Report by Peter Wilson
Larne started off 2021 with a narrow 1-0 loss at home to Ballymena United which saw them knocked off the top of the Premiership table by Linfield.
Both teams largely cancelled each other out in the first period and despite Larne’s best efforts in the second half, they couldn’t take the lead. In the second half, Kofi Balmer’s header 10 minutes from time was enough to give United all three points – as the Invermen lost at home for the first time since December 2019.
There was little meaningful action in the opening quarter of an hour.
The visitors came close after 15 minutes when Conor Devlin was nearly caught in possession when the ball was worked out to Jude Winchester but the ‘keeper was able to deal with his low shot, from 20 yards.
Just after half an hour, the Larne defence failed to deal with Ciaran Kelly’s cross. Trai Hume’s mis-hit volley fell to Paul McElroy, who was caught off guard and could only blast over.
The Invermen came flying out of the blocks in the second half and after sustained pressure Mark Randall had his effort from 14 yards saved by Jordan Williamson’s outstretched leg before Marty Donnelly’s curling strike rebounded off the left upright.
Just after the hour mark, Ross Redman put the corner in from the right and Ciaran Kelly connected his head to it, however his effort was cleared off the line by Ronan Hale.
Around five minutes later, Donnelly’s effort from 25 yards forced a superb save from Williamson to his right as his strike headed toward the top left corner.
With 15 minutes remaining, Fuad Sule made a winding run into the Ballymena area from the left and squared to Donnelly who saw his shot blocked by Ciaran Kelly. Eventually Randall’s dipping shot from 25 yards edged agonisingly wide of the right post.
On 80, Ballymena took the lead with what would be the only goal of the game as Ross Redman whipped in the free kick from the left and Kofi Balmer nodded the ball in past Devlin.
Despite some late pressure the home side failed to create any further meaningful chances.
Larne:Devlin, Watson, Robinson, Sule, Randall (McKendry 89’), Hale (McMurray 68’), McDaid, Donnelly, Cosgrove, Hughes (c) (A Mitchell 38’), Jarvis
Subs not used:C Mitchell, Lynch, Wade Slater
Ballymena United:Williamson, Redman, Addis, Winchester, McElroy (Waide 78’), McCartan, Balmer, Hume, Millar (c), C Kelly, J Kelly
Subs not used:Glendinning, A Kane, McKeown, Harpur, K Kane, Ervin
Up next for Larne is another East Antrim derby away to Carrick Rangers at the Loughshore Hotel Arena on Saturday 9 January (3pm).