Aidan Wilson adds to scoring run as Crusaders finish in front over Ballymena
Crusaders defender Aidan Wilson sealed a spot on the scoresheet for the second time inside four days as his composed second-half strike secured a single-goal success over Ballymena United.
A bright start by a Ballymena side aiming to extend a 10-game unbeaten run finished in home disappointment and featured a penalty miss on the way to defeat.
The initial exchanges featured Ross Redman’s searching pass finding Ben Wylie and the deflected effort forced Sean O’Neill into an early save.
O’Neill was in the spotlight soon after when his attempted clearance was charged down by Joe McCready but the ball diverted away from goal to safety off the outstretched foot of the Ballymena forward.
Redman then slipped a low cross into the Crues danger area on 16 minutes, with McCready displaying clever and quick footwork before a pass which Wylie could only poke goalwards with an instinctive effort O’Neill was on hand to collect.
Philip Lowry finished the first half with two of the visitors’ most promising openings - initially unable to get the power behind his shot required to test Jordan Williamson before then glancing goalwards off Jamie McGonigle’s crisp cross, only to see the header bounce off the crossbar at pace.
Set-piece play helped Crusaders claim control over Ballymena as near-post flicks forced the home side on to the backfoot.
Jarlath O’Rourke’s corner-kick from the right created problems for Ballymena around the half-hour mark but Jordan Forsythe’s powerful header flashed wide.
However, O’Neill produced a smart stop before the break off a drilled Ryan Waide effort from a tight angle.
Ryan Harpur had the ball in the back of the net early in the second half after another fine save by O’Neill off Waide’s initial shot - but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Ballymena goalkeeper Williamson appeared to struggle across the evening with injury and required treatment at times during the match.
However, he produced a number of key and impressive saves as Crusaders increased the pressure in pursuit of the opening goal.
Williamson dropped low to show a strong wrist and divert out McGonigle’s angled drive before recovering to also stop Forsythe’s shot off the rebound.
Lowry’s night of frustration continued when a snapshot drifted wide from a promising position before another Williamson stop turned over Adam Lecky’s attempt on the turn.
However, Crusaders moved in front to cap the period on top with a Wilson finish.
Lowry’s touch on the edge of the area was slipped into the path of Wilson by Lecky and he managed to control and convert on the run.
Two of Ballymena’s leading attacking players this season started on the sidelines but United boss David Jeffrey introduced both on 60 minutes.
And both were at the heart of a golden opportunity for Ballymena to equalise around 77 minutes as Shay McCartan’s drive from outside the area hit the hand of Rodney Brown inside the area but Paul McElroy failed to find the target from the penalty spot.
A Crusaders substitute, Jordan Owens, also came close to an impact but his header off O’Rourke’s clipped cross cleared the crossbar.
Crusaders had another opening on 87 minutes but Owen McKeown’s sliding challenge before McGonigle could respond cleared the danger after Owens’ flick was cut across the face of goal by Lecky.
Ballymena United: Williamson, McKeown, Hume, Addis, Redman, Kelly, Harpur (Kane, 85), Wylie, Knowles (McCartan, 60), Waide, McCready (McElroy, 60).
Subs (not used): Graham, Ervin, Farquhar, Beattie.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Wilson, Weir, Lowry, McGonigle, Forsythe (Caddell, 89), O’Rourke, Lecky, Brown, Clarke (Owens, 63).
Subs (not used): Tuffey, Cushley, Ruddy, Thompson, Larmour.
REFEREE: Lee Tavinder,
Both Ballymena United and Crusaders will be involved in round one of the Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Irish Cup.
Irish Football Association officials have confirmed the revised draw as follows in the aftermath of six clubs opting to withdraw from a competition restructured due to the coronavirus pandemic:
Tuesday, April 27: Warrenpoint Town v Ballyclare Comrades, Coleraine v Crusaders, Glenavon v Dungannon Swifts, Cliftonville v Portstewart, Linfield v Annagh United, Ballymena United v Portadown, Carrick Rangers v Belfast Celtic (all 7.45 kick-offs).
Saturday, May 1: Knockbreda v Newington (2.30 kick-off), Ballinamallard United v Dergview and Loughgall v Banbridge Town (both 3 o’clock).
Bangor, Dollingstown, St James’s Swifts, PSNI, Larne and Glentoran have each been awarded byes into the next round.
The last-16 ties will be held on Saturday, May 8 ahead of the quarter-finals (Tuesday, May 11), semi-finals (Tuesday, May 18) and final (Friday, May 21).
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