BALLYMENA UNITED 1 CARRICK RANGERS 1
Ballymena United lifted themselves off the foot of the Danske Bank Premiership table by claiming their first point of the season in a dramatic 1-1 draw with Carrick Rangers.
The Sky Blues produced a gutsy performance after playing 89 minutes with 10 men after the dismissal of skipper Jim Ervin inside the opening minute.
It was a result which will at least lift some of the pressure on manager Glenn Ferguson, although the under-fire boss again came under verbal attack from a section of the club’s fans.
Ballymena’s hopes of a positive start were dealt a crippling blow with less than a minute on the clock.
Aaron Smyth’s long clearance skidded off the sodden turf and past Kyle McVey, leaving Miguel Chines in the clear.
As the striker burst into the penalty area, his heels were clipped by covering United skipper Jim Ervin, who was immediately sent off by referee Keith Kennedy - with just 35 seconds on the clock!
Chines dusted himself down and sent Dwayne Nelson the wrong way from the resultant spot kick to give the visitors the lead.
Ballymena tried to battle back from their early setback and David Cushley had United’s first effort with a swerving drive which bounced in front of Brian Neeson but the Carrick keeper handled the effort confidently.
At the other end a sweeping Carrick move started by Neeson’s clearance fell to Ben Roy on the left who skinned McVey and cut the ball back for Aaron Harmon in acres of space but the Carrick skipper fired over from the edge of the penalty area.
Ballymena enjoyed a good spell of pressure during which Matthew Shevlin had a goal ruled out for pushing Mark Surgenor before heading home Matthew Tipton’s cross.
The teenage striker also fired a rising drive over from a slide-rule Matthew Tipton pass while Matthew Ferguson just couldn’t over a Cushley corner, heading over the bar from inside the six yard box.
Carrick came close to doubling their lead on 42 minutes when full-back Aaron Traynor’s shot was deflected into the path of defender Daniel Kelly, whose looping header crashed back off the post with Nelson beaten.
Ballymena supporters’ frustrations boiled over just before the interval when a section of fans were ordered by stewards to remove a banner bearing the motto ‘Spike Out’ from the back of the stand.
It prompted an ugly fracas which saw spectators grappling with stewards before order was restored, while the majority of the home support applauded the team off at the half-time whistle.
The early stages of the second period were short on goalmouth action with Carrick appeals for a free kick after Rodger tangled with Gary Browne on the edge of the penalty area were waved away by the referee.
At the other end, Cushley’s cross from the left was bundled wide by a combination of Tipton and Shevlin.
Substitute Nathan Hanley also came close as his curling free kick was fumbled by Carrick keeper Neeson but the ball squirmed just wide of the post.
Just when it looked as though Unted were destined for a fifth successive defeat, they salvaged an equaliser with two minutes left.
Kyle McVey hoisted a free kick from deep inside his own half which was headed into the air but the ball dropped for Jenkins to volley home from eight yards.
Remarkably, Carrick almost snatched victory in the 89th minute when substitute Andrew Doyle ghosted in at the back post but could only steer Ben Roy’s free kick into the side netting as the game finished level.
Ballymena United: Nelson, Ervin, McVey, Rodger, Ruddy, Ferguson (sub Hanley 62), Faulkner, Jenkins, Cushley, Shevlin, Tipton (sub Henderson 75). Subs (not used): Taylor, E Kane, Millar.
Carrick Rangers: Neeson, Smyth, Surgenor, Kelly (sub Doyle 87), Traynor, Cherry, Harmon, Roy, McNeill, Browne (sub Cash 59), Chines (sub Miskimmin 74). Subs (not used): Kane, Johnston, Doyle.
Referee: Keith Kennedy (Lisburn).