Ballymena United 0–2 Cliftonville
Ben Wilson struck either side of the break as Cliftonville made it two away victories in a week with a 2-0 win over Ballymena United at the Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon.
The Derry native pounced on a fine Rory Hale pass to edge his side ahead before the midway point in the half and after the Reds weathered some pressure after the hour mark, Hale and Wilson combined to great effect as the former Brighton striker took his league tally to seven in eight games.
Although Wilson will take the plaudits, boss Jim Magilton was keen to seek out Rory Hale for praise and Wilson’s strike partner Sam Ashford.
“Rory is another one who has just been brilliant from day one,” acknowledged Magilton.
“He’s a threat and he and Ben have struck up a lovely partnership and combination. Sam Ashford has missed a couple of chances today, but Sam is a catalyst for all that is good about us in terms of our hard work and endeavour. It’s something that Ben can add to his game. Albeit he’s a wonderful finisher.”
The Reds’ boss named an unchanged starting eleven from the squad that won 3-0 at Seaview in the North Belfast derby on Monday evening.
Cliftonville carved out the first opportunity when Ronan Doherty worked the corner short, and the training ground routine saw a chance open up for Sean Stewart who skied his shot over the bar.
Minutes later, Ben Wilson latched onto a through ball from Jonny Addis and Sean O’Neill was at full-stretch to deny Wilson his sixth league goal of the campaign.
The Reds’ talisman this season wouldn’t be denied for long and on the 19th minute his sixth strike did arrive.
Rory Hale slipped a neat ball into his path and Wilson tucked his low effort beneath Sean O’Neill and into the corner to make it 1-0.
Ballymena tried to assert some pressure at the other end, on-loan Larne striker Isaac Westendorf cut in and sent a low shot into the gloves of David Odusmosu. Alex Gawne then lined up a shot that he badly miscued.
Just before the half hour mark Wilson ran onto a terrific threaded ball and went through one-on-one with Sean O’Neill, though the Sky Blues’ ’keeper denied the striker with his foot.
The visitors continued to create half chances. Odhran Casey played a short ball to the feet of Ronan Doherty to pick out Wilson, but he was unable to call O’Neill into action.
Their best opportunity to double their lead arrived on the 39th minute when Sean Stewart hung a pinpoint cross towards Sam Ashford who somehow steered a low effort the post as Wilson’s goal was the difference at the break.
Ballymena United began the second period positively, but it was Cliftonville who were denied a second.
Rory Hale found Wilson in the area, and he lifted the ball over O’Neill, only for former Reds’ defender and Sky Blues captain Colin Coates to clear off the line.
A few minutes later Ronan Doherty found the run of Chris Gallagher from a corner and the midfielder fired into the side netting.
Midway through the second half, Jonny Addis almost allowed Isaac Westendorf through after an error. However, Addis stuck a foot in to make a vital interception.
The on-loan Larne frontman had a further opening after bustling through on goal and only a terrific Chris Gallagher block prevented the former Newcastle player from an almost certain equaliser.
Jim Magilton’s charges weathered the pressure though and eased any lingering nerves with a second goal on the 74th minute.
A good link-up between Ronan Doherty and Rory Hale saw the ball played through to Wilson and the Derry native finished for his second of the afternoon.
The deadly duo were replaced with a midweek clash at home to Coleraine in mind. In their absence a third almost arrived late-on. substitute Joe Gormley teed up Sam Ashford and his goal bound effort was diverted behind by Colin Coates.
In the end, Wilson’s goals either side of the break were the difference as Cliftonville moved to within a point of fourth placed Glentoran.
BALLYMENA UNITED: O’Neill, Nelson, Whiteside, Coates, Gawne (McMurray 73’), McCullough, McGuigan (Place 62’), F Taylor, McGrory, Boyle (McGrory 83’), Westendorf.
CLIFTONVILLE: Odumosu, Lowe (Pepper 70’), Casey, Addis, Turner, Stewart, Gallagher, Doherty, Rory Hale (C Curran 77’), Ashford, Wilson (Gormley 77’).
REFEREE: Shane Andrews