United continued their league programme with the league encounter against Ballywalter who like their hosts are sitting in a mid-table position. Unitedâ€™s squad included the return of JJ Carlisle and Ian Boal from suspension and Stevenson and Jackson from injury and work commitments respectively.
United started very brightly and took the lead within the first few minutes when Ian McMullan headed home from a free kick. They were unable to build on this advantage as the visitors managed to control the game with their physicality which would cost them dearly with the dismissal of a midfielder for a bad tackle midway through the half.Â Efforts by JJ Carlisle, Gareth McMullan and Simon Jackson failed to increase the lead while Brian McMullan had to be at his brilliant best to repel several good efforts from the visitors speedy forwards. Ballywalter got their break just before half time when the ball broke from a corner to fall kindly for a forward who smash past Brian McMullan for the equaliser.
In the second half United enjoyed the majority of possession with Cheevers, Maxwell, Crawford and Stuart McMullan moving the ball throughout midfield however they could not find the openings for the forwards. Ballywalter were reduced to nine men on the hour mark when Ian McMullan was the victim of a vicious challenge from behind.
The visitors worked tirelessly to stop United getting scoring opportunities and they employed every tactic they could to waste time to hold onto what they had. Substitutes Ian Boal and Johnny Gibson were introduced and United almost scored with a header from Maxwell who perhaps had more time than he thought while Stuart McMullan looked to have scored with a superb shot but the Ballywalter keeper produced an excellent save.
United will have been disappointed not to have won this game however but for a few timely interceptions from defensive pairing Ross Hayes and Scott Brashaw they could have lost as Ballywalter posed a threat on the break.
United entertained Ballywalter Recreation in this league game at Millbridge on Saturday. The weather conditions and the pitch were in excellent condition for the start of this game however things would be a lot different in the second half. United started the brighter against a Ballywalter team who are struggling at the bottom of the league and they went close on a number of occasions in the early stages. A Jay Smyth shot sailed over the cross bar while the Ballywalter goalkeeper and his defenders managed to block efforts from Steven Kennedy and Ian McMullan.
United sent wave after wave of attack on the Ballywalter defence and it was from a long throw in the 21st minute from McCauley Foster that they took the lead thanks to a couple of defensive deflections and the intervention of Ian McMullan who claimed the last touch.
Any hopes that this would open the flood gates were sadly mistaken as Ballywalter staged a number of counter attacks in search of an equaliser and Unitedâ€™s defensive formation of Hayes, Foster and Brashaw had to be at their very best along with Brian McMullan who pulled off a number of good saves. In midfield Stuart McMullan seemed to be on the end of all of Unitedâ€™s attacks while Cheevers, Smyth and Hunter passed the ball about with ease.
United will have been disappointed that they had not increased their lead by half time particularly as the weather was deteriorating with sleet and snow falling. The good attendance of spectators who were huddled at every sheltered location around the ground were looking for some sparkling football and more goals to cheer them up in the second half but that is not the way things would turn out.
Ballywalter to their credit pressed forward at times hemming United into their half and the introduction of substitutes Ian Boal, David Kelly and Adam Herron whilst strengthening United defensively failed to inject that extra spark into attack.
Several long range efforts from Ian Boal caused the Ballywalter defence some discomfort and Ian McMullan shot narrowly wide while the running of Aaron Cheevers led to a number of free kicks in decent positions but Johnny Hunter could not conjure up any magic.
In the closing minutes Johnny Hunter put in an outstanding tackle to clear the ball for a corner after a Ballywalter forward was put through on goal. Not long after the referee blew the final whistle to bring proceedings to an end and give United a hard earned three points.
Supporters should keep in touch with club officials this week regarding the next league fixture as although United are supposed to be away to Immaculata in the league they are supposed to be playing in the Clarence Cup that day.