Celebrations as Ballymena United reach the BetMcLean League Cup final (©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty)
Saturday, 10 February 2018
Holders Ballymena United booked their place in the BetMcLean League Cup final with victory over Cliftonville at The Showgrounds.
Of the two sides, Cliftonville started brighter with only a couple of Kyle Owens clearances denying Levi Ives and then Joe Gormley during the opening exchanges while, a little later, Gormley was just inches away from connecting with a Jamie Harney ball.
Ballymena began to come into the game a little more, testing Brian Neeson with a Tony Kane free-kick from the edge of the box although the 'keeper wasn't troubled.
Conor McDonald might have given Cliftonville the lead just after the half-hour mark but he could only scoop the ball over after receiving a Chris Curran pass from the right.
A few minutes after that Jay Donnelly cut in from the left onto the edge of the box but could only shoot straight at Ross Glendinning.
Perhaps a taste of what was to come after the break came on the stroke of half-time when Jonathan McMurray found himself in space only to fire directly at Neeson.
Then, early in the second half, Kevin Braniff poked the ball just wide after Cathair Friel had flicked the ball on from the near post.
The deadlock was finally broken on the hour. A Kane set piece from the edge of the area was parried by Neeson but only as far as Leroy Millar who duly tucked away the follow up.
Cliftonville almost equalised moments later when Tomas Cosgrove found Harney, he attempted to nod back across the face of goal and whilst Glendinning tried to gather he fumbled his initial attempt before gather the ball second time round.
Ballymena doubled their advantage with just over a quarter-of-an-hour remaining courtesy of Conor McCloskey's long throw-in into the box which left the Cliftonville defence and presented Kane with the opportunity to head into the bottom corner.
As might have been expected, Barry Gray's side pushed hard to get back into the game but it took them until the 90th minute to reduce the deficit when a Gormley shot was palmed into the box by Glendinning before Jay Donnelly slid in to get the final touch to put the ball over the line.
However, United put the game to bed deep into stoppage time. The Reds won a corner in the 93rd minute with everyone, including 'keeper Neeson, pushing forward.
But, as the ball was dealt, with Friel broke out of defence and, from well inside his own half, punted the ball forward into the unguarded net as Neeson desperately tried to get back into position.
BBC Sport NI coverage
Ballymena United: Glendinning, Kane, Owens, Friel, Braniff, Burns, Balmer, Ervin, McCullough, Millar, McMurray subs Flynn (not used), McCloskey (replaced Burns 67), Faulkner (replaced Millar 86), Shevlin (not used), McCaffrey (not used)
Cliftonville: Neeson, McGovern, Ives, Harney, Curran, Garrett, Bagnall, Gormley, J. Donnelly, Cosgrove, McDonald subs Dunne (not used), Winchester (replaced McDonald 77), Lavery (not used), Grimes (not used), R. Donnelly (replaced Garrett 65)
Referee: Keith Kennedy
|Cathair Friel||90 +3|
|Willie Faulkner||90 +3||86|