Europa League Play Off Final: Ballymena 2 Glenavon 1

Glenavon suffered an agonising defeat to Ballymena in Friday evening’s Europa League Play Off Final with former player Kevin Braniff grabbing the winner 10 minutes from time.

With the playing surface at the Showgrounds subject to much debate over the course of the season the game started slowly with both sides struggling to make an opening. Joel Cooper had the game’s first real chance on 15 minutes when he latched onto a Martyn through ball but from a tight angle squeezed his shot past the far post. Cooper again went close shortly after as he cleverly cut inside the home defence forcing Glendinning into a smart save down to his near post.

Ballymena as yet were to test Tuffey in the Glenavon goal who was comfortably dealing with the threat from set pieces. They did go close however when Owens headed a Kane free kick past the post but with Sykes well placed on the line to clear any danger. Shortly before the break Glenavon had the game’s best chance, Gray cleverly turned his man after Moorhouse had flicked a header into his path. His powerful effort was well saved by the outstretched leg of Glendinning with Ciaran Martyn unable to capitalise from the rebound shooting straight at a relieved Glendinning.

Eight minutes into the second half Ballymena took the lead, McMurray got in behind the Glenavon back line and fed an inviting ball across the face of goal to Friel who from 6 yards fired into the roof of the net. Minutes later it was almost two, McMurray this time with the chance however he fired wide when well placed.

Andy Hall replaced Sykes on 56 minutes and he made a telling impact as his corner was headed back across goal by Singleton towards Rhys Marshall, whose unstoppable volley from 10 yards levelled the game up at 1-1.

Hall was unlucky not to put Glenavon into the lead when his dipping free kick from distance came crashing back off the bar with Glendinning beaten, Marshall then saw his header come off the top of the bar from the rebound.

With Glenavon pushing for a winner Ballymena introduced Kevin Braniff to the action. Within minutes he took the game away from his former side. Picking the ball up 25 yards from goal his shot took a wicked deflection off Singleton and crashed in off the cross bar to put Ballymena into a 2-1 lead with just under 10 minutes to play.

Glenavon pushed hard for a second equaliser bringing on Jordan Jenkins who a month earlier scored a brace in a 2-0 victory over the same opposition. Glenavon had one last chance late in the game when Gray broke free from his man but his shot lacked any real power to test Glendinning.

A disappointing end to the season for Glenavon who for the first time in four seasons have no European football to look towards in the summer months.

Team: Tuffey ©, Canning (Kilmartin 73 mins), Doyle, Lindsay, Singleton, Marshall, Sykes (Hall 56 mins), Martyn, Cooper, Gray, Moorhouse (Jenkins 81 mins).

Unused Subs: Neill and McGrory

Preview: Europa League Play Off Final: Ballymena United v Glenavon

For all of tonight’s updates follow live on twitter   @Glenavon_FC or Facebook Glenavon FC

Glenavon travel to the Ballymena Showgrounds tomorrow evening for their last, and arguably most important game of the 2016/17 season as they battle it out with Ballymena United in the Play Off Final for that coveted and lucrative Europa League spot (Kick off 7.45pm).

NO TICKETS REQUIRED

Speaking on Thursday evening ahead of the game Manager Gary Hamilton advised that Simon Kelly, Guy Bates and David Elebert were definitely ruled out of the game. “Guy’s knee still isn’t right. We knew if we played Simon Kelly it would finish his chances of playing on Friday but we needed him to give us the best chance of reaching the Final and obviously it did work for us”.  Gary advised that David Elebert had been struggling with some sort of viral infection and having completed training on Saturday has again been unwell. Chris Turner also remains a doubt for the game after coming off at Solitude three weeks ago with a tight hamstring.

Simon Kelly misses tomorrow’s game through injury. Pic: Maynard Collins

When discussing the impact fans have had previously Gary commented, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the other night in the second half we felt it, when you hear them, that helps the players on the pitch, some people need that and some people like that and it gives them the extra motivation they need. I’ve said all along that in any of the big performances we’ve had in my time as Manager that the supporters have driven the team to it. The semi finals, the European decider against Portadown, the two Finals – the supporters have played a huge part. They were a credit to themselves when we needed them the other night against Cliftonville and hopefully we can hear them from start to finish again against Ballymena tomorrow”.

So, for one last time this season let’s get out in numbers tomorrow evening and get behind the players from the very first to the very last minute.  #GHBAWA

Important information for spectators

As a result of an incident at Monday night’s game at Solitude the club understands there will be thorough searching of spectators entering the ground. You are reminded that possession of fireworks/flares etc is a specific offence under the Criminal Justice Act 2011 in relation to football matches. Anyone found to be in possession of such items will be denied access to the ground and handed over to the PSNI. Anyone identified as throwing such a device within the ground will be also be handed over to the PSNI and ejected from the ground. Moreover, the club would be likely to face consequential IFA sanctions. We urge all fans to be vocal and passionate on Friday night but do nothing to tarnish the good name of Glenavon Football Club.

Finally, in planning their journey to the game supporters are reminded of the probability of heavy traffic in the Ballymena area as a result of spectators heading to the North Coast for the NW200.

Europa League Play Off Semi Final: Cliftonville 3 Glenavon 5

Glenavon sealed a place in Friday’s NIFL Europa League Play off Final with Ballymena after a thrilling 5-3 victory at Solitude last night. Glenavon took an early lead with Rhys Marshall rising highest to head home from a Joel Cooper corner just as the well supported applause for the late Tony Scappaticci was about to take place in the 3rd minute. The lead did not last for long however with Jude Winchester picking up the loose ball and firing an unstoppable shot past Tuffey from 25 yards two minutes later.

Rhys Marshall heads Glenavon into an early lead. Pic: Maynard Collins

The home side then went in front after 27 minutes with Chris Curran beating Andrew Doyle and slotting home past the onrushing Tuffey. Glenavon fought back not for the first time in the game and got back on level terms, Simon Kelly heading back across goal from another Cooper corner with Greg Moorhouse nipping in ahead of Burke in the Cliftonville goal to head home on 34 minutes.

Greg Moorhouse nips in to make it 2-2. Pic: Maynard Collins

Having got back on levels terms Glenavon went behind two minutes later however, Marty Donnelly picking out namesake Jay with a great delivery from the left and the striker made no mistake from close range as he planted his header into the bottom right hand corner to give the home side a 3-2 lead.

Buoyed on however by a passionate and boisterous away support, Glenavon piled on the early second half pressure, Cliftonville scrambling the ball away from the lively James Gray just as he seemed destined to score, Burke also pushing a Marshall header over from close range for a corner.

Glenavon levelled the game up on 49 minutes from the resulting corner with James Singleton planting his header past Burke in the home goal, game on again. The momentum was now once again with the away side, Cooper twice going close with efforts while Gray who along with Moorhouse were stretching the home defence saw his effort beaten away by Burke.

Gray did not have to wait long however for his deserved goal, as he stooped to head home from another Kelly header from yet another Cooper set piece on 70 minutes to send the away support into raptures, surely this was now Glenavon’s game.

With the away support in fine voice after Gray’s goal, Sykes was brought down just inside the Cliftonville penalty area on 73 minutes giving Referee Tim Marshall no option but to point to the spot. Andy McGrory stepped up sending Burke the wrong away to put Glenavon 5-3 ahead and into Friday’s Europa League decider.

Andy McGrory celebrates his penalty. Pic: Maynard Collins

Tuffey (C), McGrory, Kelly, Doyle, Singleton, Sykes (Hall 84 mins), Kilmartin, Marshall, Cooper (Neill 90 mins), Gray (Marron 90mins), Moorhouse

Subs not used: Martyn, Jenkins

Paul Millar thanks the fantastic support. Pic: Maynard Collins

Result: Crusaders 6-1 Glenavon

Six changes to the starting line-up for Glenavon as Kyle Neill, named as Captain for today, starts would could be his last league match for the Lurgan Blues.

Photo by Maynard Collins

James Taylor, Kris Lindsay, Joel Cooper, Caolan Marron, Greg Moorhouse and Robbie Norton are in from the start.

06: 1-0 Gavin Whyte runs onto Gavin Whyte’s flick-on and angles a shot into the bottom corner giving James Taylor no chance.

27: 2-0 Whyte turns provider as he cuts a ball back from the bye-line and Paul Heatley tucks the ball away at the near post.

38: 3-0 Heatley showed a great touch to instantly control a long, high punt down the middle and steers the ball beyond a stranded Taylor

44: 4-0 Carvill grabs his second of the game, again a great touch allowed him to control a ball into the box by Owens and lift it over Taylor.

58: 4-1 What a strike by Robbie Norton! From 30 yards his strike into the top corner gave Sean O’Neill no chance.

Photo by Maynard Collins

78: 5-1 Jordan Owens gets on the scoresheet with a curler from the edge of the box. In the build-up Caolan Marron picked up a bad knock just after Gary Hamilton had used his final two subsitutes. The young defender has had to go off leaving Glenavon to finish the game with ten men.

90+4: 6-1 Crues sub Matthew Snoddy taps in from six yards after Taylor palms a low cross into his path.

Seconds after Andy Hall headed over the Crues bar from a Joel Cooper cross Michael Carvill latched onto a flick-on by Gavin Whyte and angled a low shot across Taylor into the bottom corner.

Jordan Owens squandered several chances to extend the Crues lead and Paul Heatley was only inches wide with a low 25th minute  shot as Andrew Mitchell cut out a cross-field pass from Jenkins and raced forward before slipping in Heatley.

Two minutes later Heatley made no mistake when he nipped in at the near post to tuck away a cut-back from the bye-line by Whyte.

Heatley grabbed his second in the 38th minute and Carvill joined the double party a minute before half-time.

As news filtered in from Solitude that Linfield had come back to take a 2-1 lead, Robbie Norton picked up the ball 30 yards out and unleashed a superb drive into the top corner that left O’Neill grasping thin air.

Crusaders: O’Neill (c), Burns, Beverland, McClean, Carvill, Caddell, Mitchell, Forsythe, Whyte,Heatley, Owens. Subs: Cushley, Dougherty (GK), Snoddy, Keane, Suarez

Glenavon: Taylor, McGrory, Lindsay, Marron, Neill (c), Hall, Kilmartin, Norton, Cooper,Moorhouse, Jenkins. Subs: Marshall, Young, Canning, Singleton, Gray

Referee: Andrew Davey

 

Preview: Crusaders v Glenavon

Supporter Information: For today’s game Glenavon supporters will be accommodated in the Shore Road stand and should enter via the Shore Road turnstiles.

Gary Hamilton’s team selection for the final league game of the season at Seaview against Crusaders tomorrow is once again restricted by injuries, suspensions and potential bans. Rhys Marshall is available after completing a two-game ban but Simon Kelly and Andrew Doyle are both banned for this game having picked up their 5th cautions recently. Chris Turner is out with hamstring strain but Aaron Canning (back) and Joel Cooper (calf) should be available for selection.

“We’ll put out the strongest team we can bearing in mind who’s available and as we try to give the players as many minutes as possible on the pitch in preparation for the playoffs,” Gary told us. “Aaron has had back problems which recurred against Linfield and the 4G pitch could put extra strain on him so he may have limited minutes tomorrow.”

Gary himself has been absent from the playing squad since picking up a stress fracture of the back while playing in the Reserves. “That’s frustrating for me as, ironically, I was playing to get fit for the play-offs but I won’t be able to play again this season.”

Kyle Neill

‘That goal’ hits the back of the net. Photo by Alan Weir

What a servant Kyle Neill has been, not just to Glenavon Football Club, but to Irish League football in general. And who will ever forget that goal ‘Kyler’ scored in the 2014 Irish Cup Final that saw Glenavon win the coveted trophy for the first time since 1997?

Kyle Neill is carried off after picking up a suspected cartilage injury to his left knee. Photo by Alan Weir

Last week at Solitude Kyle was arguably the best player on the pitch, belying the fact that he’s 39 years old and has had to fight his way back to fitness after an operation to repair a serious knee ligament injury he picked up on Boxing Day 2015.

If he starts tomorrow’s game it will be his 198th start for the Lurgan Blues and, with 30 substitute appearances and 24 goals and who knows how many assists to his credit, he’ll be a hard act to follow.

“We’ve had a chat and Kyle told me he feels this is going to be his last year at this level. He said he’d like to stay on but he’s a realist and, while you never ever rule anything out in life, in his opinion this is his last year and tomorrow could possibly be his last league game,” Gary explained. “He’s had a wonderful career and an unbelievable time at Glenavon. He’s been there since I started until now; he’s played a part in one Irish Cup success and getting to Europe a couple of times. He’s been a big player for the club and unfortunately for him he got the cruciate injury when he was on a good run of form which set him back for the start of this season and then he picked up a few wee niggles this year which sometimes happens when you’re coming back from serious injury.

“Obviously he’s a close friend of mine but regardless of that and never mind his ability and everything else that he had, he was somebody you could rely on and somebody who, once he crossed that white line, gave whatever club he played for everything he had.

“I thought last Saturday just typified him; he came in for Joel, not having played for a long, long time, on a 3G pitch which he obviously doesn’t like playing on, and to put in the shift and the performance that he did, just spoke volumes about the type of person and the type of player he’s been whichever Club he’s played for.”

The last time Glenavon won at Seaview was in October 2014 when Gary’s side ran out 4-1 winners. The key to that win was swift counter-attacking football by Glenavon and that may be a feature tomorrow as Crusaders must go all-out for the win to have any hope of retaining their League title for a third consecutive season.

Match Officials

Referee Assistant 1 Assistant 2 4th Official
Andrew Davey  George Argyropoulos  Ken Ross  Steven Gregg