Conor Keeley helps Ballymena United shoot down Linfield

Linfield’s title surge last night hit the buffers at the Showgrounds.

Big defender Conor Keeley scored twice to send David Healy’s boys crashing to their first defeat in six outings.

Blues’ boss David Healy will be wondering how this game slipped from his team’s grasp.

They peppered a gutsy Ballymena United for most of the evening, but only had a late Andy Waterworth penalty kick to show for the efforts.

Ballymena United’s Conor Keeley is mobbed by his team-mates after his late winner against Linfield

Even though they were under the cosh for long spells, Keeley swept the home side into the lead which was wiped out by that Waterworth goal.

But with the very last kick of the ball, Dubliner Keeley, managed to get a flick to Tony Kane’s corner kick to nick an unlikely winner.

And, to make matters worse for the Blues winger Joel Cooper was dismissed for a late challenge on Shay McCartan.

Linfield roared from the traps and it took a brilliant goal-saving header from Keeley to prevent Jimmy Callacher from scoring following a trademark free kick from Niall Quinn after only six minutes.

The enigmatic Cooper then burst on to a brilliant pass from Mark Haughey, and after waltzing past Owen McKeown, he flashed a rasping drive just past the post.

Ballymena were chasing shadows at times. Linfield threatened again with Kirk Millar and Waterworth linking up before sending Jordan Stewart into the box only to see his low drive also inches past.

The visiting team, quick and incisive in attack, again cut the home defence to shreds with Millar’s sublime 50-yard pass sending Cooper free on the left, and after cutting inside, his wicked piledriver was brilliantly pawed around the post by the alert Ross Glendinning.

With the half-time clock ticking down, the Blues upped the ante in search of a breakthrough goal. New boy Cammy Palmer completely fluffed his lines when Matty Clarke’s cross fell to him at the back post before the former Rangers midfielder’s shot was deflected to Millar, but his audacious volley from the edge of the box crept agonisingly wide.

Incredibly, United could have nicked a goal in their first meaningful attack, but it was courtesy of a howler from goalkeeper Chris Johns. He had his pocket picked by the alert Joe McCready, but Josh Kelly had his shot kicked off the line by Mark Haughey.

The second half was again one-way traffic, with the Blues probing and teasing without really cutting out the big chance they craved.

Cooper again brought a wonderful save from Glendinning with a shot from distance that the big shot-stopper managed to scoop for a corner kick.

But against all the odds United forged ahead on 67 minutes. Michael Newbury flattened McCartan with a late challenge and, when Kane fired in the free kick, Keeley slotted past Johns.

Linfield required merely eight minutes to get back on terms, although it was a goal that angered United boss David Jeffrey. Referee Shane Andrews clearly hesitated when Navid Nasseri went own under a challenge from Owen McKeown, but he eventually pointed to the spot.

The reliable Waterworth did the needful, squeezing he ball past Glendinning at the base of the post.

United then had strong appeals for a penalty when Haughey’s clearance appeared to bounce off his arm before McCartan galloped through on his own, only to see his low drive saved by Johns.

But deep into injury time, Kane whipped in another corner kick, which Keeley managed bundle over the line.

BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Kane, Redman, McKeown (Harpur 83), McElroy, McCartan, Waide, Ervin, Keeley, Kelly, McCready.

Unused subs: Addis, Knowles, Beattie, McMullan, Mathieson, Graham.

LINFIELD: Johns, Newberry (Nasseri 69), Haughey, Callacher, Waterworth, Stewart, Millar, Clarke, Quinn, Palmer, Cooper.

Unused subs: Moore, Larkin, McGivern, Pepepr, Archer.

REFEREE: Shane Andrews.

EAD MORE:

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