By Neil McKnight
at Dixon Park
Ballymoney United bravely fought off a potential thrashing when they were reduced to seven men against Ballyclare Comrades on Saturday.
The Toon put up stiff resistance before falling to a 2-1 defeat after the line-up was decimated by a series of red cards.
And Paul Gaston’s men nearly left the Comrades’ players with red faces by almost snatching an incredible draw at the end.
Ballymoney can be proud of their efforts against a team who could go second in the championship Two if they win their game in hand.
United limited Ballyclare to few clear-cut chances on goal despite suffering the loss of keeper Bryan Moore, centre back Chris Getty and midfielders Gavin Gilmour and Gerald Gillan.
The away side started sharply and could have scored in the first minute when Ian Christie shot at goal from an angle.
United adjusted well to the boggy pitch but were soon stuck in serious trouble on 10 minutes.
Moore raced out to block a through ball and was judged to have handled it just outside the area.
The Toon’s misery was componded when midfielder Andrew Simms curled the resulting free-kick past Duane Scott who had been handed the keeper’s jersey.
Ballyclare nearly doubled the lead when striker Mark McClelland raced through on goal but knocked the ball too wide when he tried to take it around the keeper.
United rode their luck again when Keith Armstrong volleyed against the bar and knocked the rebound past the post.
Ballymoney were on the back foot and on 34 minutes misfortune struck again when Chris Getty was sent off for his second booking.
McClelland looked to break free of the defence but Getty slipped and pulled him back 40 yards from goal.
Kyle Buckley entered the referee’s book for a caution before the Comrades’ Ricky Higgins nudged an effort wide.
However Ballymoney nearly equalised before the break when Liam Kearney raced on to a cross at the back post but failed to convert.
After the interval Money retreated in their own half but sensationally drew level thanks to a wonder strike from left back Kyle Buckley on 52 minutes.
Mark Gillan picked up a ball on the halfway line before dribbling it past a couple of players and spraying a great ball out to Buckley on the flank.
The defender skipped past one tackle before unleashing a fierce swerving shot into the top corner from 25 yards.
The small but vocal travelling support were in raptures but their joy was short-lived when Ballyclare went ahead less than five minutes later.
Winger Scott Irvine received the ball at the corner of the box and his effort was cruelling deflected into the bottom corner past the flailing keeper.
Ballyclare started to mount the pressure and Scott saved a tame effort before veteran midfielder Stuart Galbraith hit the bar.
It then got worse for Money on 79 minutes when Gilmour got his second yellow for a lunging tackle after an earlier booking for dissent.
The game started to get niggly after Gerald Gillan collided with Ballyclare goalie Paddy Flood and the home side could not make full use of their numerical advantage.
Only afterwards did the tackles start to get full-blooded. But as the game looked beyond Money, Ian Christie nearly became the hero when he smacked a left-footed volley from 20 yards just wide of the post in the last 15 minutes.
United substitute Mark Dempsey was cautioned for a late tackle and a hamstring strain forced the impressive Buckley off.
And Money’s fate was sealed seven minutes from the end when Gerald Gillan was given a straight red for fouling his man while lunging for the ball.
Ballymoney: Bryan Moore 6, Duane Scott 6, Kyle Buckley 8, Chris Wilkinson (capt) 8, Chris Getty 7, Gavin Gilmour 7, Mark McKane 6, Liam Kearney 6, Mark Gillan 6, Gerald Gillan 7, Ian Christie 7. Subs: Daniel Laverty 6 (82 min for Buckley), Mark Dempsey 6 (74 min for Kearney), Neil Fleming.