Eoin Bradley once again put Ballymena United to the sword as the Sky Blues fell to a 3-1 defeat at Glenavon today.
The burly striker, who scored a hat-trick in the Lurgan Blues’ 7-1 demolition of United at the Showgrounds in August, repeated the dose in an action-packed game at Mourneview Park.
The previous 12 meetings between the sides in all competitions had produced 54 goals and it took less than 12 minutes for the scoresheet to be marked.
The goal went to Ballymena as Allan Jenkins’ deep back post cross from the right was headed back across goal by Matthew Tipton, leaving David Cushley the simple task of heading home from inside the six yard box.
The visitors almost doubled their advantage on 21 minutes when Cushley’s low free kick from the right was met buy the in-rushing Jenkins but his low shot was straight at Jonny Tuffey.
Jenkins again came close on 34 minutes after Simon Kelly’s clearance for Glenavon deflected off team-mate Kris Lindsay and into Jenkins’ path in the penalty area but he could only shoot straight at Tuffey.
Almost immediately at the other end, Andy Kilmartin’s dipping first time volley sailed inches wide of the post with United keeper Dwayne Nelson beaten.
Glenavon levelled the scores on 41 minutes with a move which started when Kyle Neill won a strong 50/50 challenge in midfield against Jenkins.
The ball was swept to the right flank by Kevin Braniff where Andy Hall bore down on goal before rolling the ball across the face of goal for the in-rushing Eoin Bradley to turn home from close range.
And the Lurgan Blues came close to going in ahead at the break as Lindsay scooped a shot over from close range following a long throw from Conor Dillon.
Glenavon had claims for a penalty waved away by referee Raymond Crangle early in the second half after Bradley’s fierce shot was blocked by Johnny Taylor who had both arms in front of his body.
As Glenavon began to get on top, Kevin Braniff saw his rising drive from s free kick sail narrowly wide while Kyle Neill headed wide from a Braniff cross from six yards out.
Ballymena replied with Tipton’s attempted lob sailing just wide of the far post after a neat lay-off by Tony Kane.
Ballymena came close when Gary Thompson produced a surging run and cross which was volleyed centimetres wide by Cushley.
United missed a glorious chance to go in front on 63 minutes when they were awarded a penalty.
It came after Matthew Shevlin’s initial shot had been brilliantly saved by Tuffey and the rebound fell to Matthew Tipton whose shot towards goal was adjudged to have been blocked by the hand of Andy Kilmartin.
David Cushley took over the penalty-taking duties from Tipton who had missed United’s last spot kick but Tuffey dived full length to his right to turn the winger’s low effort around the post.
The former Northern Ireland keeper was called into action again shortly afterwards when he rushed from his line to block Tipton’s effort with his chest.
Cushley saw a header blocked virtually on the goal-line by a combination of Lindsay and Tuffey while at the other end, United keeper Dwayne Nelson made a great double save to deny Andy Hall and then Bradley.
Ballymena were made to pay for their profligacy as Glenavon went ahead on 81 minutes as Bradley stooped to head home from a Hall corner.
Two minutes later Glenavon were awarded a penalty after Tony Kane blocked Mark Patton’s cross with his outstretched arm.
Bradley’s spot kick was saved by Nelson but the big striker reacted quickest to net the rebound with a diving header to complete his hat-trick.
Tuffey continued to defy United right to the end as he made another great stop - this time with his outstretched foot - to block yet another Cushley effort.
Glenavon: Tuffey, Marshall, Kelly (sub Sykes 65), Lindsay, Buckley, Hall, Dillon, Kilmartin, Neill (sub Patton 71), Bradley, Braniff (Sub Hamilton 77). Subs (not used): McGrory, Lynch.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Kane, McVey, Taylor, Ervin, Faulkner, Thompson (sub Magennis 87), Jenkins, Cushley, Tipton, Shevlin (sub Henderson 77). Subs (not used): Taggart, Ruddy, Gawley.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast)