Andrew Waterworth (46)

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Andrew Waterworth celebrates his Showgrounds winner (©INPHO/Stephen Hamilton)

LINFIELD CLOSE IN ON LEAGUE TITLE

Linfield placed one hand on the Gibson Cup thanks to a narrow victory over Ballymena United in the live TV game at The Showgrounds.

The Blues are 12 points ahead of United, their only challengers, with four games left to play meaning that only a disastrous end to the campaign will deny David Healy's side a 53rd league title.

A bright start saw both sides have their moments during the opening quarter-of-an-hour with United going close when Adam Lecky fired over following a Johnny McMurray run while, for the visitors, Joel Cooper sent his effort too high after Chris Casement had done well down the right.

As the first half progressed the Sky Blues looked the more likely to find a way through, forcing a succession of corners midway through and coming within a whisker of opening the scoring when Kofi Balmer rattled the underside of the bar on 25 minutes from around six yards out while Jude Winchester saw his follow up turned away by Gareth Deane.

Then, on 34 minutes, Andy McGrory might have fired United in front only to be denied by a superb acrobatic stop from Deane in keeping his free-kick out just as the ball looked destined for the top left corner.

Linfield created more in the latter part of the half with Jimmy Callacher heading straight at Ross Glendinning on 36 minutes from Niall Quinn's free-kick while, a couple of minutes from the break, Casement and then Andy Waterworth had efforts clawed away by the home keeper.

It took less than a minute for the deadlock to be broken after the interval when Cooper did well down the left to find Waterworth who then had to work hard to slot the ball across Glendinning and into the bottom right corner from the far side of the area.

Ballymena might have crafted the equaliser ten minutes later but, again, McGrory was denied by an excellent stop from Deane after Lecky had created the opportunity.

Callacher looked to extend Linfield's lead on the hour with a long range effort which Glendinning pushed wide.

But despite needing to avoid defeat to keep their dwindling title challenge alive, Ballymena failed to create much in front of goal with only McMurray's 75th minute attempt offering the home support any promise as the game wound to a scrappy close.

Ballymena United: Glendinning, Addis, Whiteside, McCullough, McGrory, Balmer, Winchester, Ervin, Lecky, Millar, McMurray subs Williamson (not used), Kane (replaced Winchester 63), Quigley (not used), Mayse (replaced Whiteside 63), McGinty (not used), Shevlin (not used), Watson (not used)

Linfield: Deane, Robinson, Callacher, Waterworth, Cooper, J. Stewart, Kearns, Mulgrew, A. Mitchell, Quinn, Casement subs C. Mitchell (not used), Stafford (not used), Millar (replaced Cooper 78), Clarke (replaced Stewart 83), Fallon (replaced Kearns 90+2), McGivern (not used), Cervenka (not used)

Referee: Andrew Davey

Attendance: 2482

Tags:  Ballymena United  Linfield