Ballymena bag early Europa League edge over Runavik thanks to Leroy Millar and Jude Winchester

Celebration time for Ballymena United in the Europa League. Pic by Pacemaker.
Celebration time for Ballymena United in the Europa League. Pic by Pacemaker.

Ballymena United secured only their second ever European victory, following a quick one-two which knocked out NSI Runavik.

The home side, who last tasted European success way back in 1981 when they defeated FC Vorwaerts, netted twice early in the second half thanks to Leroy Millar and Jude Winchester.

The impressive and deserved win for David Jeffrey’s side, who were backed by a large home support at a sun-soaked Showgrounds, means next week’s Europa League second-leg encounter in the Faroe Islands should be a formality.

Obviously Millar and Winchester’s goals will be the big talking points, but United’s defence - led by experienced skipper Jim Ervin - proved solid throughout and, after a nervy start, keeper Ross Glendinning played his part in keeping a cruical clean sheet.

In fact, the keeper made a big save minutes after United’s second goal to deny Petur Knudsen.

Runavik had the best chance in the opening 15 minutes after United keeper Glendinning fumbled but fortunately for the net-minder, Pol Johannus Justinussen’s follow-up strike flew well over the bar.

Ballymena went into the tie knowing that they hadn’t scored in European competition since George Beattie found the net against Hamrun Spartans way back in 1984 but they went close to breaking that duck on 30 minutes.

After some neat and tidy football down the left, Cathair Friel found some space but his long-range strike was straight at Tordur Thomsen.

Minutes later, the Runavik keeper made an even better save to deny Friel, diving low to keep out the ex-Limavady United striker’s close-range strike, whose neat turn and shot on the edge of the box deserved better.

Runavik, who were unbeaten in their last nine games going into the first leg and currently sit at the top of the Faroe Islands Premier League, never really troubled Glendinning after Justinussen’s early half-chance.

United got off to the perfect start in the second half as, on 48 minutes, Scott Whiteside’s right-wing cross was dummied by Adam Lecky and Friel’s knockdown found Millar, who steadied himself before firing home from close-range.

The home sided doubled their lead on 55 minutes as Friel’s lay-off found Winchester on the left-hand edge of the box, the midfielder took a touch before his stunning curling effort gave Thomsen no chance.

Glendinning was called into action just after the hour mark when he made a top-drawer save to keep out Knudsen’s drive, after Klaemint Olsen’s cut-back had created the clear opening.

A neat passing move down the United left on 72 minutes ended with Steven McCullough feeding Friel, but from a tight angle the striker’s attempted centre was blocked by centre-back Johan Davidsen.

Millar missed a glorious chance to score his second of the night six minutes from time as Lecky’s fantastic right-wing cross found the midfielder, but with the goal at his mercy he headed over.

Ballymena United: Glendinning, Whiteside, Ervin, Balmer, Kane, Millar, Carville, Winchester (Harpur, 85), McCullough, Friel (Mayse, 78), Lecky.

NSI Runavik: Thomsen, Langgaard (Be Hansen, 67), Hojgaard, Johan Davidsen, Hentze, Nersveen, Justinussen, Ba Hansen, Egilsson (Benjaminsen, 70), Olsen, Knudesen.

Referee: Athanasios Tzilos (Greece).