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Saturday 16th December v. Carrick Rangers (home) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm

Uploaded Tuesday, 28th Nov, 2017 at 23:50

Date: Tuesday, 28th November, 2017; Competition: Toals Co Antrim Shield - Semi-Final; Attendance: N/A;
Ballymena United [2] [3]
Ards [0] [0]
Venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; Kick-Off: 19:45;
Referee: Evan Boyce; Assistant 1: Neil Gillespie; Assistant 2: Stephen Bell; 4th Official: Andrew Davey;
Goals:
[1-0] McCULLOUGH, Steven (5 mins), [2-0] McCLOSKEY, Conor (13 mins), [3-0] FRIEL, Cathair (87 mins)

BALLYMENA United are into their third Co Antrim Shield final in six years after a 3-0 home win over Ards.
The semi final got off to a quick start with both 'keepers called into action early on and United took an early lead. With a minute barely on the clock Cathair Friel set strike partner Johnny McMurray through on goal, but one on one with Sam Johnston it was the Ards man who saved well with a strong hand. However on 5 minutes Johnston was beaten as United went ahead. Joe McKinney was brought down on the edge of the box by David McAllister. From the right hand side Steven McCullough took the free kick and fired it past Johnston for his first goal in a Sky Blue shirt.
5 minutes after the opener Ards went close to levelling. Ex-Ballymena man Johnny Taylor met a McAllister corner and his header went through a sea of bodies before Ross Glendinning pulled off a good stop. On 13 minutes The Sky Blues doubled their advantage with Conor McCloskey making it 2-0. From an Ards free kick Ballymena launched a quick-fire counter attack. McMurray raced past Johnny Frazer who pulled up and crossed for Fra McCaffrey, who played a delightful flick into Friel. From there Friel saw the arriving McCloskey and his pass looked like it might go out for a goal kick but luckily McCloskey slid in on time to put the ball over the line.
Now heavily chasing the game, Ards looked to hit back quickly and McAllister saw a driven shot from the edge of the box hit the side netting. On the half hour mark Ballymena were forced into an early change when Emmett Friars landed awkwardly clearing the ball and was replaced by Kyle Owens. In the next attack after the change Tony Kane took a short free kick to McCaffrey who whipped a dangerous ball in for McMurray, who headed over. McCloskey couldn't have come closer to his second on 35 minutes when his free kick from 25 yards was palmed onto the crossbar by Johnston. The rebound fell kindly for McMurray but he couldn't position himself right and missed the ball with his attempt.
There was a worrying moment for Ards' Callum Byers when a flick on by Friel came off the defender towards goal, luckily going just wide. With 1 minute left in the half Ballymena had a chance to all but kill the game off by half time when they were awarded a dubious penalty. Referee Evan Boyce adjudged Taylor to have caught McMurray after he had shot just over the bar, despite most of the ground's confusion. From the penalty spot, Kane's effort was well saved by Johnston who went the right way, before McMurray sent the rebound wide. With the last kick of the half McMurray had yet another chance, this time shooting on the turn from distance but he dragged it just wide as United went into the break 2-0 up.
Just 3 minutes into the second half The Sky Blues missed another great chance to grab a third. From inside the 6 yard box it looked harder for Friel to miss but he couldn't connect with the chance before McMurray had a drilled shot cleared on the line by Taylor. Glendinning was called into action again on 53 minutes when Michael McClellen outmuscled Kofi Bamber to create a shooting opportunity, with Glendinning tipping it round the post. On 59 minutes Ballymena continued to waste chances to end the contest as McMurray looped a header just over from a Kane free kick.
It took until the 73rd minute for another meaningful chance, with the visitors sub Kyle Cherry and United's McCullough going well wide with chances in between. McMurray breezed past Michael Ruddy and from the by-line crossed for Friel who couldn't quite get under the ball enough to keep it under the bar. As Ards tried to make the home side rue missed chances Taylor got up highest to meet a corner, but it was never in any danger of troubling Glendinning.
With 8 minutes left United really should've finally got their third. Another quick counter attack saw McMurray set Jim Ervin through, but in a two on one situation with plenty of time Ervin passed early and heavily to Friel, whose heavy touch killed the chance. Ards tried to set up a nervy final 5 minutes when Ruddy flicked a dangerous ball towards goal, but Glendinning did well to hold onto the ball. In the 87th minute McMurray almost grabbed a deserved goal in audacious circumstances. From around 35 yards the forward took everyone by surprise by going for goal, his effort rattling the crossbar.
However within seconds Ballymena had a deserved third. Friel took on Reece Glendinning on the left hand side and cut inside before flat footing Johnston by netting at the near post to make it 3-0.
United held out for a clean sheet and a place in the final on Tuesday 23rd January at a venue to be decided, where they will meet Crusaders after they beat Carrick 1-0 this evening.
Ballymena United get back to Danske Bank Premiership action when they host Ballinamallard United at the Showgrounds on Saturday, kicking off at 3:00pm.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Ross Glendinning, Tony Kane, Emmet Friars ( Kyle Owens 30), Cathair Friel, Conor McCloskey ( Willie Faulkner 75), Kofi Balmer, Jim Ervin, Steven McCullough, Fra McCaffrey, Joe McKinney, Johnny McMurray ( Matthew Shevlin 88).

Subs not used: Conor Brennan, Michael Gault.