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McMurray in a hurry as he fires Sky Blues past shot-shy Glens

Ballymena Utd 1 Glentoran 0

By Stephen Alexander

Johnny McMurray made a triumphant return from injury to shoot Ballymena United into the semi-finals of the Toals County Antrim Shield.

The striker, who hasn't played since the Sky Blues' Europa League qualifying games in the summer due to a groin injury, marked his first start of the campaign by scoring the only goal at The Showgrounds.

Home-grown central defender Caolan Loughran, who has spent this season on the fringes after being a regular last year, also made his first appearance of the campaign as manager David Jeffrey responded to Saturday's drubbing by Glenavon.

But the luckless youngster's return lasted just 14 minutes before he fell awkwardly after shepherding a loose ball out of play for a goal kick while under pressure from Curtis Allen. The defender received lengthy treatment before being stretchered off with a suspected arm injury.

McMurray enjoyed better fortune, however, as he put United ahead on 24 minutes, applying a neat finish to a slick move.

Jim Ervin exchanged passes with Gary Thompson on the right flank, and the United skipper continued his run before cutting the ball back to McMurray, whose first-time volley from 12 yards nestled in the top corner.

The striker almost doubled his and Ballymena's account five minutes later when his neat turn inside the penalty area bought a yard of space and his low skidding effort brought a fine one-handed save from Elliott Morris.

Ballymena almost scored again two minutes after the restart when Cathair Friel's header from Conor McCloskey's long throw came back off the post before eventually being cleared.

The home side got an unexpected opening when Jonny Addis lost his footing as he went to clear, allowing Friel to tee up McMurray, but a combination of Morris and his defenders were able to divert the effort wide, while at the other end a rare Glentoran foray saw Allen's tame effort easily dealt with by Ross Glendinning.

The United keeper was fortunate on the hour mark when he dropped a deep cross and as he attempted to gather the loose ball he appeared to clatter Glentoran substitute Tiarnan McNicholl, but referee Raymond Crangle remained unmoved.

And as Ballymena's nerves began to jangle, a half-cleared Glentoran free-kick fell to Calum Birney, who blazed a shot over the bar.

Ballymena almost added a second late on when Friel's volley was saved at the base of the post by Morris while, at the other end, Birney flashed a header wide from inside the six-yard box.

Glentoran looked to have created a glorious chance to equalise in the closing minutes when Marcus Kane's through ball split the Ballymena defence but as Robbie McDaid raced towards the penalty area, he got the ball tangled between his feet and lost possession with the goal beckoning.

Ballymena United: Glendinning, Ervin, Flynn, Loughran (Friars, 14 mins), McCullough, Thompson, Millar, McCloskey (Faulkner, 90 mins), McKinney, Friel, McMurray (Shevlin, 70 mins). Subs not used: Kane, McCaffrey.

Glentoran: Morris, Kerr (McCawl, 63 mins), Birney, Addis, Nelson, Knowles (McNicholl, 59 mins), Kane, Kelly, McMullan (Davidson, 59 mins), McDaid, Allen. Subs not used: Foley, Smith.

Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)

Star man: Johnny McMurray (Ballymena)

Match rating: 7/10.

Belfast Telegraph

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