Linfield kept the pressure on top of the table Glentoran by claiming a narrow victory over an entertaining Ballymena side at the showgrounds.
The started quickly, with Linfield looking to utilise their greatest threat, the pace and trickery of Northern Ireland winger Kirsty McGuiness from the very beginning. This tactic paid off early in the game when after 5 minutes McGuiness ran down the wing and hit a driven cross across goal which went straight to Melissa Orr who smashed it straight at the keeper from 7 yards, who could only parry it out into the box again. The ball fell to another Linfield shirt, and the second shot was stopped on the line by Lynsey Murray, however the referee adjudged that an arm was used and pointed to the spot to give a penalty, which McGuiness dispatched past a diving Karen Millar to give her side a 1-0 lead.
Linfield continued to use this tactic for the next 15 minutes, however Ballymena's right back Naomi McMullan tracked McGuiness's every step nd made a number of crucial blocks to stp crosses coming in.
Slowly but surely the Ballymena midfield got their foot on the ball and started passing it around. Their first real chance came after 22 minutes when they were able to string together 15 passes and get a shot away, but it went harmlessly over the bar. They continued to apply pressure and had another good chance on 24 minutes, when Clare Timoney turned and hit a snap shot that went just wide of the post.
The pressure continued to build, and ballymena won a corner on 28 minutes, from which they forced Linfield to clear of the line. In the space of 10 seconds Linfield broke and the ball fell to captain Sarah Venney, who turned and hit a sweet 25 yard lob over a helpless Millar to make it 2-0.
Credit though to Ballymena, who didnt let their heads drop, and they replied soon after when forwards Rachel Fulton and Rebecca Boyce combined down the right, which enabled fulton to play a brilliant cross to the back post, where centre back Rebekah Reynolds, who had made a very attacking run, was able to head confidently past Nicole Adams to cut the deficit in half just before the break.
The second half began in the same manner as the first, with Venney and McGuiness doing a lot of the creative work for Linfield. It almost paid off on 48 min, the ball falling to Nicole Graham, who could only hit the side netting from 4 yards out at a tight angle.
Linfield had the majority of the ball in the second half, but were restricted to very few chances thanks to a very good defensive display from ballymena, especially from Reyonlds and McMullan, who has to be a contender for player of the match. However Linfield did manage to break down the resolute defence and score from a set piece after 80 minutes, with Melissa Orr heading in to the roof of the net at the near post following a corner to make it 3-1 with 10 minutes to play.
Again Ballymena responded well, and this time they replied instantly when Fulton produced a cool finish to put the ball across the keeper and into the far corner.
Linfield were able to hold on to their slender lead though to keep the gap at the top to only one point. Manager Ryan McConville was pleased with the performance and result, though admitted his team had to “win ugly” in their third fixture in 8 days.
Ballymena manager Trevor Boyce felt that his team “had the run of play for prolonged periods in the game” and that “the resut could have gone either way”. He will be confident going into the next fixture against mid ulster next week.