Ballymena United 0 Glenavon 1

Danske Bank Premiership

Ballymena Showgrounds

Monday 3rd April 2023

Matthew Fitzpatrick’s 18th minute goal was enough to earn Glenavon a well deserved 1-0 win against Irish Cup finalist Ballymena United at the Warden Street Showgrounds.

The victory – the Lurgan Blues’ fourth on the trot – moves the club closer to achieving a seventh place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership and with it a UEFA Conference League Qualification Play-off berth.

The match, very competitive but never overly so, was marred late in the second half by the dismissal of Ballymena’s Dougie Wilson and Steven McCullough.

Glenavon’s Peter Campbell, an absentee since the end of February, returned to action as a second half substitute and almost capped an encouraging display with a goal.

Best for the visitors were Danny Wallace, Matthew Snoddy, Isaac Baird, Robbie Garrett, Jack Malone and matchwinner Fitzpatrick.

Glenavon, again setting up with a back four and two defensive midfielders, made a positive start and might have gone in front as early as the third minute when Jamie Doran shot wide.

Matthew Snoddy, a revelation since he moved into the right-back position, just failed to get a touch at the far post to a searching free kick delivered to the box by Rory Brown.

With 18 minutes played, the Lurgan men took the lead. Snoddy and Doran combined well on the right to release Isaac Baird. The tall, gangly teenager turned smartly near the corner flag and flighted an appetising cross to the near post where Glenavon’s top scorer, Matthew Fitzpatrick, was lurking. The Belfast man got in front of his marker and deftly nodded the ball, past Sean O’Neill. It was his 16th goal of the season.

Glenavon, dominating possession and moving the ball quickly, almost doubled its lead with Fitzpatrick heading over from a Snoddy cross.

Then Conor McCloskey collected a well weighted chipped pass by Aaron Rogers and found space on the left side of the penalty area but shot straight at Sean O’Neill.

Ballymena’s first noteworthy goal attempt of the evening did not come until the 31st minute. Isaac Baird’s clearance from a free kick was nodded back into the box by Dougie Wilson and Craig Farquhar’s pinpoint header sent Rory Brown sprawling towards the base of a post.

Next Sean Graham just failed to reach Robert McVarnock’s neat lofted ball into the penalty-area.

At the other end, Jack Malone, having a fine game, made too firm a contact with an Aaron Rogers’ free kick and his header sailed over the crossbar.

At half-time Glenavon led 1-0.

The second half proved to be more even than the first.

In the 55th minute Ballymena striker Jordan Gibson shot wide. Five minutes later Sean Ward used his body well to block an effort by McVarnock after good work by Josh Kelly. Three minutes later Sean Graham let fly from just inside the box and Rory Brown moved quickly to tip the ball around a post.

Glenavon, still having a lot of possession, almost doubled its lead when Isaac Baird’s seemingly tame shot from 20 yards forced O’Neill to make a diving save.

Shortly after the 60th minute Gary Hamilton introduced Peter Campbell for Conor McCloskey and Mick O’Connor for Robbie Garrett. 

In the 71st minute Jamie Doran, always looking to get forward, got his head to a Campbell cross but winced as the ball went the wrong side of a post. Sixty seconds later Jack Malone found Campbell on the left and the ex-Loughgall winger ran across the face of the penalty area before letting fly with a goalbound shot which Scot Whiteside did well to divert over the crossbar. Referee Lee Tavinder booked Ballymena’s Dougie Wilson for a foul in the build-up.

Snoddy, Campbell and Malone combined well on the right, but the former Derry City midfielder over-ran the ball allowing O’Neill to gather.

Ballymena played its final card in the 76th minute with a quadruple change. Waide, Tipton, Kane and Place entered the fray for Gibson, Graham, McDaid and McVarnock.

Glenavon continued to push forward. In the 84th minute Aaron Rogers’ close-range shot from Jack Malone’s corner was cleared off the line by Mikey Place.

Then followed a flurry of bookings and sendings-off. Dougie Wilson received a second yellow card for pulling back Matthew Fitzpatrick as he threatened to surge clear on the right. Four minutes later Steven McCullough fell victim to a straight red for retaliation in an off-the-ball tussle with Peter Campbell.

Glenavon, now playing with a two-man advantage, never looked likely to concede an equaliser.

Tonight’s win makes it an impressive four wins and a draw from four away and one home fixture against Glentoran twice, Newry City, Coleraine and Ballymena United. It also means that Gary Hamilton’s side has not conceded a goal away from home since mid-February.

BALLYMENA UNITED: O’Neill, Redman, Wilson, Whiteside, McDaid, Kelly, McCullough, Gibson, McVarnock, Graham, Farquhar, SUBS: Waide for Gibson (76 mins), Tipton for Graham (76 mins), Kane for McDaid (76 mins), Tweed (not used), McGrory (not used), Thompson (not used), Place for McVarnock (76 mins).

Yellow Cards: Wilson (72’), Tipton (92’)

Red Cards: Wilson (86’), McCullough (90’)

GLENAVON: Brown, Snoddy, Wallace, Ward, Rogers, Baird, Garrett, Doran, McCloskey, Malone, Fitzpatrick, SUBS: Kerr (not used), Birney (not used), O’Connor for Garrett (64 mins), Campbell for McCloskey (61 mins), Henderson (not used), Stewart (not used), Bradley (not used).

Yellow Cards: Garrett (54’), Doran (66’), Rogers (83’), Campbell (90’), Fitzpatrick (94’)

REFEREE: Lee Tavinder.

Matthew Fitzpatrick heads Glenavon’s winner against Ballymena United.

Peter Campbell in action at the Warden Street Showgrounds.