Ten-man Linfield pick up crucial win to maintain lead at the top

Linfield remain in top spot in the Danske Bank Premiership thanks to a 2-0 win away at Ballymena United.

An own-goal from Steven McCullough gave the Blues a first half lead.

But their task was made a little bit harder when Christy Manzinga was sent off before the break following a coming together with Caolan Loughran.

The points were made safe late on though as Chris Shields converted from the spot to maintain Linfield’s one-point advantage at the top.

Chris Shields celebrates after putting Linfield 2-0 up at Ballymena United

It was a lively start to the game by both sides. The hosts were first to threaten as Leroy Millar produced a bicycle kick from a corner, but Chris Johns saved.

For the Blues Manzinga curl a shot off target while Shields couldn’t direct his header on goal from a Niall Quinn free-kick.

Loughran, who scored the winning penalty for Ballymena in Saturday’s Irish Cup victory over Larne, stepped up with a 25-yard free-kick as we approached the half hour, but again Johns saved well.

The visitors should have edged in front three minutes later as Manzinga burst past Loughran on the left before whipping a great ball in for Stevie Fallon, but the midfielder fired over on the volley.

The deadlock was broken on 35 minutes and it came in somewhat fortunate circumstances for Linfield. Kyle McClean’s set-piece was met by Sky Blues’ defender McCullough, who inadvertently headed into his own net.

It was almost 2-0 two minutes later when Manzinga turned sharply in the box and got a shot away, but Sean O’Neill saved well.

The game was turned on its head though on 39 minutes as Manzinga was shown a straight red card following a coming together with Loughran on the halfway line.

Linfield kept pressing though and almost doubled their advantage a minute before the break as McLean picked out Ben Hall from another set-piece, but O’Neill did well to claw out his effort.

Ballymena pushed for an equaliser at the start of the second half and Andy McGrory spurned a great opportunity as he screwed a shot wide of the target from inside the area.

Despite being a man light though the Blues were still posing an attacking threat at The Showgrounds.

Jimmy Callacher went close from a deep corner just past the hour mark with his header being blocked.

Linfield wrapped up the points on 73 minutes after Shields slotted home from the spot after Jamie Mulgrew had been brought down by Sean Graham.

In the night’s other fixtures Philip Lowry’s first half strike was enough to give Crusaders all three points against Coleraine at Seaview.

Matthew Fitzpatrick’s 93rd minute goal earned Glenavon a point away at Larne, who went in front through Lee Bonis’ early strike.

There were goals galore in the games involving the clubs at the bottom.

Carrick Rangers staged a fantastic comeback to earn a 2-2 draw against Portadown despite having Jordan Gibson sent off. Michael Ruddy and Adam Salley had put the Ports in front

before Stephen Gordon and Reece Glendinning salvaged a point.

At Milltown Warrenpoint Town went down 3-2 to Dungannon Swifts.

Dylan Hand gave the hosts the lead before Rhyss Campbell (2) and Joe McCready put the Swifts in control. Greg Moorehouse set up a tense finale but they Point couldn’t find a leveller.