Friday night football and a big crowd enjoyed a thrilling game between the hosts and the current league leaders as Glenavon striker Guy Bates prepared to bid farewell before heading to start his new life in Australia.
Glenn Ferguson will rue the missed chances, most of them falling to David Cushley, as his team suffered their first defeat of the season and, at least until Saturday, Gary Hamilton’s Glenavon side can enjoy the fact that they moved up to third, just two points behind the early season pace setters.
Kris Lindsay glanced in the opening goal in the 5th minute from a wicked in-swinging Kyle Neill corner. David Cushley almost replied immediately when he drove a shot from just outside the box that Alan Blaney beat away to safety.
Andy McGrory then tried his luck with a dipping volley from the left corner of the box but Dwayne Nelson dealt with it comfortably.
In the 26th minute Cushley showed great skill to flick the ball over Rhys Marshall’s head but he couldn’t direct his shot on target, Blaney happy to see it drift wide of his left hand post. Three minutes later the little United forward latched on to a long ball but was penalised for colliding with the Glenavon keeper just inside the box.
Glenavon debutant Ciaran Caldwell played Blaney into trouble when he attempted to head the ball back from near the centre circle but the Glenavon keeper did well to rush out of his area and make a great block tackle to deny Cushley another shooting chance.
On the stroke of half time Cushley showed great skill to control a through ball, beat Rhys Marshall and draw Blaney out but unfortunately for the Sky Blues, he dragged his shot wide with the goal gaping.
Ten minutes into the second half Caldwell put over a great cross which McGrory played back in from beyond the far post but Ciaran Martyn put his header well wide.
Just after the hour mark United briefly thought they had equalised when it appear Davy Munster had headed in from a Neal Gawley free kick but the big defender was penalised and cautioned for deliberate hand ball.
Rhys Marshall made it 2-0 to the Lurgan Blues in the 65th minute when he headed in from another Neill corner after his initial effort had been headed off the line. Ballymena will point to the fact that it should never have been a corner in the first place, Gareth McKeown clearly slicing his shot out of play without any contact from a Sky Blue player.
Sixty seconds later Eoin Bradley had a great chance to make it 3-0 after Johnny Taylor failed to cut out a through ball but the former Coleraine man, after drawing Nelson out, curled his shot narrowly wide.
Referee Raymond Hetherington sent off Glenavon’s Shane McCabe and Ballymena skipper Allan Jenkins for an off-the-ball incident in the 68th minute as Kris Lindsay and Darren Boyce were ‘tangling’ on the ground after they had challenged each other for an aerial ball.
With 15 minutes of normal time left on the clock Guy Bates came on to a standing ovation from the large Glenavon support in the Geddis stand as he replaced Bradley.
There were 7 minutes remaining when the visitors had claims for a handball in the box by Lindsay waved away by the ref, Mark Surgenor picking up a yellow card for his protests.
Two minutes later Cushley finally got the goal he deserved when he beat Blaney from the edge of the box after a fortunate break of the ball had favoured Matthew Tipton who crossed for his team mate and this time Cushley didn’t try to blast it but went for a measured chip.
Gavin Taggart then tried his luck with a 25 yard shot that Mr Hetherington adjudged had been touched over the bar by Blaney but he then awarded a free kick out from the resulting corner. In the final minute of the 90 Martyn fired a volley just wide from Bates’ cross but in the four minutes of added time, as United went three at the back and pushed forward for an equaliser, Tipton went mighty close with a header that he glanced inches wide from a dangerous cross to the far post by the marauding Taylor.
Glenavon: Blaney, McKeown, Lindsay (c), Marshall, Neill, Caldwell, McCabe, Martyn, McGrory, Braniff (Hamilton 73), Bradley (Bates 76). Subs not used: McCallion, Murphy, Kilmartin.
Goals: Lindsay 5, Marshall 65
Cautions: McCabe s/o 68, Bradley 72
Ballymena Utd: Nelson, McCullagh (Kane 73), Munster, Taylor, McBride, Gawley (Surgenor 73), Taggart, Jenkins (c), Teggart (Boyce 60), Cushley, Tipton. Subs not used: Stewart, Ruddy
Goals: Cushley 85
Cautions: Munster 62, Taggart 64, Jenkins s/o 68, Surgenor 83
Referee: Raymond Hetherington