BALLYMENA UTD 2 BALLINAMALLARD 1
Ballymena United won for the fifth league game in succession to wrap up a seventh place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Goals from Neal Gawley and Eamonn McAllister ensured that the Sky Blues cannot be overhauled for seventh spot, with one game remaining, despite Cathal Beacom’s late goal for the Fermanagh side.
Ballymena had the ball in the net early on but Matthew Tipton’s close-range header was chalked off as Neal Gawley was adjudged to be offside before he crossed for the striker.
At the other end, full-back Cathal Beacom had Ballinamallard’s first effort, with a curling 25-yard free kick which had Tim Allen scrambling across his goal before eventually drifting wide.
Ballymena fashioned another good opening on 11 minutes when Tony Kane’s first time cross from the right dropped perfectly for David Cushley to volley but the winger took his eye off the ball and miskicked with the goal at his mercy.
Shortly afterwards Mark Surgenor’s clever through ball sent Darren Boyce clear but the striker got the ball caught up among his feet on the bobbly surface and the chance was gone.
United’s early dominance eventually paid dividends with a goal on 29 minutes. Mark Surgenor burst into the left hand side of the penalty area and his cross was controlled by Neal Gawley who drilled a low shot under keeper Adam Murphy for his fourth goal of the season.
Ballinamallard offered little by way of an attacking threat but almost levelled just before the break when full-back Chris Crilly ran down the right before cutting back a low cross to Ryan Campbell but Jim Ervin threw himself in front of the ball to block the shot.
From the resultant corner, Campbell was narrowly off target from an overhead kick.
United came close to doubling their lead five minutes into the second period with a marvellous crossfield pass sent David Cushley scampering away down the left and his teasing cross was deflected wide, at full stretch, by the in-rushing Darren Boyce.
Left-back Michael Ruddy then went close for the home side with a dipping snap-shot which beat Murphy but sailed inches wide of the far post.
Ballinamallard continued to be a threat on sporadic attacks and substitute Dale Noble saw his shot well blocked by Ruddy and when the rebound fell to the Mallards sub, his second effort was deflected away by Johnny Taylor.
Ballymena threatened again as Tony Kane made his way to the dead ball line and stood up a cross but Tipton’s downward header lacked the power to beat Murphy.
United looked to have wrapped up the points when they went 2-0 up with seven minutes left.
Tony Kane’s free kick deflected fortuitously into the path of Eamonn McAllister, who fired past the helpless Murphy.
But within three minutes, Ballinamallard had pulled a goal back when Cathal Beacom fired home following some penalty box pinball after Jason McCartney’s free kick wasn’t cleared.
However, United were able to hold on to claim a fifth successive win since their Irish Cup semi-final defeat by Portadown.
Ballymena United: Allen, Kane, Taylor, Ervin, Ruddy (sub McNeill 84), Thompson, Surgenor, Gawley (sub M, Cushley, Tipton (sub Gardiner 72), Boyce, Subs (not used): McVey, Harris.
Ballinamallard United: Murphy, Crilly (sub Brown 85), McMenamin, Feeney, McLoughlin, Beacom, Hutchinson (sub Noble 19), Kee, Lafferty, McCartney, Campbell (sub Elliott 68). Subs (not used): McCusker, McNulty.
Referee: Evan Boyce (Ballygowan).