This was the final game in the Concentrix Reserve League between the two top reserve teams, Ballymena United All Stars Reserves and Linfield Ladies Swifts, so this was always set up to be a great game for the girls at Ballymena Showgrounds.
On a sunny, windy night all the girls hustled and bustled trying to create chances. Early on Ballymena's Hannah Henderson broke through and struck a rasping shot that Linfield keeper, Caoimhe Callaghan, saved low. Linfield's Chloe Orr then broke down the left wing but with good solid defending the attack was stopped. Both teams worked hard in midfield and broke down each others' attack. Linfield's Danielle Ennis made a great run down the right wing but spurned the chance with a weak shot that keeper Rebecca Galbraith competently handled. Both teams were cancelling each other out until Ballymena's speedy Hannah Henderson ran and kept the ball on the pitch on 22 minutes to then hammer it sweetly into the corner of the net (Ballymena Reserves 1-0 Linfield Swifts).
Knowing that they had already done enough to win the Concentrix Reserve League Ballymena were in a celebratory mood but Linfield were not making it easy all over the park and were out to spoil the party. Linfield showed great footwork, especially Laura Robson, who crossed the ball to Courtney Downey whose shot was well saved. Immediately afterwards, Maeve Nethercott had a great header that went wide of the post. Eventually, with great persistence, Chloe Orr took a shot from outside the 18 yard box and buried it precisely in the back of the net, giving Galbraith no chance (Ballymena Reserves 1-1 Linfield Swifts).
Half time score Ballymena United All Stars Reserves 1 - 1 Linfield Ladies Swifts
With the game in the balance both teams started the second half lively and Ballymena's Henderson's opening shot just sailed over the bar. Ballymena received a penalty on 48 minutes and Michelle McDonald converted from the penalty spot and Ballymena regained the lead again. (Ballymena Reserves 2 - 1 Linfield Swifts).
The second half was fiery as Linfield went in search of their equaliser. Ballymena's Henderson again ran through defenders but the Linfield keeper, Caoimhe Callaghan, pushed it onto the post - a great save which kept Linfield in the hunt. This galvanised Linfield and they showed great character and spirit across the pitch. They continued to pressurise and got their reward when Courtney Downey volleyed into the net on 76 minutes. (Ballymena Reserves 2-2 Linfield Swifts).
Linfield's keeper Callaghan produced a string of saves, a fantastic one handed save from a Laura McCurdy strike and later Tamzen Campbell. In the closing minutes both teams were hungry for the winner and Ballymena's Amy Smyth continued attacking but the Linfield defence stayed resolute.
Final score of a pulsating match, Ballymena United All Stars Reserves 2 - 2 Linfield Ladies Swifts.
Ballymena United All Stars Reserves were jubilant and they certainly have a lot of talent which should feed into their senior team next year and Linfield Ladies Swifts also showed great squad strength and potential. With the senior Linfield team in the Concentrix NIWFA Premier League final, , and currently at the top of the Premier League table, they still have a great chance of further silverware. But last night was Ballymena Reserves turn to celebrate.
(Match Report by Rosie McKee)