IRISH LEAGUE: Blues’ second half blitz sinks Ballymena

Ballymena United's Paddy McNally wins a header against Linfield's Paul Smyth  during Saturdays Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.
Ballymena United's Paddy McNally wins a header against Linfield's Paul Smyth during Saturdays Danske Bank Premiership game at the Showgrounds. Picture: Press Eye.

Linfield maintained their Danske Bank Premiership title push as they cruised to a 4-0 win at Ballymena United this afternoon.

The Blues scored four goal in a 13-minute second half blitz as they avenged their recent County Antrim Shield final defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues.

Ballymena made two changes from the midweek win over Carrick - both in midfield- with Matthew Ferguson and Eoin Kane replacing Gavin Taggart and Willie Faulkner.

It took 17 minutes for the first opening of the game to come but Paul Smyth’s shot for Linfield was straight at United keeper Alan Blayney.

Ballymena’s first meaningful effort came after 32 minutes when Allan Jenkins’ close-range effort came back off the post but the referee’s assistant’s flag would have ruled out a goal in any event.

Linfield came close to opening the scoring on 34 minutes but Jimmy Callacher’s powerful downward header was saved at the base of the post by Blayney before the ball was scrambled clear.

Paul Smyth looked a livewire up front for Linfield and he came out of a block tackle with Jim Ervin with the ball but again his shot was straight at Blayney.

The Blues continued to press at the start of the second half and Andy Waterworth’s stinging drive was tipped over by Blayney.

United introduced Matthew Tipton from the bench and the bustling striker almost immediately fired a shot towards goal but Glendinning was equal to it.

Then David Cushley fired a snap-shot just over after a weak punch from Glendinning before Paddy McNally’s looping header forced the Linfield keeper to claw the ball away at the far post.

But just as Ballymena were having their best spell, they were caught with a sucker punch as the visitors went in front on 64 minutes.

It came from a neatly worked move down the right which saw Kirk Millar release Ross Gaynor who rolled the ball across goal for a tap-in for the in-rushing Sean Ward.

Ballymena’s problems worsened on 68 minutes as Linfield doubled their advantage from the penalty spot.

It came after Jim Ervin failed to cut out a through ball leaving Paul Smyth through on goal and as the striker was about to shoot, he was body-checked by Tony Kane for a clear penalty.

Kane, who had already been booked in the first half, was duly shown his second yellow card and United were down to 10 men.

Gaynor compounded United’s misery by confidently tucking the spot kick low to Blayney’s right hand side.

It quickly became 3-0 when David Cushley hesitated in clearing a cross from the left and lost possession inside his own penalty area, allowing Paul Smyth to turn and drill home a shot.

And the Blues scored a fourth goal inside 13 minutes when Andy Waterworth collected the ball 25 yards out and turned before rifling an unstoppable shot past Blayney.

Linfield came close to making it 5-0 in the final minute when more trickery from Smyth saw him gain space to beat Blayney with a low shot, but United skipper Jim Ervin was on hand to hack the ball off the goal-line.

Ballymena United: Blayney, T Kane, Ervin, McNally, McBride, Ferguson, Thompson, E Kane (sub Tipton 52), Hanley (sub Shevlin 61), Cushley, Jenkins. Subs (not used): Taylor, Millar,Smith.

Linfield: Ross Glendinning, Reece Glendinning, Stafford, Callacher, Clarke, Millar (sub Fallon 84), Ward, Kee, Gaynor (sub Burns 74), Smyth, Waterworth (sub Bates 80). Subs (not used): Quinn, Frazer.

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn)