Defensive lapses left Warrenpoint Town forced to reflect on a missed opportunity in Matthew Tipton’s first game within Irish League management as Ballymena United recorded a 2-0 victory.
Tipton, who was confirmed last weekend as a successor to long-serving Barry Gray, went up against former boss David Jeffrey in the League Cup quarter-final.
Ballymena United booked a spot in the semi-finals thanks to two goals across six second-half minutes from Willie Faulkner and Cathar Friel against a Warrenpoint side that carved out key openings despite Liam Bagnall’s red card on 37 minutes.
Warrenpoint kicked off life under Tipton with a bright start that included a teasing cross by Conor McMenamin which Faulkner managed to head clear from a dangerous position.
The top-flight visitors, however, claimed control as play progressed.
Darren Henderson’s angled shot was almost turned home by Friel before Dermott McVeigh stepped in to clear a low Eoin Kane cross.
However, Warrenpoint regrouped to get back into contention as McMenamin whipped over a dangerous delivery from the opposite flank.
McMenamin carved out the home side’s most promising early effort when, on 34 minutes, he picked out Stephen Murray outside the area.
Murray, who scored three goals at the same venue for Warrenpoint against Ballymena in last season’s Danske Bank Premiership date, fired goalwards from the promising position but ultimately lacked a clean connection.
The key moment of the first half arrived soon after as Warrenpoint suffered a red card on 37 minutes.
Bagnall was sent off with a straight red card for his challenge on Jim Ervin, with Warrenpoint protests against the severity of the punishment but the Ballymena bench aggrieved at the tackle on the edge of the Ballymena box.
Warrenpoint pushed on despite the numerical setback, with McMenamin just missing out on connecting to Darren King’s angled ball.
That momentum continued after the interval for 10-man Warrenpoint, with McMenamin and Murray squandering two clear sights of goal in quick succession.
McMenamin capitalised on a poor defensive clearance but his wild shot cleared the target. Murray then collected John McGuigan’s clever flick but delayed his shot and the opening had gone.
McMenamin was then on hand inside the box to pick up King’s drive into the danger zone but lacked the control to steer the close-range effort on target.
Ballymena’s first opening of the half arrived on 67 minutes but substitute Leroy Millar lacked composure despite time and space outside the box.
However, Ballymena managed to break the deadlock on 69 minutes when Aaron Traynor’s defensive header lacked distance and Faulkner drilled in the loose ball.
Another error along the backline led to Ballymena’s second on 75 minutes, with McVeigh caught in possession and Friel converted the rebound after a block on Henderson’s initial strike.
Faulkner was prevented from scoring his second thanks to Stephen Moan’s block on the line but Ballymena finished with a 2-0 success.
WARRENPOINT TOWN: Johnny Parr, Darren King, Stephen Moan, Dermott McVeigh, Aaron Traynor, John Boyle, Liam McKenna, Conor McMenamin, John McGuigan, Liam Bagnall, Stephen Murray. Subs: Stephen Maguire, Jordan Dane, Josh Lynch (McMenamin, 88), Tiernan Mulvenna (McKenna, 76), Ruairi Croskery (Traynor, 85).
BALLYMENA UNITED: Ross Glendinning, Tony Kane, Kyle Owens, Darren Henderson, Allan Jenkins, Willie Faulkner, Cathar Friel, Eoin Kane, Danny Wallace, Jim Ervin, Caolan Loughran. Subs: Matthew Shevlin (Henderson, 85), Kyle McVey, Leroy Millar (Kane, 58), Kyle Mackle (Friel, 89), Ben McCauley.
Referee: Keith Kennedy.