Ballymena United’s troubled start to the Danske Bank Premiership season took another nosedive with defeat at Dungannon Swifts today.
Late goals from Ryan Harpur and Paul McElroy gave Swifts their first win of the campaign and left Ballymena rooted to the foot of the table, still awaiting their first point of the season.
Glenn Ferguson handed a debut to midweek signing Gareth Rodger, on loan from St Johnstone and he replaced teenager Kyle Crawford in the centre of defence, while Willie Faulkner came in for Matthew Tipton on Ballymena’s other change from the previous week’s defeat against Coleraine.
Dungannon also went into the game looking for their first win of the season and they started much the brighter, with Paul McElroy’s hitting the side netting with a rising drive from an Ally Teggart knockdown, while Terry Fitzpatrick headed over from a Cormac Burke cross.
Ballymena slowly began to find a way into the game and came close on 18 minutes when midfielder Matthew Ferguson’s deflected shot clipped the outside of the post.
At the other end, Terry Fitzpatrick’s looping header was held by a back-pedalling Dwayne Nelson.
Ballymena looked to have manufactured a clear scoring opportunity when Willie Faulkner burst clear down the right hand channel but defender Dale Montgomery got across to complete a perfectly-timed goal-saving challenge.
Ballymena had a late chance when, from a well-worked short corner, David Cushley’s teasing cross was bundled just wide of his own post by Swifts defender Dermot McCaffrey, while from the resultant corner, Gareth Rodger headed wide at the far post.
After the fairly pedestrian nature of the first half, the second period started in a comparative blaze of action as Michael Ruddy’s ball forward from the left-back position sent Matthew Shevlin clear down the left hand channel but the teenage striker could only scuff a tame shot straight at Andy Coleman.
Straight away at the other end, Kyle McVey produced a goal-saving block to divert Terry Fitzpatrick’s header from Jamie Glackin’s cross over the crossbar.
Ballymena spurned the most clear-cut opening of the game just short of the hour mark as Matthew Shevlin and David Cushley launched a quick counter-attack which saw Cushley release Allan Jenkins but the Scot rolled his shot agonisingly wide of the far post.
At the other end, Dungannon’s Paul McElroy spun in midfield before firing a rising drive which Dwayne Nelson was relieved to see drift just wide.
As the game began to open up, Ballymena created another opening as Faulkner burst into the area before firing over.
But when the decisive first goal came, it came in Dungannon’s favour. As Ballymena attempted to clear a defensive situation, substitute Leroy Millar lost possession in his own half and Dale Montgomery played an astute through ball to Ryan Harpur who clipped the ball over the advancing Dwayne Nelson.
Ballymena applied strong pressure in the search for an equaliser and came close when David Cushley latched on to a defensive header but his low snap-shot was brilliantly saved by Andy Coleman diving low to his left.
And that save became even more vital as Dungannon grabbed a game-clinching second goal with two minutes left on the clock.
A long defensive clearance bounced over Gareth Rodger’s attempted header leaving Paul McElroy in the clear and he produced a sumptuous finish to beat Nelson.
Dungannon Swifts: Coleman, Mullan, Montgomery, Burns, McCaffrey, Burke (sub Hazley 65), Fitzpatrick (sub Mitchell 60), Harpur, Teggart, Glackin, McElroy. Subs (not used): McCullough, Liggett, Addis.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Ervin, McVey, Rodger, Ruddy, Thompson, Ferguson (sub Hanley 70) Jenkins, Faulkner, Shevlin (sub Millar 67), Cushley. Subs (not used): McBride, Tipton, Kane.
Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus).