Loughgall 2
Ballymena United 3
League (NIFL Premiership)


2 - 3

Ballymena United

League (NIFL Premiership)
Saturday, April 6th, 2024
Lakeview Park
Attendance: 410
3:00 PM Kick-off

Ryan Waide (54)
Nathaniel Ferris (62)
Fraser Taylor (3)
Alex Gawne (4)
Steven McCullough (pen.) (72)

Team Managers
Dean Smith Jim Ervin

Starting Eleven
1. Berraat Turker
3. Jamie Rea
7. Pablo Andrade
9. Nathaniel Ferris
10. Andrew Hoey
12. Robbie Norton
13. Jordan Gibson
15. Luke Cartwright
21. Benjamin Magee
23. Caolan Loughran
39. Ryan Waide
Sean O'Neill .1
Scot Whiteside .5
Sean Brown .29
Steven McCullough .11
Dylan Boyle .28
Kym Nelson .2
Fraser Taylor .16
Brendan Barr .35
Jonathan McMurray .27
Alex Gawne .7
Calvin McCurry .36

20. Daniel Devine
2. Mark Carson
4. Ben Murdock
5. Oran Brogan
6. Tiernan Kelly
8. Alan Teggart
18. Alberto Balde
Sam Johnston .26
Jamie Robinson .31
Daithi McCallion .39
Lewis Tennant .21
Andrew McGrory .17
Noah Stewart .33
David Taylor .23

Alberto Balde for Benjamin Magee (40)
Ben Murdock for Caolan Loughran (62)
Tiernan Kelly for Robbie Norton (62)
Noah Stewart for Jonathan McMurray (57)
Daithi McCallion for Scot Whiteside (75)
Lewis Tennant for Brendan Barr (85)
David Taylor for Alex Gawne (85)

Tiernan Kelly (68)
Berraat Turker (71)
Andrew Hoey (90)
Jamie Rea (90)
Alex Gawne (30)
Jonathan McMurray (45)

Red Cards
None. None.

Match Officials

Declan Hassan (Referee)
Bogdan Sfirloaga & Niall McGuinness (Assistants)
Raymond Crangle (Fourth Official)

Match Report

Ballymena United picked up a timely first league win of 2024 to move five points clear of bottom side Newry after a crucial 3-2 win over Loughgall at a blustery Lakeview Park on Saturday afternoon.

United went into the final five post-split fixtures in the relegation play-off spot, just two points ahead of Newry City at the foot of the table, and for the trip to Co. Armagh Jim Ervin made four changes from the defeat to Glentoran, including returns to the starting XI at centre half for Kym Nelson and skipper Scot Whiteside.

Having failed to take a single point off an impressive newly promoted Loughgall so far this season, the visitors no doubt knew the task ahead of them, but incredibly with just four minutes on the clock, Ballymena found themselves 2-0 ahead. In incredibly windy conditions, the Braidmen sent the ball forward down the right and it was hooked forward by Calvin McCurry into the path of Johnny McMurray, who did well to turn just inside the box and lay the ball off to Fraser Taylor, who swept home a delightful first-time effort to give United their earliest goal of the season.

An impressive travelling support barely had time to settle themselves down again after Taylor's opener, because incredibly the visitors then found themselves two to the good just a minute later. It came thanks to some solo magic from Alex Gawne, who picked the ball up shortly after Loughgall's restart not that far inside the host's half, and he burst forward with the ball all the way into the box, before slotting the ball home past Berraat Turker.

Given Ballymena's struggles for goals of late, let alone points, there was understandably a mixture of joy and shock amongst the away following, and bizarrely it could've been 3-0 by the seventh minute. Gawne was sent through and when an expected flag didn't come he was in, but Luke Cartwright did well to get back and close the shot down. After that frantic start for Ballymena came a period of plenty of Loughgall pressure, but not many chances. They were nearly back in the game in odd circumstances when Sean O'Neill came out of his box to clear a long ball, but his clearance cannoned off Sean Brown and went wide by inches, before the constantly swirling wind caused mayhem in the box for a couple of home side corners, but United did enough to keep them out.

Towards the end of the half it was still a game being dictated by the wind, making high balls almost impossible to judge for any team, and still it was resulting in very little chances at either end, with Loughgall still marginally on top, but being thwarted by a much more solid United line compared to recent weeks. The last opening of the half came for the Sky Blues following great work on his own by the ever running McCurry, but his weak effort was easily held, as Ballymena took a vital lead to half-time thanks to the early brace.

At half-time heavy rain joined the strong winds, but thankfully the wet weather passed for the start of the second period, however the gusts remained as strong as ever, with United playing into it for the most part.

With the away side still sat fairly deep, the Villagers enjoyed a lot of the ball again to start to the half, and on fifty-four minutes they halved the deficit as a familar face came back to haunt Ballymena. A long ball down the left was latched onto by former United man Ryan Waide, and into the box he chested the ball down and fired it home wonderfully from a difficult angle in his first game against the Braidmen since leaving in January. Just eight minutes after Waide's strike, Loughgall levelled through Nathaniel Ferris, with Ballymena surely left fearing yet another collapse could be on its way this season. A long throw in down the left picked out the in form Ferris just inside the box and after a couple of touches he had the space to fire a shot goalwards, and it took a wicked deflection off Kym Nelson to take it past O'Neill.

To the Braidmen's credit, this time there was no full blown collapse as they reset themselves well after being pegged back. With twenty minutes to go a United free kick from the halfway line predictably caught the wind to again provoke complete uncertainty in the box, and it eventually fell to Taylor who set himself before firing over what was a decent opening. However, just a minute after that chance for the Scotsman, Ballymena had an even better chance to go back infront in an ever changing game, thanks to a penalty. Long balls over the top to Noah Stewart, back from injury and off the bench, and McCurry were starting to prove fruitful for the visitors, but on the one occasion one was well overhit, Loughgall's 'keeper Turker got himself in all sorts of trouble as he tried to see the ball into the box before McCurry reached it, and after he spilled the ball when catching it, he brought McCurry down before he could finish, giving United as strange of a penalty as you'll see. It was Steven McCullough who assumed duty from twelve yards, in a massive moment in Ballymena's season, and despite Turker going the right way, McCullough's kick was accurate enough to find the back of the net and put the visitors back ahead.

Following the game's fifth goal, a couple of defensive changes saw Daithi McCallion and Lewis Tennant introduced as Ballymena tweaked their shape, and for the remaining minutes it worked to reduce Loughgall to little. The threat from the over the top ball still remained for Ballymena, with David Taylor also on to add extra legs, but they couldn't quite make the transition from getting in behind to creating a chance. At the other end, O'Neill hadn't a big save to make despite strong Loughgall pressure late on as his back line kept him protected, as United smartly saw it out to secure a first win in twelve games in shocking conditions, to open up a much needed buffer in the fight for survival.

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

Squad Statistics (as at April 6th, 2024)

2023-2024 All Time
Sean O'Neill (GK)35 36 - 99 -
Scot Whiteside26 3211302
Steven McCullough29 36224510
Sean Brown19 11 - 11 -
Kym Nelson28 301856
Dylan Boyle22 29 - 29 -
Fraser Taylor21 374374
Brendan Barr22 6 - 43 -
Calvin McCurry22 9 - 9 -
Jonathan McMurray29 26412436
Alex Gawne22 203203
Daithi McCallion (sub)18 7 - 7 -
Lewis Tennant (sub)19 19 - 20 -
David Taylor (sub)17 7 - 7 -
Noah Stewart (sub)20 257257

League Table (as at April 6th, 2024)

Pld W D L Pts
1. Larne 34 24 8 2 80
2. Linfield 34 25 4 5 79
3. Cliftonville 34 22 5 7 71
4. Crusaders 34 17 7 10 58
5. Glentoran 34 16 9 9 57
6. Coleraine 34 11 9 14 42
7. Loughgall 34 11 6 17 39
8. Carrick 34 11 5 18 38
9. Glenavon 34 11 4 19 37
10. Dungannon 34 9 8 17 35
11. BALLYMENA 34 6 4 24 22
12. Newry 34 4 5 25 17