BALLYMENA UNITED 4 WARRENPOINT TOWN 2
Allan Jenkins scored his first hat-trick for Ballymena United as the Sky Blues saw off the stubborn challenge of Warrenpoint Town in a 4-2 win.
The Scotsman’s treble looked to have set United on their way to a comfortable win over the Danske Bank Premiership basement dwellers as they led 3-0 against a Warrenpoint side reduced to 10 men after the first half dismissal of Stephen Moan.
But the visitors rallied with two goals from Stephen Murray pulling the score back to 3-2 before Kyle McVey settled the issue in Ballymena’s favour.
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson made one change to the line-up from the previous week’s defeat at Cliftonville with Matthew Shevlin - who celebrated his 17th birthday in midweek - replacing the injured Matthew Tipton, while Matthew Ferguson was an absentee through illness.
The visitors created the first opening inside three minutes as Mark Hughes’ cross from the left just eluded the in-rushing Sean Donnelly.
Ballymena survived a scare on 18 minutes after goalkeeper Alan Blayney’s clearance cannoned off Warrenpoint striker Stephen Murray and looped over the goalkeeper but spun away from goal.
It took Ballymena 19 minutes to register a meaningful effort when David Cushley fired a powerful right foot shot but it was too close to Jonathan Parr to give the Warrenpoint keeper any problems.
Ballymena took the lead from the penalty spot on 34 minutes after Warrenpoint’s Stephen Moan was sent off after referee Andrew Davey adjudged that Stephen Moan had deliberately handled Johnny Taylor’s goalbound header.
Incidentally, Moan was also red-carded when the sides met previously at Milltown in September.
Allan Jenkins maintained the penalty-taking duties after scoring from Ballymena’s last spot kick in their win at Ballinamallard last month and he sent Parr the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Ballymena almost struck again within a minute as Stephen McBride’s sweeping crossfield ball from the left was met first-time on the half-volley by the in-rushing Willie Faulkner but Parr blocked the effort with his legs.
Then David Cushley had a second goal ruled out after the referee ruled that he had fouled Sean Donnelly while heading home Willie Faulkner’s right wing cross.
United continued their dominance at the start of the second half and were rewarded with a second goal on 51 minutes.
Tony Kane’s diagonal cross from the right wing was cushioned back across the face of goal by Cushley for Jenkins to tap home from close range.
And Jenkins duly completed his hat-trick on 56 minutes when he arrived unmarked to fire home with his left foot after Matthew Shevlin had dummied Faulkner’s cross, allowing the ball to run into the Scot’s path.
Warrenpoint, to their credit, rallied and should have pulled a goal back on 66 minutes when Conor McDonald sent Stephen Murray clear but the striker’s first effort was half-stopped by Blayney and his follow-up effort was blocked by defender Jim Ervin.
However, Murray wasn’t to be denied and he reduced the deficit on 68 minutes when he ran onto a through ball and outpaced substitute defender Kyle McVey before slotting past the advancing Blayney.
And remarkably the visitors pulled the scoreline back to 3-2 on 75 minutes when Liam Bagnall’s astute through ball released Murray and this time the striker held off Johnny Taylor before rounding Blayney and firing high into the net.
Ballymena should have restored their two goal lead on 77 minutes only for an extraordinary miss by Matthew Shevlin.
Keeper Parr pushed out Darren Henderson’s low shot straight to the teenager but with an empty net in front of him, the striker rolled his first effort against one post and then watched in horror as the ball ran across the face of goal and struck the other post before being cleared.
But the striker’s blushes were spared as United scored their fourth goal on 80 minutes. From Tony Kane’s header’s David Cushley’s point-blank header was met by a brilliant reflex save by Parr but the ball eventually dropped for Kyle McVey to force home from close range.
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervin, Taylor, McNally (sub McVey 65), McBride, Faulkner, Thompson, T Kane, Cushley, Jenkins (sub Henderson 66), Shevlin (sub Ruddy 82). Subs (not used): E Kane, Nelson.
Warrenpoint Town: Parr, Moan McVeigh, Boyle (sub Smith 90), Dane, Clarke (sub McGuigan 69), Bagnall, M Hughes, Donnelly, McDonald, Murray. Subs (not used): D Hughes, Kierans, Shanahan.
Referee: Andrew Davey (Bangor).