Linfield 2
Ballymena United 0
Irish Cup (Round 6)


Linfield 

2 - 0

Ballymena United


Irish Cup (Round 6)
Saturday, February 3rd, 2024
Windsor Park
3:00 PM Kick-off


Goalscorers
Chris McKee (14)
Chris Shields (65) (pen.)
None.

Team Managers
David Healy Jim Ervin

Starting Eleven
1. Chris Johns
2. Daniel Finlayson
3. Euan East
7. Kirk Millar
8. Kyle McClean
9. Joel Cooper
16. Matthew Clarke
17. Chris McKee
22. Jamie Mulgrew
27. Ethan McGee
29. Matthew Fitzpatrick
Sean O'Neill .1
Sean Brown .29
Steven McCullough .11
Jamie Robinson .31
Dylan Boyle .28
Kym Nelson .2
Michael Place .30
Donal Rocks .4
Fraser Taylor .16
Calvin McCurry .36
Jonathan McMurray .27

Bench
51. David Walsh
5. Chris Shields
12. Darragh McBrien
20. Stephen Fallon
53. Joshua Archer
60. Aodhan Doherty
64. Braiden Graham
Sam Johnston .26
Brendan Barr .35
Andrew McGrory .17
Lewis Tennant .21
Michael Leddy .38
Noah Stewart .33
David Taylor .23

Substitutions
Chris Shields for Jamie Mulgrew (26)
Darragh McBrien for Matthew Fitzpatrick (68)
Stephen Fallon for Joel Cooper (68)
Joshua Archer for Kirk Millar (89)
Brendan Barr for Michael Place (66)
Michael Leddy for Donal Rocks (73)

Cautions
Joel Cooper (50) Jonathan McMurray (25)
Donal Rocks (39)
Kym Nelson (84)

Red Cards
None. None.

Match Officials

Evan Boyce (Referee)
Brian Wilson & Bogdan Sfirloaga (Assistants)
Mark Milligan (Fourth Official)



Match Report


Ballymena United exited the Clearer Water Irish Cup at the sixth round stage this afternoon after a decent showing ultimately ended in a 2-0 defeat to Linfield at The National Stadium at Windsor Park.

After a flat performance led to defeat to Loughgall a week ago, there were two changes for United ahead of the trip to Windsor, with Scot Whiteside dropping out for Mikey Place, and Calvin McCurry getting his first start in Sky Blue, replacing the now departed Ryan Waide.

Whilst the cup provided a welcome distraction for the Braidmen from a concerning league campaign, what wasn't as welcome was a tie at a venue the visitors have found goals hard to come by, let alone wins, but they made a fantastic start. Inside two minutes Sean Brown picked out Fraser Taylor, who was simply outstanding all day, in the box and his pass fell to Johnny McMurray who saw a driving shot blocked by Daniel Finlayson, and on the rebound from just outside the box, Dylan Boyle struck wide by inches.

On five minutes the fast-paced start continued as Place was rewarded for a well-timed challenge with a free kick given against him, and from the resulting set piece Matthew Fitzpatrick headed home, only for the whistle to go for a push by the Linfield striker. Not long afterwards, the away side again went close when Taylor found Kym Nelson, who swivelled and fired into the side netting at a tight angle.

With fourteen minutes gone, and against the run of play, it was the hosts who edged ahead in the tie in controversial circumstances. After a throw in, the ball seemed to clearly strike the arm of Chris McKee, but as play continued, he found Fitzpatrick, who those in away black felt also handled it. On it went and Fitzpatrick lifted a ball over for Kirk Millar, whose shot deflected into the path of Chris McKee, and he tapped home at close range, leaving United far from happy.

Despite falling behind, Ballymena continued to play some good stuff and limit the Blues to virtually nothing, but again there was little in terms of the final third, despite McCurry, in particular, looking bright. From a corner, McMurray went close-ish as he headed over at the near post, before another driving run from McCurry ended with him firing straight at Chris Johns.

In the final five minutes Fitzpatrick thundered an effort wide for the hosts, which was all they'd really conjured up bar the goal, before Jim Ervin was booked for perhaps oversharing his thoughts, that many in the away end no doubt shared, on some of the decisions made, as a really bright half from United ended with them somehow behind.

Within a few seconds of the restart, the Braidmen picked up where they'd left off and went as close as they'd come all day to a deserved equaliser. A mix up at the back for David Healy's men allowed McCurry to capitalise, though as he honed in on goal he saw an attempted lob batted away by Johns, but only as far as McMurray, however he saw his effort into a fairly open goal from a good twenty-five yards fly well over.

It was unlikely the home side would create as little in the second half as they had in the first, and despite Ballymena still being arguably the better side, those chances started to come. Matthew Clarke picked out Fitzpatrick with a cross, but he could only flick wide what was a good opening, before Millar pounced on an error to get Linfield in two on one, but as he found McKee, he skewed a shot well wide.

With sixty-four minutes on the clock, all the stuffing was knocked out of the away side as Linfield strengthened their grip on a quarter-final place from the penalty spot. Again, United were left less than impressed when referee Evan Boyce adjudged Steven McCullough to have shoved McKee to the ground when the contact looked minimal, and from the resulting spot kick Chris Shields sent Sean O'Neill the wrong way.

Following Linfield's second, Ballymena's chances dried up and for the first time all afternoon the league champions looked in control. Brendy Barr was introduced from the bench, before being followed on by Michael Leddy, who made his debut for United after his deadline day move.

As time ticked on, Kyle McClean blasted over off a free kick routine, before an almighty mess from O'Neill as he tried to usher the ball back into his box almost led to a third as McKee robbed the ball and rounded O'Neill twice, but Jamie Robinson was on hand to clear off the line. However, in the final ten minutes Ballymena saw next to nothing of the possession as Linfield did well to see the game out with little fuss, and went close to a third again, only for O'Neill to save well to deny Millar and then Darragh McBrien to see a tidy curling effort drift wide by the barest of margins.

2-0 is how it ended, as Ballymena's quest for a third straight Irish Cup final appearance comes to a premature end, and whilst some of the same issues remained in the final third, it was at least a performance that should bring some confidence for a big league run in.

Match report written by Philip McPeake (www.ballymenaunitedfc.com)



Squad Statistics (as at February 3rd, 2024)


2023-2024 All Time
Age
Sean O'Neill (GK)35 29 - 92 -
Sean Brown18 5 - 5 -
Steven McCullough29 3012399
Jamie Robinson21 4 - 4 -
Dylan Boyle22 22 - 22 -
Kym Nelson28 25 - 805
Michael Place25 282888
Donal Rocks23 21 - 21 -
Fraser Taylor20 302302
Calvin McCurry22 2 - 2 -
Jonathan McMurray29 20411836
Brendan Barr (sub)22 2 - 39 -
Michael Leddy (sub)20 1 - 1 -



League Table (as at February 3rd, 2024)


Pld W D L Pts
1. Linfield 27 21 2 4 65
2. Larne 27 19 7 1 64
3. Cliftonville 26 19 3 4 60
4. Glentoran 25 13 5 7 44
5. Crusaders 27 12 5 10 41
6. Coleraine 27 9 5 13 32
7. Loughgall 26 9 4 13 31
8. Carrick 27 9 3 15 30
9. Glenavon 26 9 2 15 29
10. Dungannon 27 7 6 14 27
11. BALLYMENA 27 5 3 19 18
12. Newry 26 3 3 20 12