STRIKES by Johnny McClurg and Adam Gray secured back-to-back Ballymena Junior League Division 1 titles for Ballyclare Comrades Reserves.
During the second half of the season the title race had been reduced to a two horse affair, with Tobermore United Reserves the only challengers, and fittingly it went down to the wire with the issue in doubt until the final fixture of the season.
The clash of the two contenders took place on Tuesday evening at Desertmartin, where Jonty Watson’s lads triumphed 2-0.
Tobermore were the dominant force in the first half with Warren McAllister the busier keeper, and he had to make one stunning reflex save to tip the ball over the bar when a score seemed certain.
With the Tobermore midfielders in control, the Wee Reds were on the back foot until the interval with their only scoring opportunity falling to David Higgins who rattled the bar, following a fine right wing build-up involving skipper Pod Lynch and Ricky MacAuley.
In the 67th minute Jonathan Boyd, who had replaced David Higgins at the interval in a pre-arranged tactical move, played a neat one-two with MacAuley that created space for McClurg to break the deadlock from close range.
At this stage a double substitution proved to be the end for Tobermore, with promising teenagers Aaron Lindsay and David McCallen replacing MacAuley and Harry Spence.
Now Comrades were on top, and four minutes from time Adam Gray made doubly sure of victory when he picked up a Boyd pass and drilled the ball in to the bottom corner of the net.
“It was a disappointing, disjointed first-half performance,” said Watson, “but we redeemed ourselves after the break.
“Tobermore were very strong in midfield, but after the interval we made better use of the wings and the game turned in our favour, and after being fortunate to be level at half time, we finished fairly comfortable winners.
“Winning the title last year for the first time in the history of the club was brilliant, but retaining it was even better.
“Now that we have the title in the bag, we approach our two cup finals with renewed confidence, and we have the treble on our radar.”
Ballyclare Comrades Reserves: Warren McAllister; Pod Lynch (C), Glenn Pierce, Chris Getty, Kyle Buckley; Ricky MacAuley, Harry Spence, Johnny McClurg, Adam Gray; Ricky Higgins, David Higgins. Subs: Jonathan Boyd for D Higgins 46’, David McCallen for Spence 75’, Aaron Lindsay for MacAuley 75’, Daniel Lunney, Daniel Ellis.