The Eagles got off to a flying start on the uneven surface, with frontmen Shea McGerrigan and Stefan Lavery attacking the Ballyclare defence in the opening moments. An early corner allowed McGerrigan a chance to put the ball in the danger-zone, and when Andrew Simpson blocked Jordan Bell’s goalward header the referee immediately pointed to the spot for a handball offence. Lavery confidently grabbed the ball and stroked it home to give City a third minute lead.
City failed to capitalise on the early blow and push Ballyclare back, as the Comrades quickly set about getting an equaliser. Former Ballymena United frontman Randal Reid thought he had put the sides on even terms on the 10 minute mark, but an assistant referee’s flag spared City’s blushes after they failed to deal with Samuel McIlveen’s whipped free-kick.
The Comrades got their goal just seven minutes later as Simpson made up for his handball at the other end to fire a spectacular equaliser. Gary Brown clipped a chest-high ball in from the right wing to Simpson on the edge of the box and he instinctively volleyed a right-footed shot that flew over the helpless John Connolly in the Armagh.
After the lively opening a midfield battle ensued for the remainder of the half as both sides struggled to play much football on a difficult surface, with the attack players on both sides dealing with long-balls and scraps that meant that neither keeper was further tested before the break.
City again looked to get Shea McGerrigan involved on the left wing as the second half got underway, and on 49 minutes he raced down the line and fired a tantalising cross in front of goal that just evaded the incoming Andy Hoey who eventually laid the ball off for Bell but he could only fire over the bar.
Bell then turned provider before the hour mark as he muscled his way into the Ballyclare box on the right and smuggled the ball into the six-yard box where Lavery fought to shoot but couldn’t hit the target.
The pair combined again moments later for City’s best chance of the half as Bell set Lavery clear of the home side’s high offside line but the striker couldn’t get a clean connection and saw his effort creep past keeper Gregg Shannon and then wide of the post.
The missed chance proved a turning point and spurred Ballyclare forward after creating very little in the half until that point. Indecision in the City defence led to an unnecessary corner being conceded and Adam McCart climbed highest at the back post to head across goal for Curtis Woods to nod the Comrades into the lead on 75 minutes.
The goal clearly shook City who lost concentration and almost conceded a third goal within seconds of the restart but substitute Chris Trussell lost his footing at the vital moment after rounding Connolly.
Buoyed on by the goal, Michael O’Hanlon tried his luck from long range in an attempt to put the game beyond reach but Connolly made a great diving save to his left to keep City in the game.
Armagh got one final chance to salvage a point as substitute Shea Campbell found himself in front of goal and fired a rising effort from 18 yards but Shannon dived to make a fine save and earn all three points for his side.
Armagh City: John Connolly, Jordan Bell, Ryan McGerrigan, Luke Grimley, Dara Noonan, Conor McAnallen, Liam Cullen (Gavin McParland), Eamon Kelly, Andrew Hoey (Marty Havern), Stefan Lavery (Shea Campbell), Shea Campbell. Subs not used: David Masterson, Gary Lawless.