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Jeffrey hails fightback as the Blues crash again

Ballymena Utd 2 Linfield 1

By Stephen Alexander

David Jeffrey, the former long-serving Blues boss, praised his Ballymena United players for their second half response as they threw another spanner in Linfield's title defence.

The Sky Blues recovered from conceding a goal inside the opening four minutes to storm back for an impressive victory at the Showgrounds.

"I didn't see that outcome in the early stages because Linfield started the better and were quicker to the first and second ball," admitted Braid boss Jeffrey.

"I challenged the group to believe in themselves and go out and do better in the second half because it was vitally important we got three points - it didn't matter that they came against the league champions, we simply needed a win," added Jeffrey.

His Linfield counterpart David Healy admitted: "We started the game well and got on top for 25 to 35 minutes but when you don't get a second goal when you're on top you leave yourself open and that's what happened."

Linfield, with Gareth Deane deputising in goal for Roy Carroll who is with the Northern Ireland international team in Switzerland, went into the game on the back of a six-goal win at Ballinamallard last weekend.

And that confidence was evident as they opened the scoring with less than four minutes on the clock.

Andrew Waterworth's cross from the dead ball line was only cleared as far as Robert Garrett just outside the penalty area and he showed great technique to angle a drive low into the corner of Ross Glendinning's net.

It was almost 2-0 on 11 minutes when Kirk Millar's corner was only partially cleared to the in-rushing Stephen Lowry just outside the box and his fierce strike through a crowded area was cleared off the line by Willie Faulkner.

Little was seen of Ballymena as an attacking force in the opening half hour until Leroy Millar's harmless-looking free kick was awkwardly shovelled behind by Deane.

At the other end, Garrett almost doubled his and the Blues' account with a 25-yard drive which was turned behind at full stretch by Glendinning.

Linfield had another opening near the end of the first half when United defender Johnny Flynn lost possession inside his own half - at the same time picking up an injury which forced his departure minutes later - and Waterworth burst into the penalty area but just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was thwarted by a perfectly-timed sliding tackle by Kofi Balmer.

The same two players were involved in first half stoppage time when Waterworth outpaced the teen to surge into the area but as the two players collided, referee Evan Boyce remained unmoved.

Ballymena drew level on 53 minutes when Conor McCloskey's free kick from 30 yards curled towards goal and ended up in the net via the crossbar.

Linfield spurned a good opening just short of the hour when Lowry's delightful reverse pass set up a chance for Louis Rooney but the striker screwed his shot wide.

That miss proved costly as Ballymena went in front less than 60 seconds later in spectacular fashion.

Glendinning's long clearance was flicked on by Cathair Friel to Johnny McMurray who took one touch on his thigh before lifting a shot over the stranded Deane from 30 yards.

Linfield's misery was compounded four minutes from the end when their goalscorer Garrett was sent off for a second booking after a late challenge on Friel.

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