interval when Kane's cross from the right was palmed out at full stretch by Brush straight onto the head of Friel but the Braidmen's leading goalscorer was unable to adjust his position in time and his point-blank header went over the unguarded goal from inside the six-yard box.

United went close again on 57 minutes when the impressive Steven McCullough collected the ball deep in the Ballinamallard half and burst forward before firing in a 25-yard drive which skimmed inches past Brush's post.

McCullough's night ended in unfortunate fashion as he was carried off after a collision while defending a corner - the only downside for United on the night.

Belfast Telegraph

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