Dungannon Swifts 0, Ballymena United 3

Ballymena's Matthew Tipton celebrates scoring in today's win at Dungannon Swifts. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena's Matthew Tipton celebrates scoring in today's win at Dungannon Swifts. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena United cemented their position at the top of the Danske Bank Premiership with a comfortable win at Stangmore Park.

Having started the day on the summit on goal difference, United improved that figure with a comprehensive success at a ground where their record has improved significantly in recent seasons.

Glenn Ferguson brought in veteran defender Davy Munster for the injured Kyle McVey in the centre of defence in the only change from United’s line-up from last week’s win over Portadown.

Dungannon almost opened the scoring inside three minutes when a through ball played Josh Barton in on the right hand side of the penalty area but his fierce cross-shot was beaten away by Dwayne Nelson and Abiola Sanusi blazed his follow-up effort out for a throw-in.

Instead it was United who took the lead in bizarre fashion on eight minutes.

Dungannon goalkeeper Andy Coleman took a short goal kick to Terry Fitzpatrick and the veteran midfielder dallied on the ball, allowing Tipton to pick his pocket and slot past a despairing Coleman.

The striker should have doubled his and Ballymena’s lead on 11 minutes after more comical Swifts defending.

Mark McCullagh’s long, diagonal pass appeared to pose little problem until central defender Dermot McCaffrey inexplicably ducked out of the path of the ball, allowing Tipton a clear run on goal but this time the Welshman could only screw his shot wide of the far post.

Ballymena continued to put pressure on a nervous-looking Dungannon backline and only a good touch from keeper Coleman prevented Mark McCullagh’s teasing cross from the right from reaching Tipton behind him.

Tipton then intelligently chested down a Davy Munster cross into the path of Cushley, who drilled a cross shot inches wide of the far post.

But Cushley did get on the scoresheet in the final seconds of the half when he ran on to Allan Jenkins’ through ball and outpaced the hapless McCaffrey before slotting the ball under Coleman. The keeper got a touch on the ball but could not prevent the ball from trundling over the goal-line.

Dungannon’s fading hopes of getting back into the game suffered another bodyblow five minutes after the interval when Neal Gawley produced a sumptuous cross from the right wing which was met with a powerful diving header by the in-rushing Tipton.

The striker almost completed his hat-trick a minute later when he brushed off defender David Armstrong before drawing keeper Coleman away from his goals and his delightful dinked effort came back off the post.

Substitute Mark Surgenor then released Cushley who surprised Coleman by hitting his effort first time but, to the keeper’s relief, the ball found the side netting.

Dwayne Nelson endured a rare moment of concern on 59 minutes when he lost Sanusi’s free kick in the sun but as the ball dropped from his grasp, it hit Swifts player Armstrong and went harmlessly behind for a goal kick.

And the keeper proved he was back to his best by tipping a McCaffrey effort over the crossbar.

Darren Boyce missed the opportunity to score against the club for whom he was so prolific during a loan spell last season when his effort came back off the legs of Coleman.

Nelson ensured he kept a clean sheet when he confidently plucked Stefan Lavery’s powerful header from a McCaffrey cross.

Dungannon’s day of misery was compounded with two minutes to go when left-back Cameron Grieve was shown a straight red card by referee Ross Dunlop after catching Mark McCullagh as he over-stretched in a tackle.

Dungannon Swifts: Coleman, Burns, McCaffrey, Armstrong, Grieve, Fitzpatrick, Harpur (sub Lowe 19), Barton (sub Lavery 62), Sanusi, Liggett (sub Mitchell 55), Glackin. Subs (not used): McCashin, Brennan.

Ballymena United: Nelson, McCullagh, Munster, Taylor, McBride, Gawley, Taggart (sub Surgenor 54), Jenkins, Teggart (sub Ruddy 84), Cushley (sub Boyce 68), Tipton. Subs (not used): Stewart, Harris.

Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).