Ballyclare Com 1 Glentoran 2
Glentoran limped in to the quarter-finals of the JJB Sports Irish Cup courtesy of an injury time Gary Hamilton penalty against Ballyclare Comrades at Dixon Park and were rewarded with a plum home draw against Linfield.
The Premiership champions had gone in to this tie as massive favourites but, with time running out, were facing an embarrassing replay against their Championship underdogs, before clinching a hard-earned 2-1 win.
The clock was already in the red when half-time substitute Matty Burrows went down in the box under a challenge from Andy Long and referee Keith Halliday immediately pointed to the spot.
Hamilton stepped up to the plate and drilled the ball confidently past home keeper Allen Huxley, who had a much busier afternoon than his opposite number Elliott Morris.
The largetravelling city contingent was silenced as early as thefourth minute when Morris was beaten by a superb Mark McClelland volley from the edge of the box, but thereafter Comrades were mainly on the back foot, especially after having Stuart Galbraith sent off in the 26th minute for an off the ball offence.
Keith Gillespie, Colin Nixon, Andy Waterworth and Gary Hamilton all failed to find the target from favourable positions,while Huxley did well to keep out a Fitzgerald effort, but the Glens really turned up the heat during the closing minutes of the first half.
Hamilton failed to connect in front of goal before Gillespie's nicely weighted chip beat Huxley but rebounded off the upright in the 43rd minute; however seconds later Nixon headed home a deserved equaliser two minutes before the break.
Before the Reds had time to recover Glentoran were swarming round their goal again and only a stunning acrobatic one-handed save by Huxley prevented Gillespie from getting his name on the card in added time.
The second session proved to be a drab affair with little to excite the fans.
Comrades resumed confidently with Scott Irvine prominent, but play continued to be mainly in Ballyclare territory. In sporadic home attacks an Irvine shot clipped the bar, after Kyle Neill had been dismissed in the 53rd minute for an over robust tackle.
With Stuart McCullough and Andy Long in top form at the heart of the home defence, Huxley was having a much easier time than in the first half, but the introduction of substitutes Richard Clarke and Michael Hallidayduring the final quarter eventually produced the contested winner.
Defeated Comrades manager Gordon Chambers remained in up-beat mood.
"We showed that we can compete with the best," he contended.
"The dramatic injury time winner will be highlighted, but this overlooks the fact that we played for half an hour with a man less than Glentoran. We felt honoured that Glentoran brought their full squad to Dixon Park, where they used all their main strikers including substitutes Matty Burrows and Michael Halliday before ousting us out in injury time.
"I wasn't happy about the penalty decision. Burrows went down in the box, but I don't think that there was any contact by Andy Long. The referee gave the decision and we have to accept that.
"However in defeat our lads were chuffed at having taken a match against one of Belfast's Big Twodown to the wire.”
Glens boss Alan McDonald expressed a different opinion about the controversial winner.
"I was in a good position to see the incident and I am convinced that there was contact, so a penalty was inevitable.
“This tie was a potential banana skin for us but, although we had to wait until almost the final whistle before booking our place in the semi-final, I thought that we were well in control throughout.
"The early strike boosted Ballyclare confidence but, if we had taken our chances, we would have been out of sight at the interval.
“We didn't play well, but I have to say that Ballyclare made it difficult for us. Their high work-rate gave us little time on the ball, and even when they were a man short, their 10 men kept their discipline.”