IRISH LEAGUE: Stephen Murray hits three as Warrenpoint beat Ballymena United

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Warrenpoint Town produced a blistering second half performance to blow away Ballymena at Milltown ad keep right in the hunt for Premiership survival as top scorer Stephen Murray helped himself to a hat-trick against David Jeffrey’s in-form side.

It was Warrenpoint who had the better chances in the opening stages of a match they had to win but they found Ballymena keeper Alan Blayney in fine form as he made two stops before the midway point of the first half to keep it scoreless.

David Jeffrey suffered his first defeat as Ballymena United manager at Warrenpoint

David Jeffrey suffered his first defeat as Ballymena United manager at Warrenpoint

Nathan Murphy tested him with a 22-yard free-kick on 12 minutes and Warrenpoint then felt aggrieved they weren’t awarded a penalty on the quarter hour when Martin Murray cut inside David Cushley in the box before going down but Referee Raymond Hetherington remained unmoved despite the appeals from the home side.

After Johnny McMurray had shot wide from just inside the area on 19 minutes, Blayney was called into action three minutes later with a superb stop to again deny Murphy. This time it was from a curling right-footed shot from 20 yards that the United keeper flew to his left to palm away for a corner.

However, despite their dominance, Warrenpoint went behind almost directly from that corner. A long ball out of defence should have been dealt with by Stephen Moan but the defender’s header back to Parr was far too weak and that allowed William Faulkner to nip in and lob the keeper from just inside the box to make it 1-0.

While the Point were still have most of the territory for the remainder of the half, it was the visitors who could have gone in at the break further in front when Darren Henderson broke free down the right two minutes from the end of the half and cut the ball back to the unmarked Cushley 15 yards out but his first time effort was high and wide.

However, it took less than two minutes after the restart for Warrenpoint to draw level. Martin Murray played Stephen Murray in down the right and with the striker beating the offside trap, he saw his first effort excellently saved by Blayney but Murray picked up the rebound and fired in from point blank range.

Things got even better for the home side just before the hour mark when McMurray got through ahead of Michael Ruddy. Ruddy was adjudged to have brought the forward down, a penalty was given and Ruddy was shown a straight red card. Stephen Murray stepped up to beat Blayney from the spot and give his side something to hold onto for the remainder of the match.

The win was all but sealed on 72 minutes when, seconds after Martin Murray had been denied by a superb goal-line clearance by Johnny Taylor, Johnny McMurray slotted into the bottom corner from 15 yards to make it 3-1.

Then just two minutes later, Stephen Murray completed his hat-trick through sheer persistence when he won the ball 25 yards out and coolly lobbed into the empty net with Blayney stranded for the fourth.

Warrenpoint Town: Parr, M Hughes, McVeigh, Murphy (Smith 77), Moan, Bagnall, Clarke, McDonald, McMurray, M Murray (Donnelly 83), S Murray (Mulvenna 80)

Subs not used: King, McCabe

Ballymena United: Blayney, T Kane, Taylor, Henderson, Jenkins, Cushley (Millar 79), Faulkner, Ruddy, Ervin, McVey, Frazer (Hanley 61)

Subs not used: Nelson, McNally, E Kane, Millar

Referee: Raymond Hetherington