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