Ballymena United 2-1 Glenavon
The Showgrounds, Friday 20th December 2019
Danske Bank Premiership Matchday 21
Match Report by Philip Hawthorne
Photos by Maynard Collins
Glenavon fans leaving Warden Street last night must have been wondering how their team lost this match despite outplaying the hosts for much of the game. The short answer lay in two clinical finishes by Cathair Friel, assisted in both by his strike partner Adam Lecky. Sky Blues keeper Jordan Williamson was the busier of the two goalies making saves in the first half to turn a 25 yard drive by Andrew Doyle around the post but Doyle did make a vital goal-line clearance to keep out a Friel header in the 39th minute.
The keeper was also alert to the danger when an in-swinging Andy Hall corner had to be punched clear from right under his crossbar and he tipped a Sammy Clingan freekick over the bar after James Knowles had tripped Caolan Marron on the edge of the box.
Arguably Glenavon’s best chance of the first half had arrived on 24 minutes when Josh Daniels played a delightful through ball for Conor McCloskey who found himself one-on-one with the keeper who had advanced to the edge of his box and managed to block the former Ballymena player’s shot.
The first half ended goalless but Friel was not to be denied in the third minute of the second half when Lecky beat the offside trap to run onto a pass down the right and crossed low into the path of his strike partner who rifled a shot into the roof of the net.
The lead lasted only two minutes however when Jordan Jenkins, making his first league start since the 4-0 defeat away to Coleraine, showed a good touch to control Clingan’s pass before sidestepping the defensive challenges to fire past Williamson.
Kyle Beggs, who had replaced Hall after he picked up a knee injury in the first half, combined well with Marron to set up a shooting chance for Jenkins but his rasping effort was pushed round the post by Williamson diving to his right. The stopper was called into action again with an even better save when he repeated the feat to deny Josh Daniels after the winger had got on the end of a cross from Marron.
A quickly taken throw in by James Singleton led to another shooting chance for Daniels but this time a defenders boot deflected the ball out for yet another corner.
Friel spurned a great chance to restore the lead when he fired wide from 8 yards after being picked out at the near post by a low cross from Steven McCullough.
As Glenavon pressed for a winner a low cross from Daniels found McCloskey, who turned, but had the shot blocked. Beggs got to the rebound but had a bit of an air shot before he recovered the ball, but that gave the Ballymena defence time to clear the danger.
There was about 30 seconds of the indicated three minutes of additional time remaining when Lecky was again released down the right and, thanks to an unfortunate slip by Doyle, the big striker was able to lift a cross to the far post where a totally unmarked Friel tucked away the winner, with barely enough time for the restart. Gary Hamilton will be unhappy with the defending on that goal, with all his defenders seemingly attracted towards the near post, leaving the lethal United striker in acres of space at the far post.
Next up in the busy festive period for Glenavon is the Boxing Day derby with Dungannon, followed by the visit of Warrenpoint Town on Saturday 28th December, both games at Mourneview Park with 3pm kick-offs.
Ballymena United: Williamson, Kane, Harpur, Knowles, Friel, McCullough, Burns, Balmer, McGrory, Ervin, Lecky. Subs: McGinty (for Knowles 74), Kelly (for Harpur 59), Ross Glendinning GK, Whiteside, Kane, Reece Glendinning, Lavery
Goals: Friel 48, 90+3
Cards: Knowles 45
Glenavon: Tuffey, Larmour, Marron, Doyle, Daniels, Marshall, Hall, Clingan, McCloskey, Singleton, Jenkins. Subs: Burns, Mitchell (for Jenkins 82), Harmon, Beggs (for Hall 38), Murray (for McCloskey 82), Garrett, Wearen
Goals: Jenkins 50
Referee: Andrew Davey