Glenavon 1-0 Ballymena United
Sports Direct Premiership
Saturday 2nd September 2023
Match report by Calum Jones
Calum Birney’s fourth-minute header was enough to earn Glenavon their first win of the season on Saturday at home to Ballymena United in a match which saw both sides finish with 10 men.
New loan signing Jamie McDonagh was put straight into the Lurgan Blues’ starting line-up, and it was he who delivered the corner which was met by Birney, the big centre-half thumping his header home from point-blank range.
There were no fewer than 12 yellow cards brandished by referee Tim Marshall in the course of the game (13 if you count the one flashed at United boss Jim Ervin), with Ballymena’s Mikey Place and Glenavon’s Aaron Rogers each being dismissed in the second half for two bookable offences.
Glenavon got their reward for exerting early pressure on Ballymena when they grabbed the lead with just four minutes on the clock. McDonagh sent over an inswinging corner from the left and Birney fought his way through a crowd of players to meet the ball with his head inside the six-yard box and send it into the net.
Both sides had shooting opportunities from free kicks within a couple of minutes of each other. First, on 13 minutes, Ryan Waide fired over the bar for Ballymena. It was Peter Campbell who blazed over the top at the other end for Glenavon two minutes later.
McDonagh showed flashes of his quality throughout the game, and in the 17th minute he hit the target with a well-struck shot from outside the box, but Ballymena goalkeeper Sean O’Neill was able to make the save.
O’Neill was called into action again on 39 minutes when Stephen Teggart hit a low drive from distance. The goalkeeper dived down to his right to make a smart stop.
Place picked up his first yellow card in the third minute of injury time at the end of the first half, and his second followed just five minutes after the restart, when he pulled Rogers back as the Glenavon fullback was attempting to break into the Ballymena penalty area.
Truthfully, the home side didn’t really make their numerical advantage count, although Jackson Nesbitt did hit the target with a low shot from the edge of the box after he’d been found as a result of good play from Campbell on 65 minutes. In the end, it was a routine save for O’Neill.
The Lurgan Blues’ best chance to kill the game off fell to Cohen Henderson. The young substitute found himself clean through on goal in the 70th minute, but with just O’Neill to beat, Henderson sent his shot sailing over the bar.
It was another substitute who went close for Glenavon eight minutes later, as Aaron Prendergast attempted to lob O’Neill, but the United goalkeeper managed to get enough on the ball to divert it behind for a corner.
The numbers were evened up on 80 minutes when Rogers picked up his second yellow card for impeding Jonny McMurray as the Ballymena striker attempted to race down the right flank.
Colin Coates hit the target with a header when he got on the end of a corner two minutes after Rogers’ dismissal, but Glenavon goalkeeper Rory Brown made a comfortable save.
Another Ballymena substitute gave Brown a sterner test in the 86th minute. Alex Gawne’s low curling shot from the left forced Brown to dive down to his left to make the stop.
In the third minute of additional time, Henderson set off on a brilliant run down the Glenavon right, dribbling all the way into the Ballymena box, but eventually he just overran the ball, enabling O’Neill to gather.
Prendergast broke into the left side of the United penalty area three minutes later. The young forward hit the target with a low shot from a tight angle, but O’Neill managed to get a boot to the ball to keep it out. Jack Malone and Nesbitt did well to recycle the loose ball and feed it back to Prendergast, but his subsequent shot was blocked by Ballymena captain Scot Whiteside.
There was to be one very late scare for Glenavon in the eighth minute of injury time when the impressive Fraser Taylor struck a shot. Thankfully for the Lurgan Blues Brown was equal to Taylor’s effort, and the vital three points were secured for the Mourneview men.
The win sees Glenavon move up one place in the table to 10th, above Dungannon Swifts. It is the Swifts who will provide the opposition for Gary Hamilton’s men next Saturday (9th September). Kick-off at Stangmore Park will be at 3pm.
Before that league fixture, however, the Lurgan Blues will be taking on Banbridge Town in the first round of the Mid Ulster Cup at Mourneview Park on Monday night (4th September). That game will get underway at 7:45pm.
MATCH SPONSOR – Gordon Irwin
BALL SPONSOR – Peter Haire
MAN OF THE MATCH SPONSOR – Barry Craig & Ethna Ferran
Glenavon: 1. Rory Brown (GK), 3. Aaron Rogers, 4. Calum Birney, 7. Matthew Snoddy, 10. Peter Campbell, 16. Isaac Baird, 17. Conor McCloskey, 20. Stephen Teggart, 23. Daniel Wallace (C), 27. Jamie McDonagh, 29. Jackson Nesbitt
Subs: 34. Cohen Henderson (for 27. Jamie McDonagh, 63’), 8. Jack Malone (for 7. Matthew Snoddy, 74’), 21. Aaron Prendergast (for 17. Conor McCloskey, 74’); not used: 2. Conor Kerr, 22. Tiarnan Mulvenna, 28. Robert Garrett, 37. Colin Oppong
Goals: 4. Calum Birney (4’)
Yellow cards: 23. Daniel Wallace (20’), 27. Jamie McDonagh (61’), 3. Aaron Rogers (67’, 80’), 10. Peter Campbell (69’), 17. Conor McCloskey (73’)
Red cards: 3. Aaron Rogers (80’) (second bookable offence)
Ballymena United: 1. Sean O’Neill (GK), 2. Kym Nelson, 4. Donal Rocks, 5. Scot Whiteside (C), 10. Ryan Waide, 11. Steven McCullough, 14. John McGuigan, 16. Fraser Taylor, 17. Andrew McGrory, 27. Jonathan McMurray, 30. Michael Place
Subs: 6. Colin Coates (for 11. Steven McCullough, 29’), 7. Alexander Gawne (for 10. Ryan Waide, 55’), 9. Cathair Friel (for 17. Andrew McGrory, 55’), 19. Marc Walsh (for 14. John McGuigan, 87’); not used: 26. Samuel Johnston (GK), 3. Corrie Burns, 20. Thomas Murray
Yellow cards: 4. Donal Rocks (36’), 30. Michael Place (45+3’, 50’), 27. Jonathan McMurray (79’), 5. Scot Whiteside (84’), 14. John McGuigan (86’)
Red cards: 30. Michael Place (50’) (second bookable offence)