Title hopes take blow at Ballymoney

BALLYMONEY 2 LURGAN 1

LURGAN’S chances of winning the Premier League this year all but disappeared after this reversal to Ballymoney at the Joey Dunlop Centre last Saturday.

Even if they win their two remaining fixtures and this would be difficult enough as one is away to Ards and the other is at home to Pegasus, they would still need other results to go their way including one of the other teams to beat Pegasus for them to have any chance of lifting the title.

The title race has been so close this year with five teams still battling away that a top four finish looks a more realistic target at the end of what has been a roller-coaster of a season. Things looked to be going so well for Lurgan at the start of this match. They were on top right from the first whistle and virtually played Ballymoney off the park for the entire first half. A Charlene Hull strike from an 11th minute penalty corner looked goalbound until the Ballymoney keeper diving full length managed to get the slightest touch on the ball and deflect it just wide of the post. Lurgan kept the pressure on and were rewarded with another penalty corner four minutes later. This time they worked the switch move to Lucy McKee and she duly dispatched the ball into the roof of the net with a beautiful drag-flick. There was no letting up of the Lurgan pressure and they were very unlucky not to increase their lead when a Bethany Barr shot was well saved by the Ballymoney keeper from another penalty corner move on 21 minutes.

Lurgan almost scored from the very first move of the second half when the Ballymoney defence scrambled the ball clear at their near post after good approach play by Shelley Sloan and Penney Joyce. The second half was only eight minutes old when the whole game turned on its head. Lurgan lost concentration in their own circle and when the ball fell to a Ballymoney forward she fired hard to Vicky Parks left to give them the equaliser their play up to now had hardly deserved. Worse was to follow five minutes later as Lurgan lost possession in their own circle as they tried to run the ball out of trouble and again the ball ended up in the back of the Lurgan net. Harsh punishment indeed for five minutes of indecision but at this level you are invariably made to pay for your mistakes.

Despite being a goal down, and then a player down, as Bethany Barr was very harshly carded for an offence she was not even involved in, Lurgan continued to dominate both possession and chances created. Ballymoney were very much on the backfoot, defending deep in their own circle and firing the ball long down the pitch at every opportunity to clear their lines. With 10 minutes to go Lurgan were again reduced to ten players when Shelley Sloan was yellow carded after the umpires had allowed advantage to Ballymoney in an innocuous challenge but then went back for the free and the card that followed. With time running out and the 10 men of Lurgan still dominating they almost snatched an equaliser but the ball just ran away from the inrushing Penney Joyce. Ballymoney held out for the win but it was a bitterly disappointed Lurgan side that left the pitch having dominated for 65 of the 70 minutes and finished up on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.