Ballymena’s Jude Winchester hails predatory Paul McElroy after vital win over Carrick Rangers
Midfield maestro Jude Winchester hailed the predatory instincts of Paul McElroy as Ballymena United braved the arctic conditions to pocket three valuable points at the Loughshore Hotel Arena.
David Jeffrey’s Sky Blues moved up to fifth place in the Danske Bank Premiership table, courtesy of strikes from Winchester – who hit a ‘Goal of the Season’ contender – and the elusive McElroy.
Although the game will not live long in the memory, both sets of players must take a bow for putting on a show in such dreadful freezing weather conditions and with a gale-force wind blowing.
United, playing against the breeze, were under the cosh for the first 45 minutes, but Winchester did manage to produce one moment of magic that heralded United’s opener.
When he spotted McElory darting through the middle, he produced a peach of a pass and, when the striker danced past goalkeeper Aaron Hogg, the outcome was a formality.
But it was Winchester who guaranteed his team full points when he hit the second, eight minutes from time.
It was a wonderfully constructed goal, involving Shay McCartan, Josh Kelly and McElroy.
When Winchester stepped inside, he took aim from the edge of the box and his drive fizzed into the top corner.
“I was thrilled to see it hit the net because I knew Carrick would struggle to come back from it,” admitted Winchester. “It was only my second of the season, but it was a crucial one.
“The conditions were horrendous. Carrick is always a tough place to come, but the windy conditions made it even worse.
“We knew we would have to dig in deep in the first half because the wind was blowing right down the pitch into our faces.
“They put us under a bit of pressure, especially from their corner kicks, but I thought we defended really well.
“When our goalkeeper (Jordan Williams) was kicking it out, the ball was coming straight back at him.
“We began to open out a bit more after the break and created some good chances...we really could have won by more goals.
“We were just glad to get out with three points.
“Teams will come to Carrick and drop points, so it was a good win.
“It’s nice to be sitting in the top six, that’s where we aim to stay.”
With uncertainly still hovering over the Irish League campaign, in terms of the coronavirus situation, Winchester admits his team look no further than the next game – at home to Glenavon tomorrow night.
“The aim is to get as many points on board as possible,” he added. “The way the season if fixed, no one knows how many games will be played.
“You can’t afford to look any further than the next game because you don’t know what is going to happen.
“We are in a good run...we are taking it game by game.
“No one is getting carried away, you can take nothing for granted in this league.
“We are working hard all over the pitch, everyone is playing a part.
“We just have to keep it going to see where it takes us.”
Carrick Rangers remain rooted at the bottom of the table, having picked up merely four points from 11 starts.
Manager Niall Currie felt his team were victims of their own downfall.
“We had chances in the first half to win it,” he said. “It’s just not happening for us in front of goal.
“When Jordan Gibson’s shot came off the underside of the crossbar, I knew it was going to be another one of those nights.
“I can’t fault the boys for effort and commitment.
“We need a wee break, a bit of luck, but in our position, those breaks don’t come around too often.
“Their first goal was a poor one to concede as far as we were concerned, we really got to stop being naïve.
“Credit to Ballymena, they took their chance when they got it.
“We found it difficult to get out of our half after the break, but we knew that would happen.
“They used the conditions much better than we did, they were the better team.”
CARRICK RANGERS: Hogg, Surgenor, Rodgers, Chapman, Kelly, Smith, Cherry (Gordon, 68), Gibson, Anderson (Storey, 62), Jenkins (Frazer, 67), Ramsey.
Subs (not used): McKinty, Neale, Ferrin, Glendinning.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Williamson, Redman, Addis, Winchester, McElroy (McCready, 90), McCartan, Balmer, Hume, Keeley, Millar (Kane, 46), Kelly.
Subs (not used): Glendinning, Ervin, Graham, Wylie, McCready.
REFEREE: Ian McNabb.
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