David Jeffrey’s first game in charge of Ballymena United ended in a battling point from a scoreless draw at Crusaders.
The Sky Blues produced a battling performance, underpinned by a solid defensive display, as they thwarted the title-chasing league champions.
Jeffrey made three changes to the line-up from his predecessor Glenn Ferguson’s final game in charge, with Kyle McVey, Gavin Taggart and Darren Henderson coming in for Willie Faulkner, Eoin Kane and Jonny Frazer, who dropped to the bench.
The opening chance came 10 minutes in as Gavin Whyte collected a miscused clearance from Jim Ervin but, under pressure from Kyle McVey, the Crusaders winger skewed his shot wide.
Ballymena went close on 20 minutes as Gary Thompson’s swerving shot was beaten out by Sean O’Neill and the Crues keeper then recovered to tip over Allan Jenkins’ follow-up effort.
As the game began to spark into life, Paul Heatley’s shot for Crusaders was turned behind at the near post by Ballymena keeper Alan Blayney, while at the other end, Darren Henderson’s knockdown was seized upon by David Cushley and his snap-shot was turned behind by O’Neill.
Ballymena survived an anxious moment three minutes into the second half when defenders Jim Ervin and Johnny Taylor left a long ball to each other, leaving Jordan Owens with a free header.
The striker looped his effort over Alan Blayney but it clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over.
As the home side began to dominate, they should have scored from a double chance for Declan Caddell, whose first effort was saved by Alan Blayney and then the midfielder’s follow-up effort was cleared off the line by Gary Thompson.
With Gavin Taggart already on a booking, another foul from the midfielder brought a warning from referee Arnold Hunter that one more infringement would result in a second caution. Manager Jeffrey’s immediate response was to withdraw Taggart and bring on Eoin Kane in his place.
Kane had a snap-shot deflected just wide which seemed to give Ballymena fresh impetus as they enjoyed a better spell, having spent much of the second half under the cosh, and David Cushley curled an effort just wide which had Crusaders keeper O’Neill scrambling anxiously across his goal.
Crusaders came close again when sub Jordan Forsythe cuts inside and his low shot was saved by Alan Blayney, who was then able to gather the loose ball as the game finished in stalemate.
Crusaders: O’Neill, Burns, Coates, Robinson, McClean, Caddell, Carvill (sub O’Carroll 73), Whyte (sub Forsythe 60), Snoddy, Owens, Heatley. Subs (not used): Mitchell, Magowan, Clarke,
Ballymena United: Blayney, Ervin, Taylor, McVey, McBride, Taggart (sub E Kane 62), Kane, Thompson, Jenkins, Cushley, Henderson (sub Frazer 74). Subs (not used): Nelson, McNally, Faulkner.
Referee: Arnold Hunter (Maguiresbridge).