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Saturday 22nd December v. Ards (home) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm

Uploaded Saturday, 17th Nov, 2018 at 19:34

Date: Saturday, 17th November, 2018; Competition: Danske Bank Premiership; Attendance: 1509;
Ballymena United [0] [2]
Cliftonville [0] [1]
Venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; Kick-Off: 15:00;
Referee: Arnold Hunter; Assistant 1: David Anderson; Assistant 2: Andrew Nethery; 4th Official: Shane Andrews;
Goals:
[1-0] FRIEL, Cathair (48 mins), [2-0] McCULLOUGH, Steven (77 mins), [2-1] McDONALD, Conor (83 mins)

BALLYMENA United held on to beat Cliftonville 2-1 at the Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon, extending their unbeaten run to 11 games.
It was 3rd vs 4th at Warden Street and both sides were without their first choice goalkeepers through injury and illness, meaning a rare start for Thomas McDermott. The opening 20 minutes was a bit of an untidy affair as both teams struggled to get a hold on the game. The first chance of the match almost resulted in an own goal. McDermott flapped at a corner, and the ball came off Cathair Friel towards goal, with Leroy Millar thankfully on hand to clear off the line.
After a bit of a shaky start McDermott did well to gather a strong effort from Joe Gormley 15 minutes in. United's first real chance didn't arrive until the 17th minute. A long kick from McDermott found Andy McGrory and his sweetly struck first time shot was fantastically put around the post by Brian Neeson. Eventually the chances started to come more frequently for both sides, as Rory Donnelly pulled a shot well wide from a tight angle before James Knowles had a tame effort easily dealt with by Neeson at the other end.
There was little to split the sides throughout the remainder of the half, however The Reds were able to create the better chances. A mazy run from Jay Donnelly ended with McDermott making a comfortable save before Gormley struck the ball straight in the hands of the 'keeper. Jonny Addis picked up a yellow card for a foul on the edge of the D towards the end of the half, with Levi Ives putting the resulting free kick inches wide.
With a minute left Neeson pulled off his second quality save of the half to keep United out. Adam Lecky knocked the ball down for Jude Winchester and his effort was headed for the bottom corner only for a save from Neeson who got down extremely well to meet the ball. Before the half time whistle Addis put the ball in the back of the net from a corner, but referee Arnold Hunter adjudged Millar to have handled the ball in the build up, with the goal being ruled out, one of many contentious refereeing decisions throughout the game. With the last kick of the first 45 minutes Jamie McGovern found Rory Donnelly who sent a spectacular overhead kick just wide as the half ended goalless.
Ballymena started the second half extremely well from the off and were ahead just 3 minutes in. The outstanding Addis went route 1 and caught out the whole visiting back line, with Friel staying onside to meet Addis' ball before finding the bottom corner with a neat finish.
The goal was the first in a string of Sky Blue chances. Lecky just couldn't get on the end of a cross from Steven McCullough and the follow up from McGrory was blocked by Ross Lavery. Less than a minute later Friel did well to make space for himself before firing just over. On 58 minutes Friel missed a huge double chance. Lecky crossed for Friel and from close range he had his first effort blocked by Garry Breen before his rebound was somehow clawed off the line by Neeson, with a resulting corner being headed just wide by Addis. McGrory also turned a Friel cross over as United somehow couldn't add to Friel's goal inside a frantic 10 minute period.
Whilst Ballymena surely feared rueing those missed chances, those fears were quashed when McCullough made it 2-0 with 14 minutes left. Friel was brought down on the edge of the box and McCullough made no mistake in firing the free kick delightfully into the top corner, with Neeson watching helplessly.
The North Belfast side did see a good bit of the ball in the second half but couldn't trouble McDermott at all, yet with 6 minutes left they pulled a goal back. Out of very little Gormley crossed for sub Conor McDonald who finished first time to set up a nervy climax.
Ballymena could've made sure of the points in the first of 5 minutes added on when a quick counter saw Winchester play in Friel, but one on one with Neeson it was the goalkeeper who came out of top, making the save. There were expected Cliftonville chances at the death, with Breen and Harney both heading over, but United saw it out for another big result that sees Ballymena go just 4 points off top spot.
Ballymena United host Glentoran in the Danske Bank Premiership on Tuesday evening, kicking off at 7:45pm.
Match Report by Phillip McPeake
Ballymena United Team:
Thomas McDermott, Jonathan Addis ( 43), Scot Whiteside, Cathair Friel, James Knowles ( Tony Kane 80), Steven McCullough, Andrew McGrory, Jude Winchester, Jim Ervin, Adam Lecky ( 69), Leroy Millar.

Subs not used: Ben McCauley, Andrew Burns, Fra Nolan, Matthew Shevlin, Reece Glendinning, Johnny McMurray.