Linfield 1 - 2 Ballymena Utd: United dream of a final say
Published 10/02/2014 | 08:30
Football is a funny old game as Ballymena United boss Glenn Ferguson acknowledged after his side's stunning Irish Cup win at the home of Linfield.
That may be true but Blues manager David Jeffrey wasn't laughing.
This United side came within minutes of exiting the competition when trailing to minnows H&W Welders in the previous round.
Darren Boyce grabbed a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Tillysburn, the replay was won and now mighty Linfield have been put to the sword.
Two men who were suspended for United's 3-1 league defeat to Cliftonville last Tuesday evening, Allan Jenkins and David Cushley, were back with a bang and on the scoresheet.
And two Linfield legends, boss Ferguson and Jim Ervin – captain for the day on his first return to Windsor Park since his January move – conspired together to crush the Blues' cup dream.
Cushley, coveted by Linfield in the past, came up with the sublime second half finish to keep the Braidmen on course for their first taste of Irish Cup glory in 25 years.
Belief will now be coursing through their veins. Linfield will only feel frustration. At key moments in the game they made individual errors which Jeffrey admitted "cost them dearly."
The Blues boss is now under more pressure to win the league championship. His side may have a County Antrim Shield final with Crusaders to look forward to next month but, after last year's trophy drought, Jeffrey knows it won't satisfy his employers.
When asked about the pressure he is under to deliver, Jeffrey said: "I put pressure on myself massively because I'm a winner. In terms of what that question is leading to I never ask the question if, it's only ever when."
Jenkins' bullet header from Cushley's corner in the 25th minute set the game alight but the hosts wiped out that lead when Philip Lowry converted a cross on 36 minutes.
The move of the match on 67 minutes settled the tie. Gary Thompson fed Boyce on the right flank and he whipped in a teasing cross which Cushley placed beyond Jonny Tuffey. When keeper Aaron Shanahan turned over Matthew Tipton's drive and Ivan Sproule's low shot struck the base of the post and away from the danger area, the mission improbable was achieved.
Jubilant Sky Blues boss Ferguson said: "It's ironic the way football goes. We could have done with the two boys who were suspended on Tuesday night. We even could have done with one of them refereeing on Tuesday night," he joked.
"That aside, we had to regroup and football's a funny old game with them coming up with the goals.
"David Cushley being a Shankill Road man and Linfield supporter, it's always written like that. This keeps our season alive. If the players don't have belief after this they shouldn't be playing the game."
Matchwinner Cushley said: "It's 11 v 11 and I felt we could win this game. The boys believe in each other and if we work hard enough we can win games like these. It was bodies on the line and a great defensive display.
"If we can keep playing like that we will be ok. The boys know what we are capable of. It took us a long time (23 years) to win a trophy (County Antrim Shield in 2012) so maybe it's our turn for the Irish Cup."
The Sky Blues now face a home Irish Cup quarter-final against Dungannon Swifts on Saturday, March 1 while Linfield lick their wounds and realise there is very little margin for error in the title race.
Linfield: Tuffey, BJ Burns (Sproule, 72 mins), Ward, Haughey, Quinn, Lowry, Mulgrew, Gault, Carvill (Clarke, 78 mins), McAllister (Tipton, 72 mins), Waterworth. Unused subs: Ross Glendinning, McVey.
Ballymena United: Shanahan, Ervin, Munster, McCullagh, Stewart, McBride (Ruddy, 78 mins), Surgenor (Kane, 61 mins), Thompson, Jenkins, Cushley (McLellan, 83 mins), Boyce. Unused subs: Teggart, Davidson.
Referee: Raymond Crangle (Belfast).