Ballymena United 2 - 1 Linfield

League - NIFL Premiership
Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021, 7:45 PM at Ballymena Showgrounds
Referee: Shane Andrews
Ballymena United  Linfield

Conor Keeley (67)
Conor Keeley (90)
Andrew Waterworth (75) (pen.)

Team Managers
David Jeffrey
David Healy

Starting Eleven
Ross Glendinning
Conor Keeley
Jim Ervin
Joshua Kelly
Ross Redman
Tony Kane
Owen McKeown
Joseph McCready
Paul McElroy
Ryan Waide
Shay McCartan
Chris Johns
Michael Newberry
Mark Haughey
Jimmy Callacher
Andrew Waterworth
Jordan Stewart
Kirk Millar
Matthew Clarke
Niall Quinn
Cameron Palmer
Joel Cooper

Dylan Graham
Jonathan Addis
James Knowles
Jordan McMullan
Ryan Harpur
Spencer Beattie
Tom Mathieson
Alex Moore
Ross Larkin
Navid Nasseri
Ryan McGivern
Connor Pepper
Joshua Archer

Ryan Harpur for Owen McKeown (83)
Navid Nasseri for Michael Newberry (69)

Joshua Kelly (12)
Ross Redman (58)
Matthew Clarke (34)
Michael Newberry (67)

Red Cards
None. Joel Cooper (90)
Appearances & Goals To Date
Ross Glendinning (GK) 151 apps -
Conor Keeley 13 apps2 goals
Ross Redman 26 apps2 goals
Joshua Kelly 56 apps3 goals
Jim Ervin 262 apps3 goals
Tony Kane 354 apps49 goals
Owen McKeown 4 apps -
Ryan Waide 23 apps1 goal
Shay McCartan 24 apps9 goals
Joseph McCready 23 apps3 goals
Paul McElroy 26 apps8 goals
Ryan Harpur (sub) 32 apps2 goals

Starting Lineup
Youngest Player:Ryan Waide (21 years 45 days)
Oldest Player:Jim Ervin (35 years 300 days)
Average Player Age:27 years 205 days
Domestic Players:10 (90.91 % of starting eleven)

Matchday Squad
Youngest Player:Dylan Graham (16 years 147 days)
Oldest Player:Jim Ervin (35 years 300 days)
Average Player Age:25 years 340 days
Domestic Players:17 (94.44 % of matchday squad)

A LAST minute winner from double scoring Conor Keeley helped Ballymena United to a huge 2-1 win over champions Linfield at the Showgrounds on Tuesday evening.

After two visits to Warrenpoint in five days, international call ups and injuries meant United were forced into five changes for their return to Warden Street. Among the changes Ross Glendinning returned to take the gloves against his former side, while Owen McKeown made his first home league start.

The early stages of the game were mainly dictated by the table topping Blues, but neither 'keeper had any cause for concern early doors in a quiet start. Linfield did manage to put plenty of deliveries into the box, but most, if not all, were diverted away from danger via the head of Conor Keeley. When Linfield did finally turn possession into chances, Jordan Stewart bent an effort narrowly wide from the D, before Joel Cooper cut in from the left and forced Ross Glendinning into a save.

Ballymena were given plenty of chances to try and build an attack, but failed to keep hold of the ball for long enough to really threaten, and they could've went behind when a cross fell to Cameron Palmer at the back post, but in a great position he sliced his effort well wide. Minutes later another Palmer shot deflected perfectly into the path of Kirk Millar who struck on the volley on the edge of the box and it was well hit, but just wide.

In the final five minutes of the half The Sky Blues started to grow into the game and in the final minute of action they had the best chance of the half to go ahead. Joe McCready got in behind but after dragging Chris Johns off his line he opted to pass for Josh Kelly instead. Kelly arrived on the run to strike just inside the box, but he was thwarted by Mark Haughey who cleared the ball off the line. The Braidmen still had time for another chance before the break, as Ross Redman's free kick was met by McCready, who forced a good, low save out of Johns, as the sides went into half-time with nothing to split them.

The second half produced a far more open encounter and it was United who started the half the better, though carving out chances was easier said than done. At the other end both Cooper and Andy Waterworth looked likely to get in on goal, only for some high quality defensive work on both occasions from a flawless Jim Ervin. Around the hour mark the open first ten minutes seemed to have ended as Linfield began to embark on a sustained spell of heavy pressure on the United back line. A cross-cum shot from Cooper was the visitors best chance, and it looked to be creeping in, only for a fine Glendinning save.
With the pressure mounting United were glad to gain a moment to breathe with a free kick deep in the Linfield half, and the hosts were able to turn that free kick into the game's first goal. Tony Kane's ball in was into the perfect area in the box for Keeley who was on hand to neatly send the ball home with a tidy touch to grab his first goal in sky blue.
The lead would only last seven minutes as the league leaders quickly levelled. Substitute Navid Nasseri was clipped in the box by McKeown, and seconds after referee Shane Andrews seemed to have no interest in the penalty claims, he eventually decided on a delayed spot kick. Waterworth took the penalty and squeezed the ball in low past Glendinning to equalise.

With an open game once again in full flow, Ballymena had a massive penalty claim of their own five minutes later. The ball seemed to quite clearly strike a raised Linfield hand in the box, but much to a lot of disbelief in the United ranks, no foul was awarded. Moments after the claims Shay McCartan struck over from a good position. A minute later McCartan had another chance and it was a huge one. Kane did exceptionally well to flick a header on and put McCartan racing through on goal, but with only Johns to beat it didn't appear the greatest of strikes and Johns was able to save with his legs.

With a penalty decision not going their way and a big chance passing them by, Ballymena could've retreated back for a tough final five minutes, but they did the opposite. Kelly brought the hosts forward on the counter before feeding Paul McElroy who had a shot tipped wide three minutes from time.

Just as two minutes was about to go up for added time, Linfield were reduced to ten men when Cooper saw a straight red for a late lunge and two minutes later, with the last kick of the ball, Ballymena found a dramatic winner. On the second of two corners, Kane, who impressed all evening, turned provider again. This time his fantastic ball into the six yard box was scrambled home by the outstanding Keeley, with the ball just about clambering over the line. It cued Covid compliant celebrations from those in the ground, and gave United a deserved three points in their biggest scalp of the season.

Match report written by Philip McPeake

Pld W D L F A +/- Pts
1. Linfield 27 18 3 6 66 28 38 57
2. Coleraine 25 15 5 5 39 23 16 50
3. Glentoran 25 13 6 6 44 22 22 45
4. Larne 25 12 8 5 40 24 16 44
5. Cliftonville 26 11 7 8 36 29 7 40
6. Crusaders 26 12 3 11 45 34 11 39
7. Ballymena United 26 11 6 9 37 29 8 39
8. Glenavon 25 9 8 8 38 42 -4 35
9. Warrenpoint Town 25 6 7 12 26 44 -18 25
10. Portadown 24 4 6 14 29 52 -23 18
11. Carrick Rangers 25 4 4 17 25 62 -37 16
12. Dungannon Swifts 25 4 3 18 16 52 -36 15
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