BETMCLEAN LEAGUE CUP: SEMI-FINALS PREVIEW

The BetMcLean League Cup has reached the semi-final stage with the four remaining clubs all vying for a place in the February decider.

Crusaders v. Ballymena United (venue: Seaview; kick-off 7:45pm)
Losing semi-finalists last season, Crusaders' League Cup campaign got off to something of a shock start when a Dylan Wilson goal after just seven minutes gave the PSNI the lead at Seaview back in the Second Round.

However, the Crues recovered to eventually run out 4-1 winners although it did take two very late David Cushley strikes to put a bit of gloss on the scoreline.

Stephen Baxter's also trailed in the Third Round when Michael McGlynn fired Ballinamallard United in front on 65 minutes, but Kyle Owens and then Matthew Snoddy in stoppage time saw the Crues through.

And they were forced to come from behind again in the last eight, trailing to Glentoran at the break before Cushley, Jordan Owens and Paul Heatley all found the net in the second half at The Oval.

Currently top of the Premiership and in the midst of a long winning streak, Ballymena United have been something of League Cup specialists of late.

Winners in 2017 and runners-up last season, the Sky Blues kicked off their current campaign with a comfortable 5-1 defeat of Dollingstown at The Showgrounds.

Cathair Friel and Leroy Millar both bagged a brace against the Dollybirds but since then David Jeffrey's charges have needed just a goal a game to progress, both of them coming in stoppage time and both courtesy of Jude Winchester as HW Welders and then Ards were knocked out.

This will be the third meeting between the sides this season.

The first game, back in August, saw four goals shared equally at Seaview while the return at The Showgrounds at the end of October produced a comfortable three-goal victory for Ballymena.

Dungannon Swifts v. Linfield (venue: Stangmore Park; kick-off 7:45pm)
Dungannon Swifts defied the odds last season in defeating holders Ballymena United in the 2017/18 final but despite a rocky start to the current campaign and a change of manager find themselves back in the semi-finals defending their crown.

The Swifts have certainly earned their place in tonight's last four clash. Kicking off their defence at home to Limavady United it took two own goals to see them through, the second coming in extra-time.

Indeed, at least an extra 30 minutes has been required in every game so far. Warrenpoint Town were despatched in the Third Round when Seanan Clucas' 119th minute winner at Milltown stopped the game going to penalties.

But spot-kicks were required in the last eight against Cliftonville at Solitude. Johnny Laffery's leveller four minutes from time stopped the Swifts slipping out of the competition before keeping their collective nerve to come out on top during the shoot-out.

By comparison, Linfield have enjoyed a much more trouble free route to the semi-finals.

Moyola Park were swept aside in the Second Round on a night Andrew Waterworth bagged five in an 8-0 victory, followed by a five-goal defeat of Premiership opponents Institute in the next round.

The Blues only secured their semi-final slot a week ago when Jordan Stewart struck in stoppage time to grab the winner against Portadown at Shamrock Park.

Head-to-head this season Linfield have enjoyed the upper hand over the Swifts.

Joel Cooper hit two goals in as many minutes on the way to a 3-0 victory at Windsor Park back in September before, just over a month later at tonight's venue, Mark Stafford knocked home the 88th minute winner to secure the points for the Blues by the odd goal in three.