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Ards break Coleraine hearts in thriller to set up final repeat two decades on

Ards 2-2 Coleraine (Ards win 5-3 on penalties)

By Keith Bailie

Published 16/12/2015

Penalty king: Danny McKee (left) after his winning penalty secured victory for Ards
Penalty king: Danny McKee (left) after his winning penalty secured victory for Ards
Gutted: Coleraine’s James McLaughlin after penalty miss

Ards reached their first senior final since 2004 thanks to a sensational comeback win over Premiership club Coleraine.

Oran Kearney's men were left heartbroken, throwing away a two-goal lead before losing a dramatic penalty shoot-out 5-3.

The decider will be a repeat of 1995 League Cup final between Ards and Cliftonville.

Danny McKee, on loan from Glentoran, was the Ards hero. He cancelled out James McLaughlin's two goals with a fine second half brace of headers that included an 84th-minute equaliser.

McKee kept up his heroics, stroking home the fifth spot-kick after McLaughlin had missed for the Bannsiders.

Coleraine took the lead in bizarre circumstances in the 18th minute. McLaughlin collected the ball inside the Ards half after Tommy Lambe lost his footing. The striker hit a speculative effort from 30 yards. With the wind at his back, McLaughlin's shot took an unusual bounce off the 3G surface and skipped over the head of goalkeeper Ryan Brown.

Ards struggled to make an impact on the first half, with the best effort coming in the 33rd minute.

A corner-kick from David McAllister was headed just past the post from centre-back Denver Gage. The former Ballymena United man believed he had been held back, but referee Keith Kennedy ignored his penalty claims.

The Red & Blues hoped the wind would help them in the second half, but it was Coleraine who grabbed the half by the neck.

In the 50th minute, Garth Falconer fed the ball into Darren McCauley, who cut it across the face of goal, where McLaughlin kept his composure to slip it home from less than 10 yards.

Ards almost pulled a goal back in the 57th minute when Craig McMillen's corner-kick was heading just over the bar by Gage.

Ards did reduce the deficit in the 66th minute. McAllister skipped down the left flank before producing a fine sweeping cross towards the near post. Substitute McKee lost his marker before guiding a six-yard header past Michael Doherty.

With Ards now dominating play, Coleraine almost picked them off on the counter-attack.

McLaughlin created a yard of space in the area, but his 10 yard effort found the wrong side of the net.

Niall Currie's men kept up the pressure, finally getting their reward in the 84th minute.

Another fine McMillen corner-kick was aimed towards Gage, with a clearing header only reaching the edge of the area.

The alert McKee reacted quickly, sending a looping 15-yard head beyond the reach of Doherty and into the net.

McKee thought he had his hat-trick two minutes into the first period of extra-time.

Rory Carson danced his way through the Coleraine defence before sending a sweeping cross towards the back post, McKee almost turning it home.

The large Coleraine support at the Clandeboye Road end screamed for a red card when goalkeeper Brown fouled McLaughlin outside the area on the left flank, but referee Kennedy opted for a yellow card.

From the resulting set-piece, Brown saved Ruari Higgins' 20-yard effort.

After a scoreless second half, the game went to a nail-biting shoot-out.

James Cully, Tommy Lambe and Gary Dorrian scored for Ards, while Sammy Morrow and Higgins converted for Coleraine before McLaughlin missed.

McLaughlin slipped in his run-up, before striking the post.

Carson and Lydon Kane exchanged goals, before McKee stroked home the winner to set-up a repeat of 1995 League Cup final between Ards and Cliftonville, the Reds 1-0 extra time winners at Warrenpoint Town.

Perhaps there was a hint of destiny in this remarkable cup run from Currie's Championship side.

Cliftonville will start favourites in the final for what would be a famous four in a row success.

But the north Belfast side know how dangerous Ards can be.

ARDS: Brown; Hall, Gage, Cully, Lambe; McMillen, Carson, Arthurs, D. McAllister (96 E. McAllister); Boyd (80 Dorrian), O'Neill (55 McKee)

Goals: McKee (66, 84)

Subs: Browne, Warwick

COLERAINE: Doherty; Kane, Douglas. Watt, Falconer; Lyons (93 Parkhill), McCafferty (98 Higgins), McCauley (70 Morrow), Harkin; Brown, McLaughlin

Goals: McLaughlin (18, 50)

Subs: Higgins, Mullan, McGonigle

Man of match: Cully

Match rating: 8/10

Referee: Keith Kennedy (Belfast)

Belfast Telegraph

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