Belfast Telegraph

Blues get back to winning ways as ace Hery sees red

Ballymena Utd 1 Linfield 2

Winner: Andy Waterworth (left) and Shayne Lavery (right) congratulate Linfield matchwinner Ryan McGivern on his goal against Ballymena
Winner: Andy Waterworth (left) and Shayne Lavery (right) congratulate Linfield matchwinner Ryan McGivern on his goal against Ballymena

By Stephen Alexander

Linfield moved to within five points of the Danske Bank Premiership pacesetters with a hard-fought victory at the Showgrounds.

David Healy's side remain within touching distance of Coleraine and Cliftonville with two games still in hand after goals from Kirk Millar and Ryan McGivern gave them an important win in a battle of last season's top two teams.

Ballymena were forced into two changes from the side which drew with Institute on Saturday, with Northern Ireland under-21 international Kofi Balmer replacing the suspended Andrew Burns in the centre of defence, while Tony Kane came in for the injured Jude Winchester in midfield.

Linfield boss Healy reacted to his side's weekend defeat by Glenavon by making four changes, with Josh Robinson, McGivern, Andy Mitchell and Andy Waterworth in place of Mark Stafford, Matthew Clarke, Bastien Hery and Chris Casement.

Waterworth was quickly involved as he collected a loose ball and attempted to play in strike partner Shayne Lavery but United keeper Ross Glendinning was quickly off his line to smother the ball at the feet of the Northern Ireland striker.

It was a sign of things to come as the Blues grabbed a 10th minute lead. Lavery used his pace to burst into the left hand side of the penalty area and when his low cross wasn't cut out the ball fell invitingly for Millar to pick his spot from six yards, shooting past defender Steven McCullough on the goal-line for his eighth goal of the season.

The home side struggled to impose themselves as an attacking force but from one break, Ballymena worked the ball neatly on the right hand side and Andy McGrory's fizzing low cross somehow passed through everyone in a crowded penalty area.

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On the half hour mark, Joel Cooper collected a half-cleared Ballymena corner 30 yards from his own goal and set off on a blistering run, leaving defenders in his wake but as he bore down on goal, with only Glendinning to beat, the winger screwed his effort wide of the post.

On 37 minutes, a half-cleared shot fell into the path of Stephen Fallon and his well-struck shot was superbly turned around the near post by Glendinning.

The respite was short-lived, however, for Ballymena as from the resultant Millar corner, McGivern arrived to thunder home a powerful header.

Within two minutes, though, the home side had halved the deficit as Johnny Addis' through ball found a yawning gap in the heart of the Linfield defence and Adam Lecky raced clear to fire a shot through Rohan Ferguson and into the net.

Ballymena came within a whisker of equalising 10 minutes into the second half as Kane's teasing cross somehow eluded the in-rushing Declan Carville.

Almost straight away at the other end, Jamie Mulgrew's 25-yard drive was pushed behind at full stretch by Glendinning.

Ballymena were much more of an attacking threat in the second period but despite sending a number of crosses into the Linfield penalty area, the visitors defended resolutely.

The game ended on a sour note for the visitors as substitute Bastien Hery was sent off in injury time for a second caution after tangling with Balmer and late Ballymena pressure saw Ferguson save twice in stoppage time from Shane McGinty and Ross Lavery as the Blues held on for an important three points.

BALLYMENA UNITED: Ross Glendinning, A Kane (Knowles 82), Addis, McGinty, McCullough, K Kane, Carville (Lavery 76), McGrory, Balmer, Ervin, Lecky.

Unused subs: Williamson, Mayse, Reece Glendinning, Brown, Warnock.

LINFIELD: Ferguson, Robinson, Callacher, McGivern, Millar, Mulgrew, Mitchell, Fallon (Hery 70), Cooper, Waterworth (Clarke 64), Lavery.

Unused subs: Moore, Shevlin, Stewart, Reynolds, Casement.

Referee: Ian McNabb (Glengormley)

Man of the match: Kirk Millar

Match rating: 7/10


Fixtures to come

Last night: Ballymena United 1 Linfield 2, Glenavon 3 Institute 1

Saturday (3pm unless stated): Institute v Coleraine (1pm), Carrick Rangers v Glenavon, Cliftonville v Glentoran, Dungannon Swifts v Crusaders, Linfield v Larne, Warrenpoint Town v Ballymena United

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