Sky Blues have six appeal in stunning win over Cliftonville

Ballymena's Matthew Tipton and Cliftonville's Johnny Flynn in action during today's Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena's Matthew Tipton and Cliftonville's Johnny Flynn in action during today's Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.

Ballymena United beat Cliftonville for the first time in a league game for more than four years with an extraordinary 6-1 win at the Showgrounds.

Matthew Tipton scored a hat-trick of penalties for the Sky Blues against a Cliftonville side who played more than half the game with 10 men after the first half dismissal of goalkeeper Peter Burke.

Ballymena ran riot in the second period as they claimed their second successive win to lift themselves off the foot of the Danske Bank Premiership table.

United manager Glenn Ferguson made just one change from last week’s win at Glentoran but it was a significant one as Tony Kane - now back in the fold after a recent club disciplinary issue - returned to the starting line-up in place of the injured Gareth Rodger.

Ballymena made a bright start and came close within the opening 90 seconds as David Cushley fizzed a low first time shot inches past Peter Burke’s post.

The visitors came back into the game and Chris Curran forced a low save from Dwayne Nelson, while Caoimhin Bonar’s header from a Curran corner was headed clear by Eoin Kane, directly in front of his own goalkeeper.

Ballymena almost went ahead in freakish fashion on 17 minutes when Matthew Shevlin’s mis-hit cross from the left clipped the outside of Burke’s near post with the goalkeeper beaten.

Cliftonville had two chances in quick succession as Jay Donnelly’s trickery on the left saw him outsmart Johnny Taylor before teeing up Stephen Garret, whose shot was parried away by Nelson, while seconds later, Donnelly’s header came back off the crossbar.

Instead it was Ballymena who went in front on 32 minutes and once again, the goal owed much to the alertness of Matthew Shevlin.

Midfielder Eoin Kane fired a shot towards goal which was blocked by a defender but as the ball spun away from goal, defender Johnny Flynn hesitated momentarily and Shevlin nipped in ahead of the former Ballymena defender who subsequently bundled the 16-year-old over.

Referee Tim Marshall pointed to the spot and Tipton stepped up to confidently send Burke the wrong way from 12 yards.

David McDaid’s long range shot was straight down the throat of Dwayne Nelson before Ballymena doubled their advantage- again from the penalty spot - in first half stoppage time.

Yet again Shevlin was responsible for creating something out of very little. There appeared little danger as Caoimhin Bonner played a back-pass to Peter Burke but the keeper took a dreadfully heavy first touch and as the ball bounced loose, the alert Shevlin was first to the loose ball, a split second before being scythed down by the goalkeeper.

The inevitable outcome was a red card for Burke, with Tipton beating stand-in keeper Eamonn Seydak from the penalty spot.

But if Ballymena thought they were in for a comfortable second half with an extra man, that notion was dispelled within three minutes of the re-start as Stephen Garrett stood up a cross to the back post which was headed home, with the aid of a slight deflection, by Chris Curran.

Ballymena’s response came from a cross from the left from Michael Ruddy which was fired back across goal from an acute angle by Willie Faulkner which Seydak nervously pushed around the post.

And the Sky Blues restored their two-goal advantage on 56 minutes when David Cushley latched on to a headed clearance by Flynn and cut inside before firing a low shot which went straight through Seydak.

It should have been 4-1 seconds later as Allan Jenkins raced onto Matthew Tipton’s through ball but this time the stand-in keeper blocked the Scot’s effort.

And as Ballymena surged forward in numbers, another great chance went a-begging as Shevlin headed wide from a Cushley cross when well placed.

Cliftonville didn’t give up and substitute Ciaran Murray - a deadline day transfer target for Ballymena before he opted for a move to Solitude - saw his volley saved by Nelson.

But Ballymena put the outcome beyond any doubt on 78 minutes when Michael Ruddy let fly from 20 yards with the ball flying high into Seydak’s net.

Even better was to follow for Ballymena on 82 minutes as Seydak denied Shevlin following a cross from the left but the ball broke nicely for skipper Jim Ervin to fire home from close range.

And there was still time for Tipton to complete a hat-trick from the penalty spot after Bonner brought down the impressive Shevlin with four minutes left.

Ballymena United: Nelson, T Kane, Taylor, Ervin, Ruddy (sub McVey 82), Faulkner (sub Thompson 81), E Kane, Jenkins, CUshley, Shevlin, Tipton (sub Henderson 86). SUbs (not used): Ferguson, Magennis.

CLiftonville: Burke, McGovern, Bonner, Flynn, Seydak, Curran (sub M Murray 82), McMullan (sub C Murray 59), Catney, Garrett, J Donnelly, McDaid. Subs (not used): WInchester, Brennan, M Donnelly.

Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).