Ballymena United 2, Warrenpoint Town 0

Ballymena United made a winning start to their Danske Bank Premiership campaign with a comfortable victory over Warrenpoint Town.

Ballymena United's David Cushley celebrates opening the scoring against Warrenpoint Town during Saturday's Danske Bank Premiership match at the Showgrounds. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye

Spectacular strikes from David Cushley and Neal Gawley gave the Sky Blues an important three points ahead of a week which brings fixtures against would-be title contenders Crusaders and Portadown.

United manager Glenn Ferguson handed competitive debuts to summer signings Matthew Tipton and Kyle McVey, who replaced the injured Aaron Stewart in the centre of defence, in the only change to the starting line-up from last week’s Charity Shield game against Cliftonville.

United carved out the first opening on six minutes when Matthew Tipton’s through ball sent David Cushley scurrying towards goal. He used his strength to outmuscle defender Dermot McVeigh and get the ball onto his favoured left foot but he could only shoot straight at Jonathan Parr.

The Sky Blues had another early opening as Neal Gawley’s corner was missed at the near post by McVey but his central defensive partner Johnny Taylor could only sweep the loose ball over the crossbar.

Warrenpoint’s first opening came a minute later from summer signing Stephen McDonnell, whose rising effort went narrowly over.

Cushley’s earlier effort had clearly given last season’s top scorer a sighter of goal and his next effort, on 16 minutes, brought greater success as his low 25-yard strike found the net with keeper Parr motionless.

Buoyed by this, United laid siege on the Warrenpoint goal, with Tipton flashing a shot just wide after a clever short free kick routine with Alan Teggart.

The Sky Blues spurned a glorious chance to double their lead on 22 minutes when Mark McCullagh’s defensive clearance turned into an inch-perfect through ball for Cushley but as the ball bounced up invitingly, the winger could only lash his shot wide of the post,

Kyle McVey headed a Gawley corner wide before the winger’s first-time cross was cushioned by Tipton into the path of Alan Teggart, whose left-footed shot went narrowly wide of the post.

As the home side’s domination continued, Cushley’s goalbound header from another Gawley corner ricocheted clear off team-mate Tipton.

At the other end, United’s wastefulness in front of goal almost came back to haunt them as Daniel Hughes got the better of Johnny Taylor on the edge of the area but his shot was straight at Dwayne Nelson.

United again threatened on 34 minutes when Cushley chipped a free kick into the path of Alan Davidson, who had ghosted into the area unmarked but just as the midfielder was about to pull the trigger, defender Ciaran Gargan got across to make an important clearance.

The border side came close to levelling before the interval as midfielder Stephen McCabe burst between Ballymena’s central defenders but Nelson was quickly off his line to block the effort.

United came close again early in the second half when Tipton’s run ended with a snap-shot just wide.

At the other end, Hughes dispossessed defender Taylor and keeper Nelson was relieved to see his 25 yard shot sail wide of the post.

Ballymena doubled their lead on 53 minutes. Stephen McBride’s deep cross from the left cleared everyone and was collected on the right hand side of the penalty area by Gawley. The winger cut inside onto his less favoured left foot and fired a low shot past Parr at the keeper’s near post before celebrating with a spectacular somersault in the centre circle!

It was almost three on 59 minutes when Cushley’s cross from the right was laid off by Teggart to Tipton, who rolled a defender but his shot was kept out by Parr.

Warrenpoint came close to finding a way back into the game on 62 minutes when McCabe cut in from the right but his trundling shot was brilliantly saved by Nelson, low to the keeper’s right.

As Ballymena attempted to kill off the game with a third goal, Alan Davidson released Tipton but the striker’s shot was saved by Parr, who grabbed the loose ball at the second attempt.

Still Warrenpoint refused to give in and Hughes again forced a good save from Nelson, who tipped the striker’s shot over the bar but United were able to see out the remainder of the game to claim an opening day win.

Ballymena United: Nelson, McCullagh, McVey, Taylor, McBride, Gawley (sub Taggart 72), Davidson (sub Boyce 72), Jenkins, Teggart (sub Surgenor 80), Tipton, Cushley. Subs (not used): Taggart, Boyce, Surgenor.

Warrenpoint Town: Parr, King, McDonnell (sub Devlin 72), McVeigh (sub Cowan 72), Boyle, Gargan, McCabe, Bagnall, Moan, Hughes, Havern (sub Smith 72). Subs (not used): Mooney, Grant.

Referee: Colin Burns (Newtownabbey).