BetMcLean Cup


13 Feb 2024

Despite being holders Linfield certainly didn't have an easy or straightforward progression to this season's final, having to overcome old foes, red cards and a penalty shoot-out along the way.

2nd Round - 3rd October (h) 3-1 v. Queen's University 
(Cooper 27 & 63, Robertson 76)
When paired with Queen's University in the second round it looked, at first glance, like a relatively safe passage through to the next round for the Blues.

How few around Windsor Park will forget the Irish Cup defeat to the Students just a few seasons prior - and when Stewart Nixon fired the Premier Intermediate League side into the lead after just nine minutes it looked, for a short spell, that history could be about to repeat itself.

But Linfield responded well and turned up the pressure to come back into the game on 27 minutes when Darragh McBrien played a neat through ball to Joel Cooper to turn home the leveller.

Cooper then put the cup holders ahead just after the hour when, following two blocked attempts by Kirk Millar, the ball fell kindly to the talented winger and he took no hesitation in firing the ball past Mackenzie Pauley to put Linfield in front for the first time in the game.

Substitute John Robertson made sure of Linfield's place in the next round as he latched onto a long ball and held off the challenge of Jack Ovens to roll the ball cooly under Pauley for the home side’s third goal of the night.

Linfield: Walsh, McKay, Newberry, East, Scott, Millar, Archer, Cooper, McBrien, Fitzpatrick, Mulgrew subs Johns (not used), Robertson (replaced McKay 12), Haygarth (not used), Graham (replaced Archer 86), O'Neill (replaced Cooper 79), Doherty (replaced Fitzpatrick 79), Annett (replaced McBrien 79)


3rd Round - 7th November (a) 2-1 v. Glentoran (Cooper 14 & 47)
Next up was a trip across the city to take on Glentoran at the BetMcLean Oval.

And, again, Joel Cooper was instrumental to Linfield's success with both goals in a 2-1 victory over their great rivals.

Cooper fired the Blues in front after 14 minutes after doing well to receive a cross from the left before controlling the ball and sliding it past Aaron McCarey into the net.

Linfield doubled their lead not long after the interval with Cooper's second of the evening, a curling right-foot effort high into the top left corner.

Glentoran did pull one back with seven minutes remaining after Jay Donnelly connected with a Daire O'Connor ball to nod the ball home in off an upright.

Linfield: Johns, East, Newberry, Shields, Millar, McClean, Cooper, Hall, Clarke, Mulgrew, Fitzpatrick subs Walsh (not used), McBrien (replaced Mulgrew 79), McKee (replaced Fitzpatrick 69), Haygarth (not used), McCullough (not used), Annett (not used), Archer (replaced Hall 22)


Quarter-finals - 5th December (a) 2-2 [3-2p] v. Larne (East 109, Graham 119)
It didn't get any easier in quarter-finals with a visit to defending league champions Larne but still Linfield came through following an epic night at Inver Park.

Scoreless after 90 minutes, Linfield were reduced to ten men early in extra-time after Kyle McClean was dismissed for a challenge on Aaron Donnelly, thus collecting his second caution of the evening.

Undeterred, the Blues moved in front on 109 minutes through Euan East who rose highest to nod home Aodhan Doherty's left-foot cross into the box.

Larne levelled three minutes later, however, courtesy of Lee Bonis' finish into the bottom corner before, just a couple of minutes after that, Leroy Millar sensationally edged Larne in front with a header from Cian Bolger's right-sided cross.

But Linfield hit back in the dying embers of extra-time through 16-year-old Braiden Graham's right-footed finish from inside the box to force the game into penalties.

And Graham proved to be the hero again, knocking home Linfield's winning spot-kick before Chris Johns saved from Bonis to secure their place in the semi-finals and a meeting Dungannon Swifts.

Linfield: Johns, Finlayson, East, Newberry, Shields, McClean, Cooper, Hall, Fitzpatrick, McCullough, Archer subs Walsh (not used), Millar (replaced Mulgrew 91), Clarke (replaced McCullough 91), Mulgrew (replaced Shields 61), Annett (replaced Fitzpatrick 97), Doherty (replaced Archer 100), Graham (replaced Newberry 114)


Semi-finals - 16th January (a) 2-1 v. Dungannon Swifts (McClean 7 & 70)
Kyle McClean more than made up for his sending off in the last eight with both goals in the semi-final victory over Dungannon Swifts at Stangmore Park.

The Blues needed just seven minutes to seize the advantage. Skipper Jamie Mulgrew embarked on a run across the edge of the area before being brought down and, from the subsequent free-kick, McClean curled a stunning effort into the top right corner.

Linfield might have doubled their advantage not long after that when a Kirk Millar corner was knocked on by Daniel Finlayson for Darragh McBrien to turn an effort off the inside of the post before going across the face of goal but not over the line.

Dungannon attempted to hit back as the first half progressed, with Gael Bigirimana having a go from around 30 yards only for the ball to drift over while Leo Alves sent an effort from the left side of the area just beyond the far post.

And Rodney McAree's side were thrown a potential lifeline early in the second half when Linfield were again reduced to ten men following Euan East's dismissal for attempting to block a Declan Dunne clearance from his hands, his second booking of the game.

But Linfield doubled their advantage on 70 minutes with McClean's second of the evening after he ran onto the ball to beat Dunne at the second attempt after the home keeper had saved the initial effort.

However, the Swifts did pull one back eight minutes from time through Joe Moore after he pounced on a loose ball inside the box before firing low into the bottom right corner ... but it wasn't enough to spark a comeback as Linfield held on to progress.

Linfield: Johns, Finlayson, East, Millar, McClean, McBrien, Hall, Clarke, McKee, Mulgrew, Fitzpatrick subs Walsh (not used), Newberry (replaced McBrien 60), Cooper (replaced Fitzpatrick 89), Annett (not used), McKay (not used), Archer (replaced McKee 46), Graham (not used)