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Friday 24th August v. Glenavon (away) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 7:45pm

Uploaded Saturday, 28th Apr, 2018 at 20:22

Date: Saturday, 28th April, 2018; Competition: Danske Bank Premiership; Attendance: 2430;
Ballymena United [0] [1]
Crusaders [0] [2]
Venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; Kick-Off: 15:00;
Referee: Tim Marshall; Assistant 1: David Anderson; Assistant 2: Andrew Nethery; 4th Official: Tony Clarke;
Goals:
[1-0] FRIEL, Cathair (60 mins), [1-1] LOWRY, Philip (77 mins), [1-2] CUSHLEY, David (86 mins)

CRUSADERS were crowned NIFL Premiership champions after defeating Ballymena United 2-1 at The Showgrounds.
A minutes silence was held prior to kick off to remember those involved with Ballymena both on and off the pitch and in the stands who have sadly passed away in the last year.
In front a large set of home and away supporters, Ballymena started brightly but it was the Crues with the first chance inside the opening minute when captain Colin Coates headed a Paul Heatley cross onto the roof of the net. Ballymena's first chance came via Fra McCaffrey who picked the ball up on the edge of the box and curled the ball just wide.
It continued to be an end to end opening quarter of an hour with Andrew Burns stopping an almost certain goal from Jordan Owens before Leroy Millar had a low effort tipped round the post by Brian Jensen. On 15 minutes Heatley missed a great opportunity to put Crusaders ahead. A long ball split the Sky Blue's defence to set Heatley clear, but his placed shot went inches wide. As Crusaders started to come on strong Heatley had a shot blocked by Johnny Flynn which fell to Gavin Whyte, who saw his effort blocked on the line by Jim Ervin. Seconds later at the other end Joe McKinney was allowed to run, untouched, from the halfway line before getting a shot away from 20 yards out which went narrowly wide.
On 28 minutes Heatley faked two shots before getting his attempt away on the edge of the box but he dragged the ball wide of Ross Glendinning's goal. The chances dried up in the final 15 minutes of the half as the nerves looked to be setting in for Stephen Baxter's men. A minute before the break the ball did a bit of bouncing about in the United box before Sean Ward eventually got on the end of it, but he sent the ball well wide as the half ended goalless.
After a quiet opening 10 minutes Heatley had the first effort but could only blast into the side netting. Minutes later Philip Lowry could've opened the scoring when McCaffrey gave the ball away in the box, but as Lowry went to shoot McCaffrey recovered well to make the tackle.
On the hour mark the Braidmen stunned Crusaders by taking the lead. Kevin Braniff sent Cathair Friel through with a long ball, and as Jensen raced off his line to meet the ball, Friel got there first to lift it over the 'keeper and eventually into the goal.
Just 2 minutes after conceding Burns blocked a rocket from BJ Burns, before Ballymena blocked another three shots in quick succession as the pressure started to mount. It was wave after wave of attack from the visitors as Whyte shot just wide from distance before Ervin blocked a close range shot from Michael Carvill, as Howard Beverland also had an effort cleared. United continued to defend resolutely as Heatley sent a half volley wide before Owens found Heatley again out wide, but he blasted just over.
In a break up the other end Ballymena almost made it 2-0. Goal scorer Friel saw a half volley saved by Jensen and McCaffrey just couldn't get enough on the rebound to turn it home from close range.
Jordan Forsythe and Millar each had chances at either end but both put their attempts just wide before Crusaders grabbed an equaliser. Substitute David Cushley had a shot from 18 yards out spilled by Glendinning and Lowry was on hand to take advantage to tap the ball home. Moments later Crusaders thought it had got even better when Owens blasted home, only to be flagged for offside.
Then came 4 minutes which had a huge say on where the Gibson Cup ended up. Friel flicked a header on for Braniff whose header looked certain to go in before Jensen pulled off a tremendous one handed save to tip the ball wide. On 86 minutes Crusaders completed the turnaround to all but secure the title. Forsythe found ex-United man Cushley on the edge of the box and he made no mistake firing home low past Glendinning.
With the news coming through that Coleraine had only drew, Crusaders saw out 4 minutes of added time to secure the title.
Congratulations to all involved with Crusaders and as for United a strong showing today in potentially the last home game of the season as attention now turns to those all important Europa League play-offs.
Ballymena United will next play in the Semi-Final of the Europa League Play-Offs on Wednesday 9th May at 7:45pm, with the opposition depending on the winners of this weekends Tennent's Irish Cup Final.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Ross Glendinning, Johnny Flynn ( 90), Cathair Friel, Kevin Braniff, Andrew Burns ( Conor McCloskey 82), Kofi Balmer, Jim Ervin, Leroy Millar, Fra McCaffrey ( Willie Faulkner 85), Joe McKinney, Conor Quigley.

Subs not used: Kyle Owens, Matthew Shevlin, Fra Nolan.