BetMcLean Cup

SUCCESS BEYOND COMPARE: LINFIELD'S LEAGUE CUP HISTORY

07 Feb 2024
football
© PressEye Chris Shields celebrates scoring from the spot in last years final

There can be no doubting Linfield's BetMcLean Cup pedigree, and when they line up to face Portadown in the March 10th decider at Windsor Park (kick-off 3pm) they will do so for a remarkable 15th time in only the 37th edition of the competition.

Of those previous appearances, the Blues have emerged victorious on eleven occasions, the most recent of those just last season when David Healy's side hit two goals without reply past Coleraine.

But despite their rich history in the competition, that success marked a first triumph in four seasons which in itself brought to an end an 11-year barren spell for a club that had once dominated.

The first winners of the competition back at the end of the 1986/87 season thanks to goals from Syd Burrows and Martin McGaughey handing them a 2-1 victory over Crusaders at the Oval, the Blues then had to wait until April 1992 to get their hands on the trophy again courtesy of a 3-0 win over Larne.

Larne's Wesley Hanna turned the ball into his own net with just over a quarter-of-an-hour on the clock before McGaughey doubled the advantage on 73 minutes and Glenn Hunter completed the scoring deep into stoppage time.

A short gap of just two seasons followed before the trophy returned to Windsor Park after a two-goal defeat of Coleraine, with both strikes coming within a minute of each other just before the hour through Gary Peebles and Ray Campbell.

Fast forward to the 1997/98 campaign, and a 1-0 victory over the Glens thanks to Jeff Spiers' strike right on the stroke of half-time.

That was just the start of a golden era that saw the Blues reach the final four times in five seasons, winning it on each occasion.

Glentoran were defeated again in the 1999 decider. Scoreless at the end of normal time, Glenn Ferguson opened the scoring on 94 minutes only for Scott Young to respond a short time later. However Ferguson registered again with eight minutes remaining to secure victory for David Jeffrey's side.

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Peter Thompson knocked home the opening goal in the 2007/08 decider

Coleraine were the victims for a second time in the first final of the new millennium.

On that occasion, a then record setting scoreline and still the joint highest to date, the game was over as a contest after Tony Gorman, Chris Morgan and David Larmour all found the net before the break with Pat McShane wrapping things up late on.

The Blues were back in the decider once more in 2001/02 with a third final defeat of Glentoran. Morgan and Gorman got their names on the scoresheet again, both in the first half, with Russell Kelly hitting a third in the final ten minutes.

The Glens fell by the wayside again in the 05/06 showdown, being largely picked apart by the deadly Ferguson who hit a hat-trick by opening the scoring as early as the third minute, doubling up early in the second half and claiming the match ball with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.

And Spike helped himself to another couple of goals in 2007/08. Peter Thompson had fired Linfield in front a minute into the second half but goals from David Rainey and Seamus Brown handed the advantage to the Crues.

However, Ferguson equalised with four minutes remaining - for what was his 500th career goal - before bagging the winner with sixty seconds of normal time remaining.

What followed was a somewhat barren spell when, for over a decade, the previously prolific Blues failed to even progress beyond the last eight on all but one occasion.

But that all changed in February 2019 when an Andrew Waterworth low strike in the bottom corner after a quarter-of-an-hour was enough to see off Ballymena United to claim the trophy for the tenth time.

Then, of course, came last season and that victory over Coleraine.

Scoreless at the break, it took just four minutes of the second half for the Blues to seize the advantage after a lapse in concentration in the Bannsiders defence allowed Chris McKee to find Joel Cooper to slot into the far corner.

And Linfield strengthened their hold on the game on the hour. Coleraine skipper Stephen O'Donnell was adjudged to have clipped McKee in the area, with Chris Shields stepping up to send the resultant spot-kick down the middle.

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Linfield face Portadown in this season's BetMcLean Cup final on March 10th at the National Football Stadium (kick-off 3pm). Have you got your tickets yet? Buy now at nifootballleague.com/tickets