Winchester pounces to give Ballymena win against Carrick
Carrick 0 Ballymena Utd 1
Ballymena moved into the top half of the Premiership table after a Jude Winchester goal was enough to see off the determined challenge of Carrick Rangers.
It was rarely pretty but in the end, last year's runners-up got the job done despite having to play the last half hour with 10 men after Johnny Addis was sent off for what Ballymena fans considered a hard but fair challenge.
Ballymena's last visit to east Antrim resulted in a 4-2 win over big spenders Larne but they were not nearly as convincing in the first half at the Loughshore Arena as they took a while to find their stride, following last week's home setback against Glentoran.
The Sky Blues gave the ball away in dangerous areas, allowing Carrick to get an early grip on the contest but a tame Stewart Nixon shot and a barging run from Michael Smith, which ended with a shot across the face of the goal was the nearest the home side came to taking advantage.
It was Rangers goalkeeper Aaron Hogg who kept the scores level with a superb save in the 28th minute as a Steven McCullough cross came out to Cathair Friel and the striker's powerful shot from 12 yards out was brilliantly parried away by Hogg.
United, though, continued to be wasteful, with Andy McGrory's 25-yard free kick going high over the bar and on the stroke of half time, Leroy Millar's header from Friel's cross was also off target.
The closest Carrick came to breaking the deadlock in the first half was when the onrushing James Ferrin met a Reece Neale corner but his downward header flashed just the wrong side of the upright.
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Rangers started the second half on the front foot as well and a cross-shot from Nixon was fisted away by Ross Glendinning but Lee Chapman failed to get a clean connection and another chance had gone begging.
They were to prove costly in the 59th minute when Ballymena hit the front. McCullough's cross from the left pinged around in the area, a couple of yellow shirts had a stab goalwards, a couple of orange shirts cleared it but it proved third time lucky as Winchester found the corner of the net.
Three minutes later, however, the visitors were down to 10 men when Addis received a straight red for a ugly-looking challenge on Chapman, although the Carrick midfielder was able to continue after treatment. As a result, Carrick enjoyed the lion's share of the possession in the closing stages but apart from a clever lob by Neale, which Nixon headed straight into the arms of Glendinning, the 10-men held on with some comfort.
Carrick Rangers: Hogg; Ferrin, Surgenor, Rodgers, Neale; Chapman, Anderson, Faulkner, Kelly (Loughran 87 mins); Nixon, Smith (Smiley 70 mins). Unused subs: Nicholl, Carson, Magill, McDermott.
Ballymena utd: Glendinning; Balmer, Ervin, Addis, McCullough; McGrory, Millar, Winchester (Lavery 80 mins), Harpur; Friel, Carville (Andrew Burns, 66 mins). Unused subs: Williamson, Magee, McGinty, Aaron Burns, Kelly.
Referee: Steven Gregg.
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