Belfast Telegraph

Irish League Round Up: Ballymena secure European place while Ards take massive step in relegation battle

Andy McGrory (right) and Johnny McMurray both scored for Ballymena United.
Andy McGrory (right) and Johnny McMurray both scored for Ballymena United.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Ballymena United made certain sure of second place in the Danske Bank Premiership while Warren Feeney's Ards took a huge step to avoiding automatic relegation on a lively night of Irish League action.

Here's all you need to know about the night's games and their significance:

Ballymena United 4-3 Glenavon

Ballymena rubber-stamped second place and an automatic European place with a thrilling victory over third-placed Glenavon at the Showgrounds.

The result means Glenavon will face the end of season European play-offs.

If Instute finish seventh and no bottom six team enters the play-offs while Crusaders also win the Irish Cup, Glenavon as the league's highest ranked team would go straight to the final.

Former Glenavon star Andy McGrory gave the Sky Blues the lead when he seized on Caolan Marron's slack backpass to fire past a helpless Jonny Tuffey.

Seamus Sharkey soon levelled for the visitors, powering home a header from Conor McCloskey's cross.

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The lead was restored by the break, McGrory turning provider as he showed his tenacity to chase down a loose ball, beat Tuffey to it and allow Johnny McMurray to smash home.

It was three for Ballymena when Adam Lecky finished off the move of the match. McGrory and McMurray were again in the thick of it, the Sky Blues weaving their way through Glenavon's defence for Lecky to score.

Just when Ballymena thought second spot was safe, James Singleton halved the deficit to restore a degree of nerves to the Showgrounds at 3-2.

Those nerves were jangling even more when Singleton thought he had equalised with a header, only for the referee's whistle to come to Ballymena's rescue.

Andrew Mitchell did level on 86 minutes but Shane McGinty smashed home the seventh goal to finally clinch the win, and second place, for the hosts.

Ards 1-0 Dungannon Swifts

Ards have moved three points clear of relegation rivals Newry City with a priceless win in Bangor.

Warren Feeney's men also enjoy a goal difference four better than City with a game to go.

Newry host Dungannon on Saturday while Ards travel to Warrenpoint.

Michael McLellan put the hosts ahead in stunning style, volleying home Gareth Tommons' cross with a ruthless back post strike.

Sam Johnston has produced his fair share of heroics for Ards this season and we was getting more pats on the back before the break, producing an acrobatic save to keep out Michael Carvill's header.

Institute 2-1 Newry City

Newry City are now three points adrift at the foot of the Danske Bank Premiership with a game to go.

Ards' victory means City will have to overcome that three point gap and a goal difference gap of four on the final day to avoid the automatic drop.

Newry host Dungannon on Saturday while Ards travel to Warrenpoint.

Callum Moorehead dealt a major blow to City's survival hopes on the half-hour mark when he cut in from the flank and beat Andy Coleman.

With Ards leading at the break, Newry already had it all to do in the battle to avoid the drop.

They made a good start when Tiarnan Rushe had them level soon after the restart, providing the final touch after Mark Hughes' cross caused problems in the box.

However, they were back to square one before the hour-mark when Ronan Doherty blasted home to restore the hosts' advantage.

Glentoran 2-2 Warrenpoint Town

Glentoran are in danger of missing out on the European play-offs after being held at home.

The Glens now sit just two points ahead of Institute, who they host at the Oval on Saturday. A win for Stute, who do not have a European license, and no bottom six team will go into the Euro play-offs.

Captain Simon Kelly, deputising up front for the Point, made his presence felt with the opening goal shortly after the half-hour mark, prodding in when the home defence couldn't clear Matthew Lynch's corner.

The Glens levelled at the start of the second half through a deflected John Herron shot but that lasted only a few minutes as Philip Donnelly soon restored the lead from the spot.

Darren Murray levelled late on for the Glens with his fifth goal of the season against his former club. That, however, doesn't change his side's need for a result on Saturday afternoon.

Linfield 5-1 Cliftonville

Linfield sealed their 26th win of the campaign with a ruthless display thanks to man of the match Jordan Stewart.

Daniel Kearns opened the scores with his third league goal of the season, a mere tap in thanks to the work of that man Stewart. The star attacker picked up the ball wide on the rightl danced his way through the defence and when his chipped cross came off the post, Kearns was on hand to convert.

Two goals in three minutes from Michael O'Connor and it was all over by the break. His first was laid on a plate by that man Stewart, whose left wing cross provided an unmissable chance.

O'Connor's 11th of the season required more effort, leaving his marker for dead with a neat touch before blasting a ruthless finish past Brian Neeson.

The Reds were far from happy about the fourth goal on 49 as Stewart's shot may have brushed off the offside Daniel Kearns on its way to goal.

What couldn't be contested was Stewart's class, deceiving the Cliftonville defence with his twists and turns before prodding towards goal.

Conor McMenamin added a consolation for the Reds but Kirk Millar had the final say, lobbing in Linfield's fifth.

Coleraine 4-2 Crusaders

Jamie McGonigle's hat-trick helped Coleraine edge a thriller at the Showgrounds to ensure Crusaders did not leapfrog Glenavon to go third.

McGonigle gave the Bannsiders the lead midway through the first half, chesting the ball in after Jamie Glackin had lobbed over Crusaders keeper Gerard Doherty.

McGonigle's 10th Premiership goal of the season doubled the scores, this one thanks to an inch-perfect crossfield ball by James McLaughlin.

The Crues were back in it before the break, Jordan Forsythe's dinked through ball playing in Michael Ruddy to produce a clinical finish.

Jamie Glackin added a third after the restart but Crusaders hit back quickly through David Cushley's penalty at it was as you were until McGonigle sealed his hat-trick.

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