Ballymena United claimed their first win in eight Danske Bank Premiership games with a comfortable success over Ballinamallard at the Showgrounds today.
It was a particular triumph for homegrown players with Mark Surgenor scoring twice in the first half before 15-year-old substitute Matthew Shevlin scored with his first touch in Irish League football late on to wrap up the win.
United’s injury crisis eased slightly to allow manager Glenn Ferguson to recall Johnny Taylor and Stephen McBride to his patched-up backline, while David Munster lined up alongside Taylor in the centre of defence.
Matthew Tipton, buoyed by his double strike at Warrenpoint, started the game in confident fashion with two efforts narrowly off target inside the opening five minutes.
The Sky Blues went even closer on eight minutes when Allan Jenkins’ downward header from Tony Kane’s cross was brilliantly parried at point-blank range by Mallards keeper Stefan McCusker and as the ball bounced loose, the Scot’s follow-up header cam back off the inside of the post before being cleared.
Jenkins was again involved three minutes later as he dispossessed Raymond Foy in midfield before advancing a few steps and firing a low shot which was saved by McCusker.
The visitors came close on 18 minutes when, from a lightning-quick counter-attack, Johnny Lafferty surged past a number of Ballymena challenges and squared for Jason McCartney, whose shot was deflected narrowly past Dwayne Nelson’s far post.
United went in front on 21 minutes when Tony Kane played an inch-perfect through ball from the centre circle into the path of Mark Surgenor, who controlled the ball before firing a fierce shot past McCusker from 15 yards - the midfielder’s first goal of the season.
Ballinamallard came close to levelling just two minutes later when Jason McCartney set up Lafferty whose shot from a narrow angle beat Nelson but left-back McBride was on hand to clear the ball off the line.
United came close to doubling their lead on 33 minutes when Neal Gawley skinned Colm McLaughlin on the right flank but Matthew Tipton arrived just too early to meet the winger’s inviting cross and couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
But it was 2-0 on 35 minutes when Tipton held the ball up for Darren Boyce to lay a pass neatly into the path of Surgenor who finished confidently into the top corner.
Ballymena came close to a third goal seven minutes into the second half when McBride played a long ball down the left flank which found Tipton who cut inside but his shot was kept out by McCusker.
Ballinamallard continued to pose a threat and Jason MCartney’s low shot was turned behind by Nelson, while, following the resultant corner, Liam McMenamin’s volley on the turn flashed narrowly wide.
Ballymena responded with a counter-attack which ended with Tipton’s superb cross being headed wide by the in-rushing Boyce.
Ballymena survived an extraordinary let-off on 69 minutes when Nelson dropped Liam McMenamin’s hanging cross, presenting Mark Stafford with an open goal but the big defender inexplicably screwed his shot wide of the unguarded net.
Straight away, Ballymena came close to adding to their lead when Tipton burst into the penalty area but his fierce shot was pawed away by McCusker.
United clinched victory with a third goal on 86 minutes and it was a dream moment for teenager Matthew Shevlin.
Having been on the pitch for less than two minutes, the young striker swept home the rebound after McCusker had pushed out Tony Kane’s free kick.
Ballymena United: Nelson, T Kane, Munster, Taylor, McBride, Gawley (sub Thompson 57), Surgenor, Jenkins, Ruddy (sub Ferguson 72), Tipton (sub Shevlin 84), Boyce. Subs (not used): McCullagh, E Kane.
Ballinamallard United: McCusker, Crilly (sub Phair 68), McMenamin, Stafford, McLoughlin, Martin, Kee, Foy, McCartney, Lafferty, Campbell (sub Currie 59). Subs (not used): Murphy, McNulty, Connor.
Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey).