Ballymena United 3-3 Glenavon
Danske Bank Premiership
Ballymena Showgrounds, Saturday 19th February 2022
Match report by Calum Jones
The nine men of Glenavon held on against 10-man Ballymena United to secure a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon.
The Lurgan Blues took the lead as early as the seventh minute when top scorer Matthew Fitzpatrick took advantage of a defensive error.
The lead was only to last for five minutes, however, as Mikey Place converted Leroy Millar’s low cross to draw the sides level on 12 minutes.
It was the home side who led at the break thanks to Conor Keeley’s header in first-half stoppage time, but Glenavon got themselves back on level terms in the opening minute of the second half through a superb goal from winger Peter Campbell.
There was chaos on 57 minutes when multiple players from both sides got involved in a fracas following a Ross Redman tackle on Fitzpatrick. When the dust eventually settled, referee Raymond Crangle sent off Ballymena’s Keeley and Glenavon’s Danny Wallace.
The visitors grabbed the lead for the second time in the match when Conor McCloskey scored from 20 yards in the 69th minute.
Glenavon were reduced to nine men when Robert Garrett was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Place on 71 minutes.
Ballymena made their one-man advantage count when they equalised through Paul McElroy with 10 minutes to go.
Most supporters probably expected the Braidmen to go on and find a winner in the dying minutes of the game, but Glenavon managed to hold on for a hard-fought point.
In a game in which both sides displayed plenty of attacking intent it was Glenavon who grabbed the lead on seven minutes. Campbell whipped in a low cross from the left, and when Keeley got his clearance wrong, Fitzpatrick took full advantage by tapping in from inside the six-yard box.
The lead lasted just five minutes, though, as Ballymena scored a similar goal to equalise. Captain Millar sent in the low cross from the left which found Place at the back post and he converted from a few yards out to make it 1-1.
Glenavon captain James Singleton missed a great chance to restore the Lurgan Blues’ lead on 14 minutes when he headed wide from a Campbell cross from the left.
Singleton had another headed chance in the 25th minute. Again Campbell was the provider, this time crossing from the right, but Ballymena goalkeeper Sean O’Neill produced a super save to deny the Glenavon left-back. Mark Haughey shot on the rebound, but he couldn’t keep his effort down.
Redman made an excellent last-gasp tackle to prevent Fitzpatrick from breaking through on goal on 37 minutes.
The home side got their noses in front in first-half stoppage time. Place took an inswinging free-kick from the left flank which found Keeley and the towering defender sent his header over onrushing Glenavon goalkeeper Taylor and into the net to make it 2-1 at the break.
Glenavon equalised in the opening minute of the second period. Campbell picked up a loose ball just outside the Ballymena penalty area and brilliantly spun between two defenders to break into the box before side-footing a low finish beyond the dive of O’Neill.
Michael O’Connor had an effort on goal from a free-kick in the 52nd minute which wasn’t too far away from finding O’Neill’s top right corner.
There was a huge melee between multiple players from both sides on 57 minutes. It all started when Fitzpatrick went down under a challenge from Redman as the Glenavon striker tried to fashion a shooting chance for himself. Redman was livid with Fitzpatrick, appearing to accuse the Glenavon player of diving. Referee Crangle didn’t award a free-kick, but neither did he penalise Fitzpatrick for simulation. Redman and Fitzpatrick started a shoving match and a host of their teammates inevitably joined in. Crangle stood back and allowed the flashpoint to fizzle out before deciding which players would be carded. Ballymena’s Keeley received two consecutive yellow cards, one for a foul in the build-up when play was allowed to continue, and another for his part in the melee. Glenavon’s Wallace also picked up his second yellow for his involvement in the pushing and shoving, leaving both teams with 10 men each.
It was Glenavon who looked the more threatening side in the minutes following the sendings off, and they were duly rewarded when McCloskey put them 3-2 ahead in the 69th minute. Campbell fed the ball up to the attacker just outside the Ballymena penalty area and he spun away from Redman before striking a looping shot with his right foot. O’Neill dived up to his left and managed to get fingertips to the ball, but he couldn’t prevent it from nestling in the back of the net.
The tide of the game turned again just two minutes later when Garrett was shown a straight red card, reducing Glenavon to nine men. The midfielder tangled with Place and foolishly kicked out at his opponent after being bundled to the ground, giving Crangle no choice but to produce the red card.
With the one-man advantage it was almost inevitable that Ballymena would equalise, and sure enough that equaliser did arrive on 80 minutes. A Ballymena corner was headed clear by Singleton, but only as far as Steven McCullough, who curled a cross to the far post, where McElroy managed to direct an effort on target. The ball appeared to take a strange bounce on the Showgrounds’ bobbly pitch which wrong-footed Taylor in the Glenavon net, resulting in the sixth goal in a pulsating game.
All the momentum was with the home side in the closing minutes as they went in search of a winner, but in truth they didn’t really trouble Taylor during the remainder of the match, and credit must go to the nine Glenavon players who remained on the pitch, as they defended resolutely to hold on for a point in a game that will go down as one of the most entertaining of the season.
The result means Glenavon remain a point behind Ballymena in the league standings.
The Lurgan Blues welcome second-placed Glentoran to Mourneview Park next Saturday (26th February). Kick-off will be at 3pm.
Ballymena United: 32. Sean O’Neill (GK), 3. Ross Redman, 9. Paul McElroy, 10. Ryan Waide, 11. Steven McCullough, 16. Brendan Barr, 22. Conor Keeley, 23. Leroy Millar (C), 24. Sean Graham, 25. Malachy Smith, 30. Michael Place
Subs: 15. Christopher Rodgers (for 16. Brendan Barr, 59’), 19. David Parkhouse (for 10. Ryan Waide, 72’), 12. Kenneth Kane (for 25. Malachy Smith, 88’); not used: 2. Lee Chapman, 14. Jack Henderson, 18. Daniel Bramall, 34. Ciaran Gallagher
Goals: 30. Michael Place (12’), 22. Conor Keeley (45+1’), 9. Paul McElroy (80’)
Yellow cards: 10. Ryan Waide (45’), 22. Conor Keeley (59’, 59’), 30. Michael Place (90+2’)
Red cards: 22. Conor Keeley (59’, second bookable offence)
Glenavon: 18. James Taylor (GK), 4. Calum Birney, 5. Mark Haughey, 8. Michael O’Connor, 10. Peter Campbell, 14. Matthew Snoddy, 17. Conor McCloskey, 19. Matthew Fitzpatrick, 23. Daniel Wallace, 27. James Singleton (C), 28. Robert Garrett
Subs: 30. Sean Ward (for 19. Matthew Fitzpatrick, 72’), 26. Joshua Doyle (for 17. Conor McCloskey, 87’); not used: 6. Andrew Doyle, 11. Andrew Hall, 20. Conor Scannell, 21. Jack O’Mahony, 44. Harry Lynch
Goals: 19. Matthew Fitzpatrick (7’), 10. Peter Campbell (46’), 17. Conor McCloskey (69’)
Yellow cards: 4. Calum Birney (40’), 23. Daniel Wallace (45’, 59’)
Red cards: 23. Daniel Wallace (59’, second bookable offence), 28. Robert Garrett (71’, straight red card)
Referee: Raymond Crangle