Irish Premier League
Linfield Scorers :
Mark Haughey 16', Shayne Lavery 65'
Ballymena United Scorer :
Shay McCartan 29'
Linfield Yellow Card :
Linfield Team :
Chris Johns (GK), Mark Haughey, Jimmy Callacher (C), Ross Larkin, Matthew Clarke, Cammy Palmer, Stephen Fallon (Jamie Mulgrew 81’), Kirk Millar, Joel Cooper, Jordan Stewart (Andy Waterworth 81’), Shayne Lavery
Linfield Subs not used :
Alex Moore (GK), Niall Quinn, Conor Pepper, Navid Nasseri, Christy Manzinga
Ballymena United Team :
Dylan Graham (GK), Ross Redman, Jonathan Addis, Jim Ervin ©, Owen McKeown, Joshua Kelly, Sean Graham (Ben Wylie 81’), Ryan Harpur (James Knowles 68’), Shay McCartan, Paul McElroy, Ryan Waide (Kenneth Kane 81’)
Ballymena United Subs not used :
Jack McCutcheon (gk), Kavan Keenan, Spencer Beattie, Tom Mathieson
Linfield extended their lead at the top of the table to eleven points with a hard-fought win over David Jeffrey’s spirited Ballymena United at Windsor Park this evening thanks to goals from Mark Haughey and Shayne Lavery.
The Blues started the game ever so brightly but Ballymena United threatened first when Paul McElroy fizzed in a low cross which Shay McCartan almost got on the end of, and the latter did get an effort away from a free-kick which appeared to go through the wall and Chris Johns had to push it around the post.
Linfield went up the gears, with Shayne Lavery first to threaten when picked out by a pinpoint low cross by Matthew Clarke down the left, but when Lavery got a shot away from close range it was importantly blocked by Ross Redman. Soon after, Stephen Fallon sent Joel Cooper through on goal with a superb threaded pass but young United goalkeeper Dylan Graham was out swiftly to make a great save after narrowing the angle as Cooper tried to poke the ball beyond him. From the resulting corner Ross Larkin was unlucky to see his header land on the side netting from Matthew Clarke’s delivery.
The breakthrough came on 16 minutes and it was a quality goal. Kirk Millar had the ball out left and he shifted it onto his right foot for a cross. The attackers in the middle attacked the front and middle which left space for Mark Haughey to intelligently ghost into the space at the back post area before producing a great powerful header steered into the far top corner.
After the opener Linfield enjoyed a really dominant spell in search of a second goal. Jordan Stewart slipped a neat ball through to Shayne Lavery in the box and he got a shot away which drew a good save from the feet of Dylan Graham, who was really impressive at just sixteen years of age. Lavery also broke a short time later before trying to pull it back to Jordan Stewart but the pass was too far behind the midfielder’s path.
The Blues were pinned back as United got back on level terms against the run of play on 29 minutes. Ross Larkin was adjudged to have handled the ball on the edge of the box and Linfield players protested that he was fouled while being jostled in the process, whilst the Sky Blues thought it was inside the box. Nonetheless, it took superb technique from the classy Shay McCartan who got the ball over the wall and into the net from 20 yards out.
Shayne Lavery had another shot denied by Graham following a deflection and a good run into the box, and a short time later when he flicked on Cooper’s pass for Jordan Stewart to fire home the flag went up for offside against Stewart.
United almost got their noses in front five minutes before the break and typically it all stemmed from former Northern Ireland international Shay McCartan. He led a breaaway before slipping it left to Ryan Waide who cut inside before being denied by a super block by the backtracking Joel Cooper and when the ball dropped kindly for Paul McElroy his downward header was excellently tipped around the post by Chris Johns.
Half Time: Linfield 1 – 1 Ballymena United
The Blues threatened within a minute of the second half starting when the left side combined well with Joel Cooper slipping Matthew Clarke through with a neat pass and the full back’s powerful shot was palmed behind by United ‘keeper Graham. Those two combined again ten minutes later but this time Clarke’s cross flashed across the face of goal untouched.
David Healy’s men deservedly retook the lead on 65 minutes after sheer brilliance by Kirk Millar. The winger tied full-back Ross Redman in knots with his trickery which made space to get a cross away and it was another superb delivery as he picked out Shayne Lavery in the middle to head in his 21st goal of the season from close range.
Jimmy Callacher headed wide after a good leap to meet Matthew Clarke’s corner shortly after, but once Linfield had the lead it was mostly a case of managing the game to see out the win. In a further boost, club captain Jamie Mulgrew returned from injury and took to the pitch for the final ten minutes which is good news for Linfield ahead of the title run-in and Irish Cup.
The Blues looked to add a third late on when the opportunity arose with Chris Johns punching a corner out and Joel Cooper hooking the ball up to Shayne Lavery who carried the ball and just as he went to release it to send a teammate through, it was met by a crucial defensive interception.
Naturally, Ballymena put on late pressure in search of a leveller and it almost came through an unlikely source as central defender Jonathan Addis dribbled his way up the pitch, exchanging passes before seeing a shot from 20 yards well saved by Chris Johns who had a really good game to build on his amazing save against Larne last week. Unfortunately for Ballymena it spells the end of their top six aspirations.
Full Time: Linfield 2 – 1 Ballymena United
LinfieldFC.com Man of the Match: Kirk Millar
Both teams paid respects to HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh with a minute's silence before kick-off and as a further mark of respect the Linfield players wore black armbands for the 99 year-old husband of Her Majesty the Queen following his funeral which took place in Windsor, England earlier in the afternoon.