Tributes paid to Fernando Ricksen as Rangers youngsters strike late to beat Ballymena
Ballymena United 0-1 Rangers Colts
A late Rangers Colts goal condemned Ballymena United to a third round exit in the Sky Blues’ Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup debut.
Substitute Serge Atakayi struck with three minutes left as the Ibrox starlets set up a trip to Vanarama National League side Solihull Moors in the next round.
Ballymena boss David Jaffrey used the fixture to give match time to several players who have not been regular starters in the Danske Bank Premiership, while Jonathan Addis and Andrew Burns were eligible following recent domestic suspension.
Rangers included over-age players Eros Grezda and Greg Docherty who have fallen out of Steven Gerrard’s first team plans in recent times.
Prior to the game, a minute’s silence was impeccably observed in memory of former ‘Gers star Fernando Ricksen who passed away after a brave battle with motor neurone disease, while a minute’s applause was held in the second minute in recognition of the full-back’s playing number two.
After a slow start, Ballymena came within a whisker of taking the lead on 17 minutes. Ross Lavery’s cross from the left was met with a left-footed shot by Ryan Mayse and his deflected effort came back off the post with the in-rushing Ryan Harpur unable to divert the rebound home.
Rangers’ first meaningful effort came with Ballymena’s Tony Kane down injured, play went on and Docherty released Adedapo Mebude but his left-foot shot lacked the power to trouble Jordan Williamson.
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Ballymena struck the woodwork again on 33 minutes with strong play from Josh Kelly on the right earned him the chance to cross and his centre glanced off the face of the crossbar.
Rangers responded as Greg Docherty collected a pass and spun on the edge of the penalty area before producing a fierce shot which Williamson had to dive to his left to palm away.
Rangers came close on the hour mark when a well worked short corner found its way to the unmarked James Maxwell on the edge of the penalty area. He didn’t make the truest connection but his looping shot was tipped over the bar by the alert Williamson.
The Scottish side should have gone ahead on 73 minutes when defender Rhys Breen made a barnstorming run to the bye-line before sending over an inch-perfect cross to Grezda but the Albanian international headed his effort into the ground and it drifted wide of the far post.
Ballymena had claims for a penalty waved away when Leroy Millar was upended by a challenge from Rangers skipper Lewis Mayo but Welsh referee Lee Evans was unmoved.
Rangers threatened again when Mebude’s low cross was met on the half volley by Grezda but Williamson was able to save at the base of the post.
The deadlock was eventually broken with just three minutes remaining when Jamie Barjonas’ crossfield pass eluded Jonny Addis and substitute Serge Atakayi raced clear to shoot low past Williamson.
Addis almost atoned for his slip deep in injury time but his shot went agonisingly wide, while goalkeeper Williamson had a header from a corner blocked in a frantic and occasionally bad-tempered finale.
Ballymena United: Williamson, Kane (sub Millar 30), Addis, Mayse, McGinty (sub Friel 73), Harpur, Burns, Balmer, Ervin, Kelly (sub Carville 80), Lavery. Subs (not used): Glendinning, Whiteside, McCullough, McGrory.
Rangers Colts: Wright, Patterson, Maxwell (sub Atakayi 62), Mayo, Breen, Finlayson, Grezda (sub Young-Coombes 84), Docherty, Mebude, Barjonas, Kennedy. Subs (not used): Budinauckas, Williamson, Dickson, Butterworth, Miller.
Referee: Lee Evans (Wales)
Man of the match – Jim Ervin (Ballymena).
Belfast Telegraph Digital