Ward out to keep title heat on Crues
Ballymena United 0 - Linfield 4
Sean Ward is fast becoming Linfield's man for all positions as David Healy's side continue to stay on the heels of champions Crusaders.
Ward, who made his 100th appearance for the Blues recently, scored just his third goal for the club as he makes the most of his new found role as a roving midfielder.
His timing at Ballymena on Saturday was impeccable as, with the two sides meeting for the fourth time in just over a month and in danger of cancelling each other out, he popped up in the 64th minute to give his side a vital lead.
When Paul Smyth was tumbled by Tony Kane, who received his marching orders, Ross Gaynor added a second from the spot before Smyth himself made it three and Andy Waterworth lashed home a stunning fourth in a crazy 13-minute spell.
It was Ward's second goal against the Sky Blues in that mini-series, both of which contributed to league wins, and that's the main statistic that the 32-year-old is interested in.
"It's always nice to score but it's even better when you win," he said.
"We've played Ballymena four times in just over a month and it's difficult because you're cancelling each other out and relying on a mistake to capitalise. We managed to win three out of the four games and, as disappointing as it was not to win the County Antrim Shield, I think we got the rub of the green here with the mistakes.
"It was back to the bread and butter of the league and I'm not going to prioritise one over the other but it was important we got back to basics and focused on making a pitch for the league again.
"A 4-0 win and I think we were worthy winners, it keeps the pressure on the other sides."
Crusaders remain nine points ahead of the third-placed Blues after their last-gasp win at Portadown but Ward says that Linfield can only worry about what they do on the pitch.
"Crusaders are a very good side and they have very good players and they had a tough one against Portadown and it would have been super had they lost points but they didn't, they won," he added.
"It doesn't matter if you score in the first or the 91st minute, the one thing is to get the three points and they did that. All we can do is keep winning games and hope the momentum will carry us through and hopefully sooner or later teams will start dropping points.
"All we can do is keep trying to grind out results. It doesn't matter how we play, we just have to keep churning out wins and hopefully that's enough."
Glenn Ferguson, whose team were a pale shadow of the one that defeated the Blues in the Shield decider two weeks ago, was disappointed with his side's defending and capitulation.
"We conceded three goals that were all very much preventable," he said.
"The first one they played around us far too easily, the second was a mistake by Jim Ervin and Tony Kane has tried to cover and was maybe a bit naïve to make the challenge because he knows it's going to be a penalty and the third just killed the game off.
"I thought then we just lost everything and I tried to stand back and have a look at the players as to who really wanted it and do something and there weren't too many.
"I don't think it was a case of us resting on our laurels because we matched them in the first-half and for the first 15 minutes of the second but then one mistake is made and suddenly after a seven-minute spell we found ourselves 3-0 down. That's disappointing."
BALLYMENA: Blayney, T Kane, McBride, Ervin, McNally, E Kane (Tipton, 52 mins) Thompson, Ferguson (Taylor, 70 mins), Cushley, Jenkins, Hanley (Shevlin, 61 mins). Unused subs: L Millar, Smith.
Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Clarke, Stafford, Callacher, Ward, Kee, Smyth, Waterworth (Bates, 80 mins), K Millar (Fallon, 80 mins), Gaynor (Burns, 74 mins). Unused subs: Quinn, Frazer.
Man of the match: Paul Smyth
Match rating: 6/10
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)