Ballymena United 1 Linfield 1: Ballymena United’s 23-year wait for a trophy is over.
Linfield legend Glenn Ferguson guided the Sky Blues to a tense penalty shoot-out win over his former club at the Oval last night after the sides had drawn 1-1 after extra-time.
Ferguson’s stock continues to rise while his opposite number David Jeffrey will undoubtedly be feeling an increase of the ridiculous pressure which is a permanent fixture at Windsor Park.
Man of the Match Alan Davidson stroked home the winning spot-kick after United missed their first one through Jamie Davidson. Keeper Stuart Addis denied David Armstrong and Daryl Fordyce to set up the historic triumph.
Linfield were forced into a significant change when Northern Ireland international keeper Alan Blayney picked up a knock in training on Monday night.
Youngster Ross Glendinning, who earned rave reviews for his displays in Europe at the start of the season, took his place.
Having faced each other at the weekend — the Blues won 2-1 — there were few surprises in store with only minor changes made.
Linfield threatened first on eight minutes when Gary Browne’s teasing cross was met by Michael Carvill but his volley on the stretch sailed wide of Addis’ post.
Ballymena’s first sight of goal came on 17 minutes when ex-Linfield man Gary Thompson tried his luck from long range but Glendinning comfortably saved.
On the 23 minutes came the moment the large Sky Blues support had dared to dream of.
Tony’s Kane’s inch-perfect free-kick from the right found David Cushley and when his header cannoned off the crossbar, Davy Munster reacted quickest to open the scoring with a looping header from six yards.
If Ballymena were going to end their long, torturous wait without trophy glory, getting on the scoresheet first was always going to be crucial given their lack of firepower in recent weeks.
The opening goal did little to change the course of the game with both teams as likely to add to the scoring.
Carvill almost levelled five minutes later when he diverted skipper Michael Gault’s low cross onto the outside of the post.
Blues boss Jeffrey had clearly seen enough and Nathan Hanley was hooked at the break with Peter Thompson introduced to spark a goal threat.
Five minutes after the interval United’s teenage midfielder William Bingham cut in from the right but his low strike was palmed away by Glendinning.
Gault was walking a disciplinary tightrope and was given his last warning by referee Raymond Crangle for foul on Alan Davidson.
Slowly but surely the stuttering league champions were forcing their way back into it but when substitute Thompson slid the ball through to Carvill he blazed over the bar from 12 yards.
Armstrong’s volley brought a smart reaction save from Addis before United substitute Jamie Davidson’s low drive whistled just past the far post.
Regardless of their league form, Jeffrey’s men rarely give up without a fight and they were handed the chance to level on 73 minutes when goal-scorer Munster pulled down Carvill and Crangle pointed to the spot.
Up stepped substitute Brian McCaul who sent Addis the wrong way with his first touch, two minutes after coming on.
Alan Davidson’s long-range thunderbolt then flew just over the angle of post and bar and he saw his late free-kick tipped over the top before 20 minutes of extra-time and penalties, United holding their nerve to triumph.
LINFIELD: Glendinning, Ervin, Armstrong, Murphy, J Black, Garrett , (McCaul 72),Gault, Mulgrew, Hanley (P Thompon 46), Carvill, Browne (Fordyce 60). Subs not used: Lowry, Watson.
BALLYMENA UNITED: Addis, Kane, R Black, Munster (Jenkins 82), Surgeonor, Stewart, G Thompson, A Davidson, Costello (McCabe 97), Bingham (J Davidson 65), Cushley. Subs not used: Nelson, Rodgers.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).