Ballymena United 0–1 Glenavon
Sports Direct Premiership
Saturday 11th November 2023
Match report by Calum Jones
Conor McCloskey’s first-half header earned Glenavon a 1-0 win away at Ballymena United on Saturday afternoon in a game that was played at a foggy Warden Street Showgrounds.
McCloskey was picked out with a left-wing cross from Peter Campbell in the 37th minute. The former Ballymena player’s header took a deflection off Steven McCullough before finding the net, and it proved to be enough to earn the Lurgan Blues a third successive victory.
Glenavon’s win was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, and they could have been out of sight by the break. The home side had goalkeeper Sean O’Neill to thank for keeping them in the match during the opening 45 minutes, with the shot-stopper denying young Aaron Prendergast on no fewer than four occasions before the half-time whistle had sounded.
The hosts did threaten on a couple of occasions early on. Fraser Taylor dribbled to the byline on the right on seven minutes before standing a cross up to the back post, but it was just too high for Isaac Westendorf to be able to get his head to it.
Westendorf did get on the end of a McCullough free kick four minutes later, but he couldn’t generate any power in hisheader, and Glenavon goalkeeper Rory Brown made a routinesave.
The Prendergast-O’Neill duel began in the 21st minute when the striker was presented with a shooting opportunity after McCloskey and Campbell had combined. Prendergast found the target with a low shot, but O’Neill was able to dive to his right and make the stop.
Three minutes later, Glenavon captain Niall Quinn produced a superb long diagonal pass to pick out Campbell on the right. The winger cut in and got a shot away, but a Ballymena defender was able to block the effort.
At the other end, Ryan Waide threatened on a couple of occasions. First, on 26 minutes, he saw a shot deflected behind for a corner. Then, four minutes after that, Jack Malone defended brilliantly, getting in a vital block on a well-struck Waide shot from the left side of the penalty area.
Part two of Prendergast versus O’Neill happened in the 32ndminute. McCloskey slipped a pass into the right side of the Ballymena box to find his teammate. Prendergast’s low shot was hit well, but again O’Neill was able to keep it out, this time with his boot.
O’Neill made it a hat-trick of saves four minutes later. Quinn curled in a cross from deep on the left and Prendergast got to the ball ahead of Ballymena captain Scot Whiteside to hit the target with a downward header from six yards out. Yet again, O’Neill was equal to it, diving down to his right to make the point–blank save. Whiteside was alert enough to poke the ball behind for a corner before Prendergast could attempt a follow-up shot.
The deadlock was broken a minute later. Quinn was just inside his own half when he clipped a ball into the left channel for Campbell to run onto. The winger took his time to look up and pick a target before whipping a cross to the far–post area, finding the head of McCloskey. O’Neill was finally beaten when McCloskey’s header took a wicked deflection off McCullough to send it past the goalkeeper and into the net.
There was still time for the veteran goalkeeper to thwart Prendergast for a fourth time in the closing minutes of the first half. McCloskey looped a clever pass into the box and Prendergast outpaced Whiteside to get to the ball first. He took one touch with his left foot to set himself before drilling in a low shot with his right. O’Neill managed to divert the ball behind for a corner with his right boot, ensuring his side remained very much in the game going into the interval.
The hosts threatened two minutes into the second period when Westendorf played a pass into Donal Rocks on the right side of the Glenavon box. The midfielder found the target with his shot from a narrow angle, but Brown was able to block the effort and then gather the ball.
Taylor saw his effort go well over Brown’s crossbar in the 51stminute after he’d been presented with a shooting opportunity when Glenavon were unable to clear a free kick.
There was a similar outcome at the other end three minutes later when Glenavon midfielder Robbie Garrett sent a shot high over the bar from distance.
The visitors looked comfortable protecting their slender lead as the second half wore on, and it always appeared more likely that the Lurgan Blues would add to their advantage rather than the Sky Blues find an equaliser.
There were appeals for a Glenavon penalty on 74 minutes when Campbell struck a shot that may have hit a Ballymena arm, but referee Ian McNabb was uninterested.
Campbell was involved again in the 79th minute when he crossed from the left to find Prendergast. The striker could only send his header over the bar, though.
Despite being in the ascendency for most of the closing stages of the match, the Glenavon defence still had to remain alert.Danny Wallace, who along with centre-back partner Conor Kerr, put in an assured performance, made an excellent block-tackle on the corner of the six-yard box to deny Ballymena substitute Noah Stewart with 85 minutes on the clock.
Glenavon almost grabbed a second goal in injury time when Cohen Henderson drove a left-foot shot against the base of the post. Henderson nipped in to pinch the ball from O’Neill after fellow substitute Tiarnan Mulvenna had sent over a low cross from the right. The young attacker attempted to squeeze a shot in at the near post, but it hit the upright and O’Neill was able to gather.
Manager Stephen McDonnell will be delighted to pick up a third win on the bounce, along with a second successive clean sheet.
Glenavon remain in ninth place in the Sports Direct Premiership standings, but Saturday’s victory means they now sit six points clear of both 10th–placed United and Newry City in 11th spot.
The Lurgan Blues will be hoping to continue their impressive league form next Saturday (18th November) when they host Loughgall. The Villagers have impressed so far on their return to the Premiership, and they currently occupy seventh spot, two places and five points above Glenavon. Kick-off at Mourneview Park will be at 3pm.
Before that, McDonnell’s men are in midweek Mid-Ulster Cup action. Dungannon Swifts are the visitors to Mourneview on Tuesday night (14th November) for the semi-final tie. Kick-off for that one will be at 7:45pm.
Ballymena United: 1. Sean O’Neill, 3. Corrie Burns, 4. Donal Rocks, 5. Scot Whiteside (C), 7. Alexander Gawne, 10. Ryan Waide, 11. Steven McCullough, 16. Fraser Taylor, 28. Dylan Boyle, 30. Michael Place, 37. Isaac Westendorf
Subs: 14. John McGuigan (for 4. Donal Rocks, 61’), 33. Noah Stewart (for 10. Ryan Waide, 61’), 15. Fiontan O’Boyle (for 7. Alexander Gawne, 88’); not used: 26. Samuel Johnston (GK), 17. Andrew McGrory, 20. Thomas Murray, 22. Caleb Crawford
Yellow cards: 16. Fraser Taylor (72’)
Glenavon: 1. Rory Brown (GK), 2. Conor Kerr, 7. Matthew Snoddy, 8. Jack Malone, 10. Peter Campbell, 11. Niall Quinn (C), 16. Isaac Baird, 17. Conor McCloskey, 21. Aaron Prendergast, 23. Daniel Wallace, 28. Robert Garrett
Subs: 20. Stephen Teggart (for 17. Conor McCloskey, 66’), 22. Tiarnan Mulvenna (for 8. Jack Malone, 74’), 34. Cohen Henderson (for 21. Aaron Prendergast, 82’); not used: 31. Ben Purvis (GK), 3. Aaron Rogers, 26. Adam Davidson, 29. Jackson Nesbitt
Goals: 17. Conor McCloskey (37’)
Yellow cards: N/A
Referee: Ian McNabb