Irish Premiership: Linfield on cusp of title after 1-0 victory over Ballymena United

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Linfield virtually assured of title after win at Ballymena

Linfield need just a point from their four remaining Irish Premiership fixtures to lift the league title after a 1-0 win over Ballymena United put them 12 points clear at the top.

Andrew Waterworth scored the only goal 35 seconds into the second half.

It is the third consecutive clean sheet that Linfield have kept against their closest title challengers.

At the bottom Newry City beat Ards 3-0 to move above their relegation rivals.

Having endured a desperately disappointing 2017-18 campaign, the travelling Linfield support could be heard at the Showgrounds long after the final whistle, celebrating what is surely another league triumph for their side.

David Jeffrey's Sky Blues will now look to consolidate second place in the final weeks of the season with Crusaders breathing down their necks in third.

Defence wins you championships

If, as expected, Linfield do go on to secure the title, it will be a league won on the foundations of a rock solid defence.

They have conceded 21 goals in 34 league games, the next best defensive record in the division belongs to Glenavon who have shipped nearly twice as many with 40.

Knowing that nothing more than a win would do for their faint title hopes, Ballymena attacked from the beginning and enjoyed the better of the opening half.

Adam Lecky put a glorious early chance over the bar before Kofi Balmer's 25th minute volley in a crowded penalty area cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar.

Twice in February, first in the League Cup final and again in the Premiership a week later, Linfield kept the league's top scorers out.

They repeated the feat once more aided by an accomplished display from goalkeeper Gareth Deane, who was twice on hand to stop goal-bound efforts from Andy McGrory.

Linfield
Andrew Waterworth's 17th league goal of the season made the difference at the Showgrounds

Waterworth comes to the fore

Following his four-goal haul against Dungannon Swifts two weeks ago, Waterworth again showed his goalscoring prowess to find the all-important breakthrough straight after the break.

The striker turned a low effort into the bottom corner after good work from Joel Cooper to take the ball in to the Ballymena box.

Sky Blues keeper Ross Glendinning was rarely troubled but was alert to push Jimmy Callacher's swerving effort away midway through the second half.

Centre-back Callacher went close again to adding to his 10-goal tally with a back post header but saw his attempt sail over the bar.

After an end-to-end first half, the second period was a more laboured affair with Ballymena struggling to produce the same rhythm that caused David Healy's side so many problems in the opening 45 minutes.

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Newry win basement battle as Ards drop to bottom spot

Newry come out on top in basement battle

After a run of six defeats Newry's position at the foot of the table was looking increasingly perilous, and defeat against Ards would have seen them five points adrift at the bottom.

However the hosts produced their finest performance of 2019 to put the pressure back on their County Down opponents with four games remaining.

Stephen Hughes fired home after 10 minutes to put Darren Mullen's side in front, with Mark McCabe sliding in to make it two midway through the first half.

The excellent Tiarnan Rushe wrapped up the three points for the hosts after the break, sending a free-kick beyond the helpless Sam Johnston.

Dale Montgomery saw his late penalty saved by the Ards keeper, but it wasn't enough to stop Newry moving one point ahead of their relegation rivals.