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Saturday 26th January v. Ards (home) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm

Uploaded Friday, 11th Aug, 2017 at 23:17

Date: Friday, 11th August, 2017; Competition: Danske Bank Premiership; Attendance: 1840;
Ballymena United [0] [1]
Crusaders [0] [4]
Venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; Kick-Off: 19:45;
Referee: Keith Kennedy; Assistant 1: Stephen Donaldson; Assistant 2: Kristian Hanna; 4th Official: Ken Gibbons;
[1-0] SHEVLIN, Matthew (55 mins), [1-1] HEATLEY, Paul (62 mins), [1-2] HEATLEY, Paul (78 mins), [1-3] COATES, Colin (81 mins), [1-4] FORSYTHE, Jordan (90 mins)

BALLYMENA United suffered defeat on the opening day of the new season, falling to a 4-1 home defeat to Crusaders.
The 2017/18 Irish Premier League season got underway at The Showgrounds in front of a large Sky Blue support. On a much improved surface at The Showgrounds it was Crusaders who created the first chance. Declan Caddell had time to turn and shoot in the box but blasted well over. 13 minutes in Paul Heatley supplied Gavin Whyte with a good chance but the winger's shot across goal missed the target by some distance.
Whyte was presented with another great chance five minutes later when Ballymena new boy Michael Gault was dispossessed 20 yards out, but Whyte again dragged it wide. Ballymena's first chance came on 18 minutes when Leroy Millar rifled a shot from all of 30 yards towards the top right corner, only for Crues debutant 'keeper and ex-Burnley star Brian Jensen to tip it over the bar with a wonderful save. Always a danger in the air, Jordan Owens out-jumped his brother Kyle on the half hour mark from a corner, but his header could only find the side netting.
Matthew Shevlin was unlucky not to break the deadlock shortly after when a pacy Jim Ervin cross came his way, but the striker didn't manage to get a touch on the ball. From a Tony Kane corner Kyle Owens got up highest to meet the ball but his header went straight into the arms of Jensen. Inside the final 5 minutes of the half, Billy Joe Burns got past Joe McKinney and cut inside for a shot, but couldn't curl the ball inside the Sky Blue's post as the half ended goalless.
Billy Joe Burns & Joe McKinney battle for the ball
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The second half made up for the lack of goals in the first 45 minutes with 5 second half strikes. 5 minutes in Whyte had yet another great chance to score for the visitors when he broke through, but yet again he couldn't guide the ball into the bottom corner. Similar to his chance in the first half, Shevlin again couldn't quite get a contact on a cross when a quick Ballymena free kick found Braniff who crossed for Shevlin, who couldn't get the ball towards goal.
Kevin Braniff in action
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The young forward didn't have trouble finding the net on 55 minutes when he put United in front with the first goal of the new season. Conor McCloskey launched a long throw-in into the box and Owens beat Jensen to the ball, heading it on for Shevlin who fired home from close range.
Conor McCloskey set the first goal up with a long throw in
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Matthew Shevlin celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game
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The lead lasted all of 6 minutes when a lively Heatley equalised for the Crues. A cross caused Ross Glendinning problems as he failed to deal with the ball and Philip Lowry was able to head the ball back into Heatley who hit the ball on the turn past Glendinning to level.

The real turning point of the evening came on 63 minutes when Ballymena were reduced to 10 men, with Kyle Owens seeing red. A misplaced Gault pass sent Heatley through and as the last man Owens brought him down, resulting in a straight red for Owens after an impressive first half.
Kyle Owens was sent off for bringing Paul Heatley down
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United's problems deepened further when David Jeffrey was forced into a change with Leroy Millar coming off injured. He was replaced by Emmet Friars, who came on for his United league debut. Paul Heatley could've gave the visitors the lead on 76 minutes when he worked himself space to shoot, but he couldn't keep the ball below the crossbar. However 3 minutes later United's resolve was finally broken as Heatley netted his second with a wonderful finish. The ball dropped to Heatley 20 yards out and he took the ball down on his chest before hitting first time into the top left corner, leaving Glendinning no chance of stopping it.

It was almost 3 straight away when Rodney Brown had a go from long range. His low, drilled shot was spilled by Glendinning but Johnny Flynn was on hand to clear. On 82 minutes it was 3 when Crusaders captain Colin Coates headed home. Brown headed the ball back into the 6 yard box after the ball was initially cleared and it was met by Coates who headed the ball through a sea of Sky Blue and past Glendinning.
Colin Coates celebrates putting Crusaders 3-1 ahead
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Inside the 3 minutes of added time, Crusaders added more misery to Ballymena's night when they found a fourth. Whyte whipped a dangerous cross in from the right to the head of substitute Jordan Forsythe who made no mistake in finding the back of the net to condemn Ballymena to a disappointing result to start the season.
Alan Simpson and Stephen Baxter shake hands after the game
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Ballymena United travel to Belfast Loughshore Arena on Tuesday night to face Carrick Rangers, kicking off at 7:45pm.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Ross Glendinning, Tony Kane, Kyle Owens ( 63), Johnny Flynn, Michael Gault ( 33), Kevin Braniff, Conor McCloskey, Matthew Shevlin ( Cathair Friel 85), Jim Ervin ( 61), Leroy Millar ( Emmet Friars 71), Joe McKinney.

Subs not used: Conor Brennan, Gary Thompson, Fra McCaffrey.