Ballymena United 2, Glentoran 2

Ballymena United's Johnny Taylor's appeals are in vain as referee Arnold Hunter sends off United skipper Allan Jenkins inside the opening five minutes of today's Danske Bank Premiership game against Glentoran. Picture: Press Eye,
Ballymena United's Johnny Taylor's appeals are in vain as referee Arnold Hunter sends off United skipper Allan Jenkins inside the opening five minutes of today's Danske Bank Premiership game against Glentoran. Picture: Press Eye,

Ten-man Ballymena United scored a dramatic injury time equaliser to earn a point in an enthralling game at the Showgrounds.

Substitute Gary Thompson fired home with four minutes of stoppage time played to earn a deserved draw for the Sky Blues, who had played with 10 men since the fifth minute dismissal of skipper Allan Jenkins.

Ballymena manager Glenn Ferguson’s response to the previous week’s defeat at Ballinamallard was to make three changes to his starting line-up, although two of them were enforced due to injuries, with Aaron Stewart coming in for David Munster and Darren Boyce replacing groin injury victim David Cushley in attack.

Neal Gawley also returned to the right wing in place of Tony Kane, who dropped to the bench.

A brisk opening two minutes saw United keeper Dwayne Nelson punch clear from a Danny McKee flicked header while at the other end, Matthew Tipton beat the offside trap to latch on to Gavin Taggart’s headed through ball but although he poked a shot past advancing Glentoran keeper Aaron Hogg, the ball trundled wide of the far post.

The game exploded into life with just four minutes on the clock. A Glentoran attack saw Dwayne Nelson block from close range but just as David Scullion appeared to be set to put the loose ball into the unguarded net from a few yards out, he was bundled over by the backtracking Allan Jenkins.

Referee Arnold Hunter awarded the penalty and there was an air of inevitability as the red card followed for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity - the Scot’s second dismissal of the season following his controversial sending off at Glenavon.

After a lengthy delay, Fra McCaffrey stepped up to fire the spot kick high into the roof of the net.

Ballymena almost got back into the game from an unexpected source as left-back Stephen McBride’s cut-back from the bye-line ricocheted off Glentoran captain Stephen McAlorum, forcing Hogg to make a smart save low down.

The Glens, who looked a threat going forward, produced another attack with McCaffrey crossing from the left, David Howland at the back post headed the ball back across goal and it needed a spectacular diving header from Aaron Stewart to clear the danger.

Ballymena equalised on 33 minutes in a move which began from the back as Johnny Taylor intercepted a through ball, advanced forward a few steps before arrowing a pinpoint diagonal ball which went over defender Calum Birney’s head and dropped beautifully for Darren Boyce to lash a left-footed dipping shot beyond Hogg.

Three minutes later Ballymena should have been ahead when they were awarded a penalty following a handball in the penalty area by Birney from a Neal Gawley free kick.

The normally dependable Alan Teggart opted to change from his usual spot for placing penalties and his poorly-hit spot kick was easily beaten out by Hogg low to his right.

Undeterred, the 10 men continued to press and central defender Johnny Taylor missed a glorious opening when he headed over from Neal Gawley’s corner from six yards.

Taylor continued to be a threat going forward and from a marvellous run and cross by the defender, Matthew Tipton just couldn’t get the ball under control.

Striker Tipton should have fired United in front on 55 minutes. Boyce pressurised defender Johnny Addis into clearing the ball straight to Tipton’s feet but the Welshman could only screw his shot horribly wide when well-placed.

The game went into something of a lull but Glentoran had a goal ruled out when Curtis Allen headed home from a Scullion corner but referee Hunter adjudged the striker had fouled as the cross was being delivered.

Then substitute Jordan Stewart flicked effort from a Niall Henderson cross came back off the crossbar.

Glentoran looked to have pinched victory with three minutes left after Stewart forced the ball over the line after Nelson had kept out an initial header, with the referee’s assistant giving the goal.

But with the game deep in stoppage time, substitute Gary Thompson fired home through a ruck of players after Mark Surgenor’s effort had been blocked by Hogg to rescue a deserved point for the Sky Blues.

Ballymena United: Nelson, McCullagh, Stewart, Taylor, McBride, Gawley (sub Thompson 64), Taggart (sub Kane 80), Jenkins, Teggart, Tipton (sub Surgenor 72), Boyce. Subs (not used): Ruddy, McVey.

Glentoran: Hogg, Holland (sub Allen 55), Addis, Birney, Kane, McAlorum, Henderson, Howland, McCaffrey (sub O’Hanlon 70), Scullion, McKee (sub Stewart 64). Subs (not used): Garrett, Gordon.

Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge)