Rohan Ferguson (GK), Josh Robinson, Jimmy Callacher, Ryan McGivern, Kirk Millar, Stephen Fallon (Bastien Hery 70’) ,Andrew Mitchell, Jamie Muilgrew (C), Joel Cooper, Shayne Lavery, Andy Waterworth (Matthew Clarke 64’)
Alex Moore (GK), Chris Casement, Jordan Stewart, Daniel Reynolds, Matthew Shevlin
Linfield bounced back from Friday night’s disappointment against Glenavon with a good win on the road as they took all three points against Ballymena United at the Ballymena Showgrounds tonight in the Danske Bank Premiership. David Healy’s men had to fight hard for the victory but two first half goals made the difference.
Blues boss David Healy made three changes to the team which lost at Mourneview with Ryan McGivern, Andrew Mitchell and Andy Waterworth coming in for Mark Stafford (injured), Bastien Hery and Chris Casement, respectively, as the Blues moved to a back three. Jordan Stewart also returned to the squad after a spell on the sidelines.
After a bright start, the opener came for David Healy’s men after just eleven minutes. Shayne Lavery was playing against the Germans in Frankfurt this time last week and he played like a German for Linfield’s first goal in Ballymena! The nippy striker turned superbly away from his man before surging into the box and supplying a pinpoint cross by the face of goal for the thankful Kirk Millar who had time and space to take a touch before smashing in from close range.
Winger Joel Cooper was almost unplayable in the first half and a lot of good Linfield moves came through him down the left. He went close twice, firstly create a yard for a shot which he fired just wide of the top corner. Then, soon after, the Ballyclare native almost bagged a superb solo goal when he picked up possession in his own half from a Ballymena corner before running all the way up the pitch and through on goal before firing over from the edge of the box.
The Blues added a deserved second goal on 37 minutes. Kirk Millar picked up the 100th goal of his Linfield career when he fired in a corner after Stephen Fallon’s driven shot was pushed around the post and up popped the returning Ryan McGivern who powered home a header which looked it might have took a deflection in the process.
Linfield dominated the first half but would have went into the break frustrated that they were only a goal ahead as Adam Lecky responded for the hosts within moments of The Blues’ second. United’s big striker broke beyond the offside trap to race in on goal and despite a touch from Ferguson, he kept his cool to fire his shot into the far corner.
Half Time: Ballymena United 1 – 2 Linfield
Lecky’s goal gave Ballymena United a lift and they grew in confidence as the game went on. Kenny Kane threatened with an instinctive, ambitious volley just after the break but the Sky Blues really should have levelled on 55 minutes. Tony Kane put in a pinpoint cross from the right which picked out the surging run of midfielder Declan Carville but he was unable to make a good connection from close range.
Ballymena were starting to pile on the pressure at this stage as Kenny Kane glanced a header just wide from Steven McCullough’s corner, however, the outstanding Jamie Mulgrew drove his team up the park in trademark Mulgrew fashion an he nearly added a third when he whacked a shot from distance which was well saved by the outstretched Glendinning.
Glendinning was called into action again to deny Bastien Hery who almost made an immediate impact after replacing Stephen Fallon with 20 minutes to go. The midfielder nicked possession in the middle before forcing Glendinning into a smart save from a long-distance shot.
Arguably Linfield’s best opportunity to add a third fell for Cooper in a position where you normally see him make the net bulge. He drifted into a central position on the edge of the box to make room for a shot but uncharacteristic of him, he fired over and you could see the frustration in his reaction.
Entering the final stages there was a tense feel to the game as it was clear any goal would be decisive and, if anyone, it was Ballymena United who looked more likely to get it. David Jeffrey’s men threw everything at Linfield in the closing stages. Rohan Ferguson had to produce a crucial save late on when the ball was slipped to Andy McGrory inside the box but the Scottish ‘keeper made a strong block. The resulting corner proved to be the last action as Ballymena ‘keeper Glendinning came up but Ross Lavery’s hooked shot was straight at Ferguson, much to Linfield’s relief as they held on for a valuable three points.
The only disappointment for Linfield amidst a hard-fought victory in Ballymena was the dismissal of French maestro Bastien Hery in the first of three additional minutes. Hery received his marching orders for a second bookable offence, the first coming for a pull-back on Declan Carville after getting on the wrong side and then in stoppage time, he was sent off for a what seemed to be an off the ball incident.
Full Time: Ballymena United 1 – 2 Linfield