BALLYMENA UNITED 1 PORTADOWN 1
Ballymena United and Portadown cemented their mid-table positions in the Danske Bank Premiership as they battled out a 1-1 draw at the Showgrounds on Saturday.
Allan Jenkins headed an equaliser for the Sky Blues with 13 minutes left to cancel out Sean Mackle’s 55th minute opener for the Ports, but it’s a result that does neither side many favours in their efforts to rise up the table.
Ballymena boss Glenn Ferguson’s response to the midweek JBE League Cup exit at the hands of Coleraine was to make six changes, with Johnny Taylor, Stephen McBride, Gary Thompson, David Cushley, Matthew Tipton and Matthew Shevlin coming in.
Ballymena created the first opening on nine minutes when Gary Thompson broke from midfield and played in Shevlin but the teenage striker, who had a sight of goal, opted to cross and Ports defender Keith O’Hara was on hand to clear the danger.
At the other end, Darren Murray’s clever turn outwitted Ballymena defender Johnny Taylor and he played in Gary Twigg but the striker could only shoot weakly at Dwayne Nelson.
Ballymena came close on 20 minutes when David Cushley’s 25-yard free kick deflected off the Portadown defensive wall but keeper David Miskelly showed great agility to change direction and save with his legs.
Miskelly’s efforts were matched by his opposite number Dwayne Nelson two minutes later with the Ballymena keeper diving to his right to brilliantly turn Twigg’s curling first time effort behind.
As the game began to open up, Ballymena created another good opening but from Matthew Tipton’s knockdown, Allan Jenkins could only fire wide, while at the other end, Robbie Garret’s shot was straight down the throat of Nelson.
Ballymena had a major let-off three minutes before the interval when Jim Ervin’s back pass only finds the lurking Gary Twigg but rather than go round Dwayne Nelson and score, Twigg opted to try to backheel the ball to strike partner Darren Murray and Gareth Rodger was on hand to clear the danger.
But Twigg was instrumental as the visitors went ahead on 55 minutes. He controlled Ken Oman’s long clearance and in one fluent movement, ghosted pass Dwayne Nelson. The striker still had plenty to do from a wide area but he looked up and played an inch-perfect cross which was headed home by the stooping Sean Mackle.
It should have been 2-0 two minutes later as Chris Casement’s cross from the right was inexplicably headed wide by the unmarked Darren Murray.
Almost instantly at the other end, Matthew Tipton produced a miss to rival that of Murray when he arrived at the back post only to guide David Cushley’s cross wide from three yards.
As the visitors pressed for a second goal, Nelson made an instinctive point-blank save to deny Darren Murray following a half-cleared corner.
Ballymena stepped up their efforts and forced an equaliser on 77 minutes when Matthew Tipton’s cross from the left was flicked on by David Cushley and Allan Jenkins arrived with perfect timing to send a looping header past David Miskelly.
Portadown came close to grabbing a winner with four minutes left but Ken Oman’s thumping header from Ross Redman’s corner clipped the top of the crossbar on its way over.
Ballymena might also have snatched all three points in injury time as Tipton was inches away from connecting with Mark Magennis’ curling cross from the right.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Ervin, Taylor, Rodger, McBride, T Kane, Jenkins, Thompson, Cushley, Tipton, Shevlin (sub Magennis 66). Subs (not used): E Kane, Ruddy, Ferguson, McVey.
Portadown: Miskelly, Ramsey, Oman, O’Hara, Redman, Casement (sub Mouncey 82), Gault, Garrett, Mackle, Murray (sub McAllister 89), Twigg. Subs (not used): Brennan, Parker, Richardson.
Referee: Raymond Hetherington (Dungannon).