Ballymena United players and coaching staff celebrate (Picture: Stephen Hamilton/PressEye.com)
Friday, 12 May 2017
Goals from Cathair Friel and Kevin Braniff helped Ballymena United to victory over Glenavon in the Europa League play-off final at The Showgrounds.
The Sky Blues make their return to the continental stage for the first time since their Inter-Toto Cup appearance in 2004, and before that, a Cup-Winners' Cup place in 1989.
Despite the eventual outcome Glenavon got off to the better start with Joel Cooper twice threatening during the opening exchanges.
United did begin to come into the game a little more as the first half progressed but the visitors might well have gone in at the break with the upper hand after both James Gray and Ciaran Martyn brought back-to-back saves from 'keeper Ross Glendinning.
The deadlock was broken eight minutes into the second half when Johnny McMurray played the ball into the six yard box for Friel to touch past Johnny Tuffey despite coming under pressure from Martyn.
Glenavon levelled on 67 minutes after an Andy Hall corner was headed back for Rhys Marshall to volley into the roof of the net from close range.
And Gary Hamilton's side might have gone ahead ten minutes later when Hall turned a free-kick against the crossbar before Martyn nodded the loose ball in the scramble that followed onto the woodwork.
But what proved to be Ballymena's winner came soon after at the other end when substitute - and former Glenavon favourite - Kevin Braniff hold off the attention of Andrew Doyle to create space to unleash a terrific 25-yard slightly deflected effort past the diving Tuffey in off the underside of the bar.
BBC Sport NI coverage - http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/39902235
Ballymena United: Glendinning, T. Kane, Owens, Flynn, Jenkins, Faulkner, Friel, Ervin, Millar, McKinney, McMurray subs Allen (not used), Henderson (not used), Braniff (replaced Faulkner 75), McCaffrey (replaced McKinney 88), Kerr (not used)
Glenavon: Tuffey, Canning, Lindsay, Marshall, Cooper, Sykes, Doyle, Moorhouse, Martyn, Singleton, Gray subs Neill (not used), Kilmartin (replaced Canning 74), Hall (replaced Sykes 56), McGrory (not used), Jenkins (replaced Moorhouse 82)
Referee: Arnold Hunter